Growing Strawberries

Dale Grobler grows his own strawberries that taste out of this world. Here’s how he does it.

Strawberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow, making them great for beginners! When it comes to taste, homegrown strawberries are de­finitely much tastier than store-bought ones, which are usually picked before they’re really ready. Allowing strawberries to fully ripen before harvesting means MORE FLAVOUR!

How to plant strawberries

Spring is the best time to plant strawberries. Pots or bags of strawberries are usually available throughout the growing season from most nurseries. Space the plants about 50cm apart in each direction, and if you are planting rows, using a string line as a guide to keep them straight. The crown of the plant should be at soil level. If you are using potted strawberries just plant them at the same depth they were at in their original nursery pots.

Growing strawberries

Water your strawberry plants regularly as they establish. To reduce the risk of disease, avoid wetting the leaves when you water. Mulch around the plants with straw before the fruits develop. This will help to keep them blemish free, assist in slowing weed growth and prevent loss of soil moisture.

Pest control tips

• Birds and monkeys love strawberries! The best way to keep your crop safe is to cover the plants with a netting that excludes birds but which still allows pollinating insects to pass through.

• Slugs may also be attracted to the fruits: if you see slugs, set slug traps filled with beer to attract them away from your plants.

• Keeping beds weed-free and using mulch can deter slugs and bugs. Spread sand over the strawberry bed to deter slugs.

• For bigger bugs, spray your plants with puréed garlic or neem oil.

READ MORE: Learn ways to preserve your strawberries after harvesting.

Paul’s tips for growing strawberries

Paul Vonk from MayFord Seeds gives us some tips on growing strawberries from seed:

This season try Strawberry ‘Florian’. This is no ordinary strawberry: it’s a high-quality, world-class strawberry variety you could expect to be served at Wimbledon, accompanied by whipped cream and Pimm’s! It is a Japanese-style strawberry that is beautifully aromatic and has a delicious flavour.

It’s not the traditional untidy, trailing plant but a compact plant of just 35cm with bright pink flowers. Sow in spring and harvest the delicious fruits from early summer right through until the first night frost next year autumn.

Tip: Sow from early spring in seed trays using coir/peat or seedling mix. The seed is tiny so cover lightly, press down, keep moist, be patient as germinations takes up to 3 weeks, and thin out at 8 weeks leaving 35cm between plants. Water frequently and remove runners from time to time.

Winter care tips

Strawberry plants are perennial and are naturally cold hardy – they will survive near-freezing temperatures. So if your area has mild winters, little care is necessary. Otherwise:

• When the growing season is over, cut foliage down to 5cm. This can be done after the first couple of frosts.

• Mulch plants about 8cm deep with straw or pine needles.

• In even colder regions, more insulating mulch should be added.

• Natural precipitation should appropriately maintain sufficient soil moisture.

• Remove mulch in early spring, after the danger of frost has passed.

Harvesting strawberries

Pick your strawberries when they are completely ripe all over. If you can, pick them on a sunny day, which is when their flavour will be most concentrated. Try to store strawberries at room temperature or store unwashed berries in the fridge for 3 – 5 days. Strawberries can be frozen whole.

Saving strawberry seeds

Strawberry seeds can be easily separated from ripe fruit by placing the fruit in a blender with a cup of water and blending for a few seconds, but not for long enough to damage the seeds. The good seeds will settle at the bottom, and the fruit pulp and unripe seeds will ­ oat. Wait a minute for the seeds to settle and then pour out the liquid. The seeds can then be rinsed or scooped out and left to dry on a paper towel.

Seeds should be sparingly sown on germination mix and then covered with a very fine layer of the mix. Water them well and then cover to keep them warm and moist. Either use a little propagator or a plastic bag as a cover. Germination can take up to 8 weeks or as little as 14 days, so be patient. When the seedlings have 3 leaves, they can be transplanted into small pots until they are fully developed, when they can be planted out into the garden or into large pots.

The Gardener