Strawberries are completely hardy and easy to grow in patio pots or growing bags, but a bed or border in the ground is best if you have the space.
Best Buy strawberries
What it looks like
Yield from six plants
This variety has done well in almost every strawberry trial we’ve run, and once again it didn’t disappoint. It cropped for 28 days, from mid-June to July, giving the biggest yield of any variety on test in both its first and second years. The fruits were on the small side in the first year, but both years saw fruit of great quality. Our assessors found the taste a little uninteresting but a true ‘strawberry’ flavour.
What it looks like
Yield from six plants
This fairly new variety surprised us with an early crop, starting to form ripe fruits in May in both years of the trial. It kept cropping until the end of June, and the fruits were some of the sweetest we tasted. It produced a great yield and was a very vigorous variety. The fruits were large but we needed to rummage through a lot of leaves to find them.
What it looks like
Yield from six plants
This variety gave us an impressive yield of fruit in both years of this trial. The berries had a delicious flavour, but some of our tasters found them almost too juicy. The ripe berries were large and glossy, and they hung on long stems, which made picking easy. The plants cropped for just under four weeks, throughout June, and were very healthy, avoiding the rust or mildew that hit some other varieties.
We bought six dormant plants of 12 strawberry varieties in autumn. We planted these six plants into two growing bags, three in each bag. We had to use growing bags, as our previous trial bed in Capel Manor, north London had been struck with verticillium wilt, a fungal infection of the soil, so we couldn’t replant in that area. By spring, the plants were well established. We erected a fruit cage so that birds were prevented from helping themselves to the ripe fruits. We recorded the harvest from each variety in the first year, then the plants were tidied and the runners removed in the autumn. Each crop was again weighed and assessed for quality and taste in summer in the second year.
If you have suitable, disease-free soil, nothing is easier than popping your strawberry plants in the ground and letting them grow, and we found in our tests that this was the best way to achieve a bumper crop of tasty strawberries. It’s easy to water and weed the plants, and simple to protect the ripe fruit. On the downside, it can be more difficult to harvest the fruit and trim runners if you don’t like bending. If you have poor soil or don’t want to bend or kneel, growing bags or pots are great, but you might not get as much fruit and you’ll need to stay on top of pests and watering. Some people grow strawberries in hanging baskets, but we found the birds ate the fruit before it could be harvested.
Pros Gave a reasonable crop in the second year with the sweetest strawberries. They look attractive and it raises the crop above the ground, stopping many pests.
Cons Tricky to water and they dry out very quickly. If you keep the strawberries for more than one year, the pots will need weeding.
Our verdict If you water regularly, strawberry planters are a viable option. But if you’re someone who waters less regularly, you might find the plants in the side pockets dry out and die. The sweetness we found in these strawberries might be due to them being slightly dry through a very hot summer. The yield was reasonable, but if you’re after a large crop then you’re better off growing them where the plants will have more root space to thrive within.
You can order rooted runners from mail-order suppliers from July onwards, for delivery in autumn to early spring. You might also find bundles of dormant bare-rooted plants in garden centres in autumn, although you’re less likely to find our recommended varieties. Plant or pot these as soon as you can. Potted plants are available from spring to early summer. Some suppliers offer cold-stored plants that can be planted in early summer and should fruit after 60 days. If you’ve had gluts of fruit, you might want to consider growing a range of early and late-cropping varieties to spread the harvest. If you’re growing in the ground, space plants 30-45cm apart, in rows 60cm apart, to allow plenty of room for picking.
Keep them well watered when the flowers appear and feed with a tomato fertiliser.
Covering the soil around strawberries isn't necessary but you often see if recommended. We trialled different mulching materials.
Pros Easy to water and feed, and it gives a reasonable crop.
Cons It’s prone to weeds. Maintaining the straw can be a pain.
Our verdict A layer of straw was put around the strawberries as they ripened to lift them away from the soil to deter mould and pests. However, the plants didn’t produce as many strawberries as those growing straight in the ground and we still lost just as many fruits to pests, so the straw provided no advantage there. Unfortunately, it didn’t deter weeds either and actually made the task of removing them tricky.
Black mulch sheet
Pros No weeding, and you get a reasonable crop from the first year.
Cons Tricky to feed around the roots, and the mulch can provide a home for slugs.
Our verdict Using a heavy weed-resistant black mulch sheeting and growing the plants through it was one of the least complicated ways to grow strawberries. There was little weeding to be done and, although it was a dry summer, the sheeting kept the ground moist. We got a reasonable crop in both the first and second years of growing, but we did lose quite a few strawberries to slugs and other pests.
Red plastic mulch
Pros It keeps moisture in the soil around the plant and produces a reasonable crop.
Cons The red mulch doesn’t hold back the weeds as successfully as black mulch, as it lets the light through. The plastic itself tends to rip more easily than the black fabric. It’s trickier to feed and water the plants, as the soil around the roots is covered.
Our verdict Red mulch is meant to produce sweeter strawberries by fooling the plants into thinking there is lots of competition for their fruit from other plants. We found that in the first year the plants did indeed produce the sweetest strawberries. In the second year, the fruit grown using strawberry planters was sweeter still, but there was much less of it. We think red mulch is an interesting experiment, but the inconvenience of weeding under the mulch makes it a tricky technique to use.
After harvesting the fruit, remove all of the runners, except those you want to use to increase your stock. You can cut off the top growth of the original plant to reduce the risk of disease, such as rust, which often strikes in late summer. Strawberry plants should crop well for about three years before they start to deteriorate. You may notice distorted or yellowing leaves caused by viruses. Replace with new plants or propagate your own, starting again in a different area of garden to avoid diseases, or in fresh compost in pots and containers.
Select runners growing from the original, healthy plant. Choose no more than three per plant. Peg each one down into pots of compost. Remove secondary runners that grow from them. Once they have rooted, after a couple of weeks, sever the connection to the original plant, and then plant them in a new bed in autumn.
Harvest in: May to July
Depending on which varieties you grow, you can pick strawberries from May to July. Look for well-coloured fruit and take it off by cutting through the stalk.
Powdery mildew shows as red patches on upper leaves, a white covering on the leaves, and cupping of the leaves. Prevent it by keeping the plant well watered and maintain good air circulation by weeding and removing runners.
Adult vine weevils are fond of the fruit, and the grubs will eat through the roots. Use adult traps to reduce the number of active adults or treat the grubs with nematodes.
Grey mould (botrytis) can form on fruits as they start to ripen, making them inedible, and there is no treatment available. Damaged fruit is very susceptible, so prevent slug and snail damage and remove any dead leaves.
Slugs and woodlice are keen on nibbling strawberries. If you’re growing in planters, raise them off the ground if possible and keep them free of debris. Kill off slugs using a nematode treatment before the fruits ripen, or sparingly use organic slug pellets.
Growing in a fruit cage or under netting is usually effective at deterring birds, mice and squirrels, but growing in containers may also deter animal pests, as they can be moved to less accessible locations.