Note from Kirsten: This post is brought to you by our good friends at Swansons Nursery in Seattle's Crown Hill neighborhood. They've been so helpful when it comes to information about planting produce (like last year's Vegetables in the Pacific Northwest growing guide), and we're thrilled to have guest author Aimée Damman back for yet another helpful how-to: growing strawberries. Whether you're planting in our DIY strawberry planter or in your backyard garden, Aimée has tips for choosing the best class of strawberries for your crop, where to plant, how to prepare the soil, and how to care for strawberries throughout the year. 

This post originally appeared on the Swansons Nursery blog, which has a section devoted to edible gardening. Go for it, Aimée!

Strawberries are always a popular plant for the home garden because they are delicious and easy to grow in our Northwest climate. Nothing says summer more than the first bite of a sweet, homegrown strawberry. Plus, they can be grown easily in small spaces and in containers. 

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Photo credit: thebittenword.com/Flickr

Choosing Your Plants

Would you like an early bumper crop? Strawberries all season long? Another harvest in early fall? The type of strawberry you choose makes a big difference in when and how much you will harvest. 

There are three classes of strawberries:
• June-bearing (summerbearing) strawberries produce one large crop in June
• Day-neutral strawberries fruit continuously throughout the summer and into fall
• Everbearing (two-cropping) strawberries produce a crop in June and another in early fall

Where Will You Be Planting Your Strawberries?

Day-neutral and everbearing strawberries produce few runners, making them ideal if you want your plants to remain somewhat neatly in their areas. They are great for borders, garden beds, and hanging planters. If you have a large space or would like your strawberries to spread more rapidly, choose June-bearing types.

Note: Strawberries are self-fertile, so only one variety is necessary for successful yields. But who could stop at just one kind?

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Photo credit: Pixabay

Soil and Plant Preparation

Choose a location with well-drained soil that receives full sun. Prepare the site by incorporating new organic matter using a planting amendment such as compost or soil-building conditioner. The goal is to have soil that is composed of about 25 percent new organic matter and 75 percent existing soil. You can add an all-purpose or small-fruit fertilizer at planting time, following the directions on the package.

When planting in containers, always choose a high-quality potting soil. Containers filled with garden soil will not drain well, and the soil will be too heavy for your strawberry plants' liking. 

Prepare strawberry plants by removing them from pots and gently massaging the roots to separate them slightly, then plant.

Note: Bare-root plants should be soaked in water for about an hour before planting. Plant them so the crown remains above the soil (crowns planted below the soil are subject to fungal disease).

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Photo credit: Pixabay

Planting in the Garden 

We recommend one of these two successful planting systems:
• The hill system
• The matted row system

The hill system is generally is the best system for day-neutral and everbearing strawberries because they produce relatively few runners. After preparing the soil, make mounded rows about 6" to 9" tall and 1' to 2' apart. Plant the strawberry starts 12" to 15" apart in the mounded rows. Maintenance consists of simply removing all the runners that grow between the rows before they root. By removing the “baby” plants (runners), the mother plant can focus on making bigger and better fruit. Runners can be rooted in another spot (or put into the compost bin).

The matted row system is generally best for June-bearing strawberries, which produce ample runners. Plant the strawberry starts 1' apart in rows 3' to 4' apart. Then allow many of the runners to spread and fill in the rows without letting the runners grow too densely (the foliage of the plants need as much sun and air as possible). Pruning out excess runners and foliage will likely be necessary. 

Planting in Containers

Strawberry plants do very well in all types of containers: plastic, wood, ceramic, or terra cotta. You can even build your own strawberry planter, as shown by Kirsten. Whichever container you choose, be sure it has drainage holes. Strawberries do not like wet feet.

Simply fill the container with high-quality potting soil and an all-purpose (or small-fruit) fertilizer, following package directions. Plant one strawberry plant for every 10" to 12" of pot diameter. Strawberries have a spreading habit and shallow roots, so an extremely deep container is not necessary, but choose containers at least 6" to 8" tall. If you prefer a fuller look in your container right away, plant more densely but divide the plants after one year so they don't become overcrowded and underperform. 

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Strawberry Care

Water deeply and thoroughly on a regular schedule throughout the dry summer months. Drip watering or a soaker hose is preferable to overhead watering and helps avoid fruit molding and other diseases. For containers, water when the surface of the soil begins to dry out. Strawberries definitely don't like sitting in wet, soggy soil but don't want to dry out either!

Fertilize when planting and do so again annually in April. Fertilize using an all-purpose or small-fruit fertilizer, and be sure to follow the directions on the package. 

Replant with new strawberry plants after four to five years—your plants will likely have diminished yields by then. It’s best to wait for a few years before planting in the same location due to pests and diseases that can build up in the soil. Wash your container with a diluted bleach solution and use new soil when replanting to avoid pests and diseases. 

And now for the best part! Enjoy your delicious, homegrown strawberries. Once you've grown your own it will be hard to go back to store-bought strawberries ever again!

Have questions or are interested in learning more about the varieties we carry? Ask us on social media using #heyswansons.

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Aimée Damman is the Director of Marketing at Swansons Nursery and an avid vegetable gardener. Some of her favorite aspects of the job are being the editor-in-chief of Swansons’ garden blog, planning community projects and events, and taking photos of interesting plants. When she’s not working or gardening, she loves yoga, cooking, photography, and exploring the Pacific Northwest.