Strawberries are easy to grow in containers providing a few simple growing steps are followed. In this article, I’ll provide some basic tips for growing strawberries organically in containers: pots, planters, hanging baskets or any other type of container. Growing “organically” means no use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or chemical fertilizers.
Strawberry Plant Types
Strawberry plants are classified into three types: June-bearing, ever-bearing, and day-neutral. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses, and will produce at different times during the season.
June-bearing – These varieties bear all of their fruit in June. You can purchase early, mid, or late season varieties, but all that means is that they will produce sometime in early, mid, or late June. Produces fruit the second year.
Ever-Bearing – Ever-bearing strawberries produce fruit from late spring until early fall. They will develop fruit more regularly, but not as much at any one time. These plants don’t produce vigorous runners. They produce fruit their first year.
Day-Neutral – Day-neutral varieties produce crops of berries from spring until fall, with a fairly large crop in the fall. These varieties do not do well in hotter regions during the summer. with very hot summers. They produce fruit their first year.
Choosing The Container
For starters, you’ll need to pick containers to grow your strawberry plants in. Strawberries are a shallow-rooted plant so require a wider than deeper container with a diameter of 14 inches or more and at least a 6 inch depth. Any type or style of container will do, though clay is probably the best choice. Hanging baskets work well too. Whatever type container, it needs to have sufficient drainage holes in the bottom or sides. A lighter color container works best to keep the roots cooler in summer. Strawberry jars (with the side pockets) are okay, but more difficult to keep an even soil moisture throughout. The top of the pot tends to dry out too quickly while the bottom stays wet. When growing strawberries, and just about any other plant, in containers moisture control will always be an important factor. Strawberries like moisture but not wet and soggy soil.
The Soil Mix
For soil in the container, I would use a mix including 25% organic compost, 25% sand, and 50% organic potting mix.
You’ll want to plant about 3 plants per square foot of soil surface. When planting bare root plants in a container make sure the roots are spread out evenly. Its best to make a mound of soil in the container to spread the roots over. Then, hold the plant and cover the roots with soil making sure the crown is slightly above the soil surface. When planting container-grown strawberries, set the plant with the top edge or root ball at the same level as the soil in your container. Either type of plant, the top of the soil in the pot should be about 1/2 inch below the rim of the pot. This will allow you to apply mulch when necessary and also help to hold water when watering. After planting, water thoroughly but gently.
Feeding Strawberry Plants
Fertilize with an organic all purpose plant food during the first phase of growth and an organic flower fertilizer when flowering starts.
Mulching Strawberry Plants
Mulching will keep the roots warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It will prevent the soil from drying out quickly during the summer. Mulching will also prevent the fruit from laying on and coming into contact directly with the soil. Pine straw, hay or wheat straw works best as a mulch. If the container you are growing your strawberry plants in will be exposed to rainfall, move the mulch away from the crowns of the plants in spring and during long periods of wet weather.
Place containers in as much sun as possible. They need at least 6 hours of sun but will appreciate even more.
Maintaining Strawberry Plants
After planting, and depending on the variety, it’s sometimes best to pinch off the first flush of flowers or runners to allow the new plants to root in well before producing fruit. After the fruiting season, June bearing strawberries will require dividing and respacing. You can also clean the plants up after fruit bearing by removing dead foliage and fruit stems. Everbearing and Day Neutral strawberries will not require dividing.
Pest & Disease Control
Disease Control – When growing organically, the best way to avoid disease on strawberry plants is through prevention. Evenly moist but not wet, soil is a must. Consistently wet or soggy soil can cause leaf spot, rot and death of the plant. Leaf spot is a sure sign that the plants roots are standing in too much water. Strawberry plants require a soil that is slightly acidic, with a pH of 6.2 being ideal. If the soil is too alkaline, strawberries can exhibit a problem called alkali yellows. This causes the plant to be unable to absorb iron or manganese from the soil, which affects chlorophyll production. The diseased plants will have yellow or variegated yellow and green leaves. This condition reduces the vigor of the strawberry plants.
Provide at least 6 hours of sun to help prevent disease. Harvest strawberries as soon as they ripen and do not allow rotted strawberries to remain on plants as this can spread disease. Mulch to keep fruit from coming into contact with soil.
Insect Control – When growing organically, the best method for controlling insects is to remove them by hand when they appear.
When To Pick Strawberries
You’ll want to harvest strawberries as soon as they ripen.
I would recommend applying a couple inches of mulch and bringing the containers indoors in a cool dry place for winter.
Brent Wilson is the one-half of the dynamic brother duo that started Wilson Bros. Nursery in 1988 in McDonough, Georgia. They also operate a landscaping design firm. Brent is an avid gardener, with a special interest in perennials and native plants. You can ask him any questions at www.gardenatlity.com.