The taste of home-grown garden strawberries has to one of the best summer tastes ever, a million times superior to bought strawberries. And with so many different sizes, shapes and intense flavours to choose between, there bust be room in every garden for a few plants.
Summer fruiting strawberry plants crop heavily for three weeks, whereas perpetual strawberries produce three flushes of fruit across the entire summer.
Summer fruiting strawberries can be planted in early September or early April, although if the trend towards heavy winter frosts continues it may be best to wait until mid April. Perpetual strawberries should be planted in mid April. In both cases, only plant when the soil is crumbly and not water-logged or frozen.
As with most fruit, strawberries need as much sun as possible, well-dug, moisture-retaining and free-draining soil with lots of organic matter, and protection from the wind (which can prevent the insects from pollinating the plants). Although they are extremely winter-hardy, when strawberries produce their flowers early in the spring they are in danger of being frosted, damage occurring if the temperature drops below -2°C or -4°C, so it is important to site them carefully on higher ground or in raised beds. Cloche or poly-tunnel protection can help and can mean earlier and better fruit.
If you plant strawberries where peppers, tomatoes, aubergines or potatoes have been grown there is a danger of passing-on a serious strawberry disease called verticillium wilt.
At least one month before you plan to plant your strawberry patch, dig it well to a spades depth and include as much organic matter as possible, along with two handfuls of bonemeal per square metre (yard). A few days before planting apply a general fertiliser.
Depth matters, and a good rule of thumb is to plant your strawberries at the same depth as they have grown in their pots. Water them well until May, when they should be established, and start to water again when the fruits begin to swell, but don’t overwater or they will get mould diseases. Pinch off the first blooms of Summer fruiting strawberries planted in spring and perpetual strawberries, so that they have the energy establish a good root system, but strawberries planted in September can be left to flower and fruit in their first summer.
In following years, help retain moisture and feed your strawberry bed by mulching with well-rotted compost around the plants in early spring. Open up cloches during the middle part of the day so that insects can reach the flowers to pollinate them. When you see the fruits forming in late spring feed the plants with a weak solution of tomato feed which is high in potassium, rather than a nitrogen rich mixture that will encourage leaf growth. Remove runners that will sap energy from the crop in May.
As your strawberries get heavy they will droop onto the soil. Tuck straw under them, or black plastic that has been pierced for drainage, and protect your crop from the birds with light weight plastic netting. Or you could just plant more strawberry plants than you need so that you can afford to share the fruit with birds and insects.