Planting bare root strawberries

(Julie Bawden Davis)

If you want to grow strawberries this year, planting them bareroot is an inexpensive way to enjoy a tasty crop of these nutritious berries. It also allows you to choose the best strawberries for your climate and growing situation.

Also known as dormant crowns, bareroot plants are simply plants that have been dug from the growing fields and most of the soil has been removed from their roots. These plants consist of a crown, which is a compressed stem. It is from the crown that foliage grows and eventually fruit emerges.

(Julie Bawden Davis)

Depending on where you live in the country, it may not be the ideal time for planting, but since bareroot strawberries only come around once a year, it’s the ideal time to reserve your berry plants for the season. Buy day-neutral strawberry plants, and you can get started growing them indoors now and even enjoy fruit.

Unaffected by day-length and able to grow in temperatures between 35-89 degrees, day-neutral varieties are a reliable choice that bear fruit continuously throughout the growing season and all year in mild climates. Good varieties include Seascape, which grows throughout the country, Albion, Tribute, Tristar, San Andreas, and Selva.

The other major category of strawberries is the June-bearers. These produce a heavy crop of what are often large berries during a one- to two-month time period, which is anywhere between May and July, depending on your geographic region. Some popular varieties include Earliglow, L’Amour, Allstar, Cabot, Cavendish, Honeoye, Jewel, Surecrop, Sequoia, Chandler, and Camarosa.

Whether you grow day-neutrals or Junebearers, make certain that the type you choose is suited for your climate, or you won’t have good luck growing strawberries.

(Julie Bawden Davis)

Store bareroot/dormant crowns. If you get your strawberry plants and want to wait to plant them outdoors when the weather warms, they can be stored in the refrigerator in their original packaging away from ethylene producers, such as apples. Ensure that they stay slightly moist, but not soggy. Spray with a fine mist of water if the roots begin to dry out.

Plant for indoor growing. If you’re anxious to start planting, strawberries do well indoors and will often fruit within six weeks of planting, providing that you grow a reliable day-neutral like Seascape. Getting your plants growing now will also mean quicker fruiting when it’s time to transition them outdoors.

To have success growing strawberries indoors, place the plants in a bright location, such as in a western, southern or eastern window or under full-spectrum lighting. Also hand-pollinate the flowers when they appear by rubbing a small paintbrush in each flower. This will move the pollen from the stamen to the pistil.

Prepare bareroot/dormant crowns for planting. Soak the roots of plants in a solution of water mixed with a small amount of vitamin B-1 or sea kelp for 1-3 hours. In the meantime, moisten potting soil so that it’s damp but not soggy. Fill a container that is at least 7-8 inches deep and 7-8 inches wide with the soil, stopping about an inch below the rim of the pot.

Plant. Remove the plants from the water and trim off about ½ an inch from the ends of the roots. Plant the strawberries in the pot, making sure that the roots extend straight down. Firm the soil around the crown so that it remains above the soil. Ensure that no roots are showing.

Water. Soak the strawberry plants after planting, and wait until the top inch of soil dries out before watering again. Always keep the soil moist but not soggy, as fruiting plants require a constant source of moisture.

Fertilize regularly. Feed strawberries with an organic fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and higher on phosphorus and potassium. High amounts of nitrogen will result in lots of leaves and no fruit.

Julie Bawden-Davis is a garden writer and master gardener, who is the author of seven books, including The Strawberry Story: How To Grow Great Berries Year-Round in Southern California, and The Strawberry Story: How to Grow Great Berries in the Northeast. She is also founder of HealthyHouseplants.com.

How to grow strawberries

Always a favourite, strawberries give a quick return for your efforts. Choose varieties that crop in succession and you’ll have sun-warmed, juicy berries to pick from late May to October.

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More advice on growing strawberries:

  • How to get an early crop of strawberries
  • The best strawberries to grow
  • Strawberry types explained
  • How to make a strawberry bed
  • Propagate strawberries from runners
  • How to grow strawberries from seed
  • Harvest strawberries all summer
  • How to grow alpine strawberries
  • How to plant a strawberry hanging basket

Damp strawberries will quickly go mouldy, so only wash what you can eat.

Growing strawberries from runners

Growing strawberries from bare-root runners

How and where to plant strawberries

Plant bare-rooted strawberry runners in spring or late summer/autumn. A sunny, sheltered site is essential for healthy plants and well-flavoured fruits.

To prepare the soil, dig in plenty of well-rotted garden compost and apply a dressing of sulphate of potash fertiliser. Plant the strawberries so their roots are just buried, about 30-45cm apart, then firm the soil around them. Water well for the first few weeks.

Strawberries are also suited to growing in pots and hanging baskets. Use deep pots at least 15cm wide and plant one strawberry per pot. They like well-drained conditions, so use a soil-based compost with a deep layer of gravel or broken crocks in the base.

A growing bag will support six to eight strawberry plants, especially if you lay one bag over another, with holes cut to allow roots to penetrate to the full depth.

Watch Monty Don’s video guide to planting up a new strawberry bed:

Looking after strawberry plants

To encourage flowering and fruit set, feed with tomato fertiliser (follow the pack instructions) and water regularly. Avoid wetting any of the ripening fruits to prevent grey mould.

Tuck some straw around the plants just before the fruit starts to develop. This helps to keep the berries clean and deters slugs and snails.

Watch Monty Don’s video guide to protecting strawberry crops:

To encourage strong growth for next year’s crop, after fruiting finishes, cut off foliage about 5cm above ground level and give plants a good feed with a general-purpose fertiliser (again, follow the instructions on the pack).

After three to four years, fruit size and quality declines so you will need to replace your plants with new stock.

Harvesting strawberries

Harvesting strawberries

Once strawberries have been picked, the ripening process stops. So, wait until the berries are fully red, then pinch through the stalks with your finger and thumb to avoid bruising the fruit.

Storing strawberries

As strawberries are perishable, they’re best eaten straight from the plant, still warm from the sun. You can store unwashed fruit for a few days in the fridge. Some varieties are suitable for freezing.

Ripe strawberries to pick

Strawberries: preparation and uses

Damp strawberries will quickly go mouldy, so only wash what you can eat and blot them dry on kitchen paper. If you’re lucky enough to have a glut, whizz them into delicious smoothies or use to make jam.

Grey mould on strawberry

Strawberries: problem solving

Protect against slugs and snails, and net to deter birds.

Grey mould can be a problem in wet weather, causing the berries to rot. Water plants in the morning rather than in the evening to give them time to dry out. If the problem persists, use a systemic fungicide.

Why choose cold-stored strawberry runners?

Mail-order fruit nurseries sell bare-root runners that have been stored in cold conditions. Once planted, these young plants grow quickly to form flowers and fruit in as little as 60 days. Plant them into pots or hanging baskets for a speedy, easy and delicious crop.

Great strawberries to grow

Choose summer-fruiters or everbearers

Summer

  • ‘Elsanta’ – heavy cropper with large, tasty, red fruits
  • ‘Elvira’ – heavy crops and good disease resistance
  • ‘Hapil’ – large glossy fruits, even in dry conditions
  • ‘Honeoye’ – prolific fruiter with large, firm berries
  • ‘Pegasus’ – sweet, juicy, top-quality berries
  • ‘Symphony’ – good yields and fairly pest resistant

Everbearers

  • ‘Aromel’ – abundant dark red, juicy berries
  • ‘Christine’ – sweet fruits that ripen in late May
  • ‘Mara des Bois’ – large, deliciously aromatic fruits

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Find many more great strawberry varieties to grow here

Learn How To Store And Plant Bare Root Strawberries

Nothing heralds summer’s onset like a crop of fresh strawberries. If you’re starting your own berry patch, it’s very possible that you have purchased bare root strawberry plants. The question now is how to store and plant bare root strawberries.

What is a Bare Root Strawberry?

So exactly what is a bare root strawberry plant? Bare root strawberry plants are dormant plants that are not planted in soil. Instead, they appear as bare roots with shriveled foliage attached. Nurseries and seed catalogs most often ship out bare root plants since they are easier and less expensive to ship. Planting bare root strawberries properly is the key to ensuring that they wake from their dormant state and begin berry production as soon as possible.

It isn’t always easy to tell if the plant is alive and healthy, but there are some hints that can clue you into the welfare of the plants.

First, they should not show any signs of mold or mildew and should not smell odd or rotten.
Second, the berry plants should be free from damage with foliage intact and heavy, not light, dried out root systems.

Planting Bare Root Strawberries

Plan on planting the bare root berries outside after all danger of frost

has passed in your region. June bearing varieties should be planted in early spring once the soil has thawed.

Prepare a full sun, well-draining garden plot with 3 inches (8 cm.) of compost dug into a 12-inch (30 cm.) depth. Also, work in 1 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer for each 100 square feet (30 m.) of the bed. Soak the bare root strawberry plants for 20 minutes in a bucket of water. Just soak the roots, there’s no need to submerge the entire plant. This allows the roots to rehydrate and break their dormant cycle.

Next, dig planting holes to the length of the roots and two times as wide. Gently spread out the roots in the hole and fill in with soil, keeping the crown of the plant at soil level. Space the plants 18 inches (46 cm.) apart in rows that are 3 feet (1 m.) apart. Water in well and lay a 2-inch (5 cm.) layer of mulch around each plant to conserve water. Thereafter, irrigate the bed each week with 1-2 inches (3-5 cm.) of water. Bare root strawberry plants should begin leafing out by early summer.

Storing Bare Root Strawberries

Storing bare root strawberries is not recommended, but sometimes life throws us a curve ball and it just can’t be avoided. Of primary concern when storing bare root berries is protection from cold weather. Ideally, the strawberry plants will over winter much better in the ground. If it can’t be helped, however, pot them in some good quality soil and place them in the garage, root cellar or basement to protect them from the cold — or during warmer months, keep them cool.

The plants should get some light, so you may choose to store them outside. If that’s the case, be sure to keep them covered during cold snaps. Also, if you store them outside, be aware that if temps warm up, the plants may emerge from their dormancy prematurely. If a frost follows, the plants may die.

Protecting the roots is also of primary concern, which is why it is paramount to cover them up. Either place the plants in potting soil, sand, or wood chips and sawdust; anything to shield the roots and hold in moisture.

Additionally, when storing bare root berries, never let the roots dry out. Keep the roots moist, not waterlogged. While bare roots are prone to drying out, overwatering will likely rot them.

Strawberries are hardy perennials, but the plants become less robust after about three years. Start your strawberries from seed, and then propagate by cuttings and runners. Follow along with this handy How to Grow Strawberries from Seeds guide and grow some sweetness.!

Latin

Fragaria vesca
Family: Rosaceae

Difficulty
Challenging

Season & Zone
Exposure: Full sun
Zone: 5-9

Timing
Sow indoors in the winter. An earlier start may result in berries the first year. Start any time between December and the beginning of February. After that time, they will still work, but you will not harvest berries during the first season. Transplant out at least 3 weeks after last frost.

Starting
Germination is the trickiest aspect to growing strawberries. Be patient, and try the tricks below.

Tuck your strawberry seed packet inside a sealed plastic bag or airtight container and place in your freezer for 3-4 weeks. When you remove the bag or container, do not break the seal until it (and its living contents) have reached room temperature. This may take several hours. Err on the side of caution. Opening the package too quickly may result in water condensing on the cold seeds, and this will reduce your chances of success.

Once the sealed package has “thawed” to room temperature, you’re ready to plant. Sow the seeds on the surface of pre-moistened, sterilized seed starting mix in trays or small containers. Place these on a piece of felt or other thick cloth that has its end sitting in water. The idea is to wick up water from below so that the seedling medium stays constantly and evenly damp until germination.

Keep your seeded trays under bright fluorescent lights at a constant temperature of 18-24°C (65-75°F). Germination may take anywhere from 7 days to 6 weeks. Be patient. Once germination occurs, increase ventilation around your plants to prevent damping off.

Once your seedlings have their third true leaf, they can be transplanted into their own pots. Be sure to harden your seedlings off carefully and gradually before transplanting outside.

Growing
Space transplants 60cm (24″) apart in rows 90-120cm (36-48″) apart. Everbearing varieties (such as ours) tend to produce fewer runners, and will produce more fruit if the runners are removed. In the first year of growth, it may be preferable to encourage runners, and let them fill in the spaces between transplants with new offspring plants.

Grow strawberries in a well-drained, sandy loam that has been generously dug with organic matter such as finished compost or well-rotted manure. Dig ¼ cup complete organic fertilizer into the soil beneath each transplant. Keep soil moist, but not soggy. A mulch of straw around plants may help prevent the soil from drying out.

Companion Planting
These little plants respond strongly to nearby plants. Couple them with beans, borage, garlic, lettuce, onions, peas, spinach, and thyme. Avoid Brassicas and fennel.

More on Companion Planting.

*This post may contain affiliate links, which means as an Amazon Associate I may receive a small percentage from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the links, at no additional cost to you*

You can buy started strawberry plants at the nursery, but by buying bare root strawberry sets you can not only save a ton of money, but get a larger variety and healthier, more vigorous plants! And if your family is like mine, there can never be too many strawberries!

There are dozens of strawberry varieties for every climate, so before purchasing make sure the variety you are looking at is well suited to your growing zone. All the varieties can be categorized into three types:

June bearing – The most popular & most productive of all the varieties, as their name suggests, berries are harvested over the course of 4-5 weeks in early summer. With a huge yield in just a few weeks, these strawberries are great for making preserves, jams & jellies (but they are also great for fresh snacking!). June bearing generally produce the biggest berries and the largest amount of runners (baby strawberry plants).

Ever-bearing – Unlike June bearers, their name is a little misleading. They don’t bear all year round, but do have two large harvests (although not as much as the one June bearing harvest), usually mid summer and then again in early autumn. Ever bearing berries produce smaller fruit than June bearers and less runners.

Day Neutral – These are the true “ever bearers” as they will produce fruit from spring to fall so they are great if you are looking for fresh eating harvests with total yields similar to ever-bearing varieties. Day Neutrals produce the smallest strawberries. They also produce very few runners so they can be easier to maintain than June or Ever bearing varieties, but that also means they aren’t reproducing new plants for you. Some gardeners even grow them as annuals, starting fresh with a new crop each year.

Most gardeners grow a combination of strawberry types – June bearers for the big juicy berries with a big all-at-once harvest for preserving and then either an Ever Bearing or Day Neutral variety so they can have fresh eating berries all season. Strawberries grow great in containers or raised beds because they love loose, rich compost. If you are planting in the ground, till up the area for planting down about a foot. Get a soil test done to see if you need to amend your soil before transplanting – strawberries like a pH of 6.0-6.5. They love a rich compost made from food waste or aged barnyard manure. Select a spot that gets a least 8 hours of full sun. Strawberries will grow in partial shade, but the fruit yields will be greatly decreased.

Preparing & Planting Bare Root Strawberry Plants

When you get your bare root berries, they won’t look like much. To harvest the bare root plants, the nursery has dug them up while still dormant, allowing them to survive even without water & nutrients. You should try to plant your bare root plants as soon as possible after purchase so your plants don’t “wake up” before you get them in the ground. You should plant in early spring/late winter, about a month before your last frost date for your area as long as the ground has thawed. If you buy your berries too early and the ground isn’t ready yet, keep them in a cool, dark location. Mist the roots occasionally so they don’t dry up. To get the plants ready to go in the ground, carefully separate the plants untangling the roots. Each plant should have a crown (a hard round ball) with roots coming out the bottom. There might be a young plant starting to wake up, emerging from the top of the crown. Fill a bowl with warm water and place the plant roots in the water. If you have some liquid fish fertilizer you can add a little to the water. You don’t have to submerge the whole plant, just get the roots in and let them soak for about 30 minutes to hydrate them and get them ready to wake up.

Lay the bare root plants out where they are to be planted. Keep in mind June bearing varieties will produce runner plants. You want to leave room for each mother plant to have 3-4 daughter plants. The Ever Bearing & Day Neutral varieties will not produce that many runners and can be placed closer together. Refer to the package instructions, but in general non runner varieties can be spaced every 12 inches, the June Bearers being placed 18-24 inches apart. Dig a hole about 6-7 inches deep, place the plant in so the crown is just at the soil surface level and the roots have plenty of space to spread. Cover the roots with compost, holding the crown at surface level. You don’t want to bury the crown or it could rot, and you don’t want it totally exposed or it could dry out.

Give your new strawberry patch a good watering and then cover with mulch. Straw is a popular choice. Mulching will keep the roots warmer, will help keep the soil moist and keep the weeds down. Water the patch often enough to keep soil moist.

After two weeks, I like to give the new berries a boost with some all natural chicken manure fertilizer (). I fertilize again every 2-3 weeks until the plants start to put out blossoms.

Now here comes the hardest part – but trust me it will pay off in the end. You have to pinch off all the flowers the plants set out that first year (for June Bearers). Yes, that means no strawberries this year but just wait until next year, you will have huge, healthy plants with strong roots and more strawberries than you know what to do with! This first year you want the plants to focus their energy on putting out strong roots and growing big, not dividing their energy by producing fruit as well. For June Bearing varieties, pinch off all the flowers AND all the runner plants for that first year. For Ever Bearing pinch off all the flowers and runners through at least the end of July – which means yes, you will have a small fall harvest. For Day Neutral you actually don’t have to pinch off the flowers if you are planning on growing them as annuals. If you are planning on keeping a bed of perennial Day Neutrals, I would pinch off all the spring/summer blooms to get a good strong plant established.

Long Term Maintenance

Strawberries don’t require as much maintenance as some might think. In the fall, remulch the berry patch with straw or leaves to help keep them warm & moist over the winter. In the spring, side dress the rows with compost to provide nutrients for the upcoming growing season. During the growing season, the biggest challenge is keeping the runner plants in check. Strawberries will reproduce until they take over entire area where they are planted. If they are allowed to do that, the plants are using up all the resources reproducing rather than setting fruit. Allow each mother plant to set out 3-4 daughter plants and pinch off all other runners. Pinch off any runners the daughter plants produce the first year, but the second year allow 3-4 of her daughters to set. Where this cycle ends is up to you and how much space you have. Strawberry plants peak in harvest around year three, then decline for a couple years before they die off around year 6 or 7. As we previously mentioned above though, if you don’t want to deal with all the runner maintenance, select Ever Bearing or Day Neutral varieties which produce little to no runners. No matter which variety you plant, netting the plants once the fruit starts to set is vital unless you want to feed all the neighborhood birds, squirrels, rabbits and deer!

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Planting Strawberry Plants

Few things are as delicious as homegrown strawberries, and the success of your harvest begins right with the planting site and method. For maximum growth and yields later on, give your plants the best foundation possible.

NOTE: This is part 4 in a series of 11 articles. For a complete background on how to grow strawberry plants, we recommend starting from the beginning.

Before Planting

Before you plant, check your soil pH. Contact your local County Extension Office for information about soil testing in your area, or purchase one of our digital meters for quick and accurate results. Ideally, your strawberries need a soil pH between 5.3-6.5. Strawberries will thrive in nearly any garden soil, even doing well among sand or rocks., but steer clear of soils that are extremely heavy or poorly drained.

  • Since strawberries are fussy about being too deep or too shallow, make sure the crown is planted just right.
  • Firm the soil around each plant and water well with a starter solution of Stark® Strawberry Food.

Planting Tips

  • Strawberries come in bare root bundles. When you receive your plants separate the bundled plants, remove any dried leaves at their tops and soak the roots in water for an hour or two before planting.
  • Plant them early in spring, while the ground is still cool and moist, and in a sunny spot, if possible.
  • Fan out the roots, keeping them straight down. (If the roots are long, you can trim them back to about 4 to 5”, before planting.)
  • Plant the crown even with the soil line. Avoid planting too deep or too shallow.
  • Firm the soil around each plant and water well with a starter solution of Stark® Strawberry Food.

First Year Blossoms

  • We typically recommend you pinch off all blossoms during the first season, to save the plant’s strength for heavier bearing in following years. But as long as new plants get off to an early start and are growing well, you can leave on just a few flower buds. A few berries will not weaken the plants, and a small crop the first year is always welcome!
  • For everbearing varieties, it’s best to remove all the early-season blooms. Then you can let the later blooms develop and harvest a crop in late summer the first year.
  • During the summer, the plants will grow lots of runners. These will take root and become new plants. To keep your strawberry bed neat and to save a path down the middle, encourage these runners to stay within the row. Just lift the runner before it roots and head it in the right direction.

Planting Beds

There are three methods in which you can plant your berry patch: matted rows, hill rows or solid beds. Strawberries can also be grown in containers.

Matted Rows

  • This is the most popular system in the northern and eastern states. The plants are set out in late winter and spring and are spaced 1½-2’ apart in rows with 3½-4’ between rows. The mother plants set at this spacing send out runners in all directions to make a mat 1½-2’ wide, and solid the whole length of the row. This system is best used by June-bearing varieties since the ever bearer types don’t set many runners. If you decide to use this system for everbearers, you should use the closest recommended spacing.

Hill Rows

  • This system is used in areas where growth may continue most of the year. In the South and Gulf Coast states, the beds are made 8-10” higher. With single hill beds, the plants are spaced 1’ apart in the row with 3’ between rows. Put the outer rows 3-4’ apart. Plants utilizing this system are grown as annuals since runners are not produced and all fruit is harvested from the mother plants. Use Rapid Red Mulch Film as mulch with this system.

Solid Beds

  • This is the ideal planting system for the backyard gardener with a small strawberry patch where it’s not necessary to walk between the rows. Set your plants about 10-14” apart in the row with the rows 1½-2’ apart. The runner plants will spread freely from the mother plants, and you’ll have solid strawberries. First-season cultivation is an important step in establishing a productive ongoing strawberry bed. Your plants should be covered with about 4-6” of straw; wheat straw is best. Don’t put your mulch down until the ground freezes through, because if put down too early, it will keep the plants from “hardening off” to winter’s blast. Come spring, rake this covering aside and use it as a ground cover to keep the strawberry bed moist and weed-free.

Containers

  • Strawberries can also be grown in containers. Select a location with at least 5-6 hours of sun a day. Strawberries only need about 4-6 inches of soil for their roots so shallow containers will work. Whatever size or shape container you use, make sure they have adequate drainage holes in the bottom. Water your strawberry plants whenever the soil is dry to ½ inch depth. Do not over water as constant damp soil encourages disease, but don’t allow the plants to dry out either. If the plants produce runners, train them into the container so they will take roots, then plant into new pots to start fresh plants. Be sure to keep the soil around the new plants damp until roots are established. When the plants no longer produce well, replant your container with fresh soil and new plants.

Additional Notes

  • If birds bother your berries, cover the bed with a Garden Net.
  • We recommend replanting your strawberry beds every two to three years.
  • For June bearing types, plant this spring, harvest next June. In early August, remove foliage by mowing at 3-4” height and fertilize. In the third spring, start a new bed. Harvest fruit in June on original bed. Destroy plants after the second harvest to prevent disease and since production goes down.
  • For everbearing varieties, start harvesting in mid-summer of the first year. Start a new bed the next spring. Continue to harvest all summer long on the original bed then destroy it. The finest and best yields are from young vigorous plants that are allowed to crop for a maximum of two seasons.
  • Life of plants 3-4 years with proper maintenance.
  • Suggested number of plants for a family of 5: 100-150 (25 plants per person).

In This Series

  • Introduction

Getting Started

  • Acclimate
  • Location
  • Planting
  • Soil Preparation

Care & Maintenance

  • Fertilizing
  • Pest & Disease Control
  • Pruning
  • Spraying
  • Watering

Other Topics

  • Harvesting

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