I’ve been asked to share a few tips about growing strawberry plants. I’m no expert, but here is what has and hasn’t worked well for us. Strawberries are one of my favourite crops to grow with children (along with potatoes and peas) because you can get a lot of reward for an initial outlay and not too much effort!
Strawberries need a sheltered and sunny spot. My Dad built a raised bed for our strawberries and filled it with compost, which was more expensive than just planting them in the ground but seems to have resulted in really good healthy growth. In fact, we weren’t prepared for just how bushy and vigorous they would be and our plants are a little too close together at only 12 inches apart. This makes harvesting more difficult and also means that botrytis (grey mould) has a tendency to spread. I would advise leaving 18 inches between plants and at least 24 inches between rows.
We originally bought 36 coldstored strawberry plants from Pomona Fruits, which are only available in the spring and crop the same year as planting. We chose three different varieties: one early cropping (Cambridge Favourite) and two perpetual (Flamenco and Mara des Bois). This number of plants gives us enough fruit for our family and my parents to eat strawberries on an almost daily basis and still have some left over to share with friends. Strawberry plants only crop heavily for the first three years, so to maximise the crop we will replace the plants at this point. Rather than buying new ones, we will simply allow the runners to grow and root (possibly into pots) during the third year, and then separate them from the parent plants.
In the spring we remove any dead foliage and throughout the growing season we cut off any runners that develop from the plants to ensure that energy goes to producing fruit instead. Once the fruit have begun to form, we spread straw around the plants to keep the soil moist, protect the fruit and suppress weeds. Last year we also had a net over the strawberry bed to keep birds away, but we haven’t used it this year and haven’t had a problem so far. Apart from watering regularly in dry weather, the only other job is harvesting the fruit! Inevitably a few of the fruit will be nibbled by slugs or woodlice so I tend to leave any badly munched fruits on the plants in the hope that the creatures will then leave the other strawberries alone! Any mouldy fruit or leaves must be removed from the plants to prevent botrytis spreading. At the end of the year, we simply trim off all the old leaves.
At the moment we are harvesting upwards of four punnets every other day. I think the most important factors in our success have been coldstored plants (they seem to grow much better than ordinary plants I’ve tried in the past) and good soil. Happy strawberry growing!