Site and soil
Strawberries prefer full sun to grow well and to ripen the fruit. They like a well drained, slightly acidic soil that has been enriched with plenty of compost and well rotted animal manure. Regular application of liquid fertiliser (eg seaweed fertiliser or compost tea) will also encourage production.
Strawberries need plenty of space to grow. Suggested spacing is in rows about 75 cm apart, with about 30 cm between plants. Plant with the crown at soil level and water in well.
In our climate, it’s common to plant strawberries in autumn, for a first crop in late spring. Try planting a mix of different varieties to enable harvesting from spring to autumn. Red Gauntlet is a popular and productive starting point.
If planting directly into garden beds, raise the beds to allow good drainage. Strawberries also grow very well in planter boxes, barrels, hanging baskets and pots, making them ideal for small gardens, decks or verandahs.
Strawberries are shallow-rooted, so will need frequent watering in hot conditions, particularly if they are in pots (especially terracotta pots).
To keep fruit and leaves clean and dry, put straw around the base of each plant. This will also help keep weeds under control and hold soil moisture. Remove any diseased fruit or leaves as soon as you see them.
Strawberry plants will send out runners during the growing season (interestingly, the Anglo-Saxon word strawberige apparently means ‘inclined to stray’). These can either be pinched off to conserve the plant’s energy for fruit production, or be used to propagate new plants for the next season. Peg them down while they’re still attached and once they’ve formed roots, gently separate and transplant.
Pick fruit as soon as it’s ripe to prevent it rotting on the plant, and to beat the birds. It’s best to harvest in dry weather. Be gentle when harvesting to avoid bruising and make sure you keep the stalk with the fruit.
After harvest, cut back old leaves to allow sun to reach the centre of the plant, and remove the mulch or straw that was protecting the fruit. Feed and water to prepare the plant for the next season.
Birds and slugs are a strawberry’s main pests. For the former, it may be necessary to cover plants with a widelife-friendly net or cloche when they start to ripen. An old-fashioned slug hunt is the best remedy for the latter.
The most important rule for preventing disease in strawberries is to start with certified virus-free plants or runners. Expect plants to remain healthy and productive for three years. Replace plants after that in a new location, to ensure that soil based diseases are not transferred to new plants. Some gardeners suggest a three year rotation, with a new row planted, and a row left fallow each year.