Sometimes it seems like our northern gardens are reluctant to get growing in the spring. It’s as if everything is in slow motion… the first seeds to sprout, the first blossoms to unfold… it feels like we wait and wait and wait.
As we pace through our early season garden in search of something that’s edible now, strawberries swoop in like superheroes, bringing us unparalleled flavor in an early maturing package. To top it all off, they’re incredibly easy to grow, which is why strawberries are one of the garden’s best and most delicious gifts.
Getting started with strawberries
Before we start, it’s helpful to understand this basic concept: strawberries are not all the same. They’re generally divided into two groups: June-bearing and everbearing. June-bearing strawberries are exactly as their name implies—a strawberry that sets its fruit early and all at once, resulting in a large yield of strawberries at one time (usually June here in the north). Everbearing strawberries produce lighter yields but they produce fruit more than once during the course of a season. So, if quantity is your priority, you’ll want the added boost you’ll get from June-bearing plants. But if you prefer the idea of having your strawberries trickle in throughout the growing season, everbearing plants will give you that fresh flavor in smaller amounts for a longer period of time.
Growing strawberries 101
You might think that growing something as delicious as a strawberry would be complicated or time-consuming, but it isn’t. Strawberries have preferences, but unlike blueberries, they aren’t terribly picky about them. Strawberries are fairly cold-hardy and you can even put out plants before your last frost. Strawberries thrive in full sun, and they do best in rich, well-draining soil. Compost is beneficial, as is mulch. Mulch has the added benefit of helping to keep your fruit clean once those plants are loaded down with heavy strawberries.
The natural sprawling tendency of strawberries makes them well-suited to growing in raised beds, but you can plant your strawberries wherever you have space, including in pots or planters if you prefer to grow them on a patio or if you have limited space in your garden beds.
The most critical part of growing strawberries is planting them at the right depth. The key is not to bury the crown of the strawberry plant.
Many strawberry varieties send off runners, which then snuggle into the soil and develop into new strawberry plants. You can transplant these young plants to a different raised bed to substantially boost your number of strawberry plants.
Strawberry plants only produce well for a few years, but thankfully by then they’ve reproduced themselves with plenty of new daughter plants, so your initial strawberry plant investment will just keep right on giving as the years go by.
Strawberry plants generally don’t produce fruit (at least not much) the first year, but get ready in year two! This delay is why it’s nice to have multiple strawberry beds with plants of different ages.
Time to harvest? You’ll know it’s time when the berries reach that glorious shade of red. (You’ll also know they’re ripe when the birds start eating them. Oops!) You can use your berries in whatever recipes or desserts suit your fancy—but there’s something blissfully simple about fresh strawberries with homemade whipped cream! The combination is tough to beat.