Preparing strawberry plants for winter

George WeigelStrawberries can be grown and overwintered in containers.

Q: I bought some strawberry plants in the spring and stuck them in long containers for the season. They grew very well. Do I have to put them in the ground or will they be OK in the containers over winter? Should I put them in the basement or another protected area?

A: You don’t have to plant strawberries in the ground. They do very well in containers and even hanging baskets, provided you keep them watered and fertilized.

If you’ve got space for in-ground growing, go ahead and plant the strawberries now, as soon as you can before the ground freezes. Then mulch with a few inches of straw or leaves and check them a few times over winter to make sure freezing and thawing hasn’t forced them up. If so, tamp them back down, water and add more straw or leaves.

Option 2 is to just keep the strawberries in the container over winter and plant them in the ground next spring. Or figure on growing them in containers for good if you don’t have space in the ground.

Container-grown strawberries benefit from a little winter protection. One of the best ways is to place the container in a bigger container and then insulate the space between with leaves or straw.

You can also place the container on the ground next to a heated wall and ideally out of the winter wind. Insulate the exposed sides of the container with mulch, leaves or straw. Or just bury the container. The surrounding soil will insulate the roots over winter. Then dig up and hose down the container next spring.

Yet another option is to take the container into an unheated shed or garage for winter. Don’t worry about lack of light. The plants will be dormant and don’t need light in winter. You’ll probably have to add just a little water every few weeks to keep the roots from getting too dry. Outside, melting snow and occasional cold rains usually keep the roots damp enough over winter without you having to water them.

The only winter storage method I wouldn’t recommend is taking the container inside a heated room and trying to grow them as a houseplant. That’s fine for some tropicals that grow year round in their native habitat, but strawberries need that cold dormancy of winter to help trigger a new round of fruiting.

Of all the fruits, strawberries are among the easiest to grow and winterizing your potted strawberry plants will keep them happy year after year.

Pots used to grow strawberries are usually made of terra cotta; the reddish-orange pots we all know so well. Both ‘regular’ terra cotta pots and those made specifically for strawberries or small succulents will work just fine. The reason for using terra cotta is that it’s highly porous which allows for better soil drainage. You can purchase strawberry pots at your local home and garden centers or online at places like Amazon.com. Another popular choice of container gardeners are wire hanging baskets lined with coconut fiber or moss.

Strawberries are perennials — they go through a period of dormancy in the winter and return each spring ready to go again. With a minimal amount of preparation for getting them through the winter, your strawberry plants in pots can be as productive as those grown in the ground. The amount of winterizing required depends on what planting zone you live in.

Virtually every planting zone is conducive for growing strawberry plants at least a few months out of the year. If you don’t know what zone you live in, go to PlantMaps.com to find out. Those living in zones 2-7 have harsh winter temperatures which will require winterizing your potted strawberries. Those living in zone 8 or higher can rest easy because no extra attention is necessary.

Winterizing strawberry pots in cold climates can be accomplished by putting the pots in a cool garage or cellar, or by removing the plants from the pot, planting them in plastic pots and planting those pots in the ground up to the top rim of the pots (leaving the plants exposed). The plants should then be covered over with a lose layer of straw.

For more temperate climates that don’t experience extended periods of temperatures below freezing, simply place the plants under the deck or on a covered porch to protect them from winter precipitation. If you have an extended period of below freezing temperatures, bring them into your garage or cellar.

Those living in the warmest climates — where berries are produced commercially — simply removing unwanted runners from the plants to promote healthier growth of the ‘main’ plant and watering them less frequently is sufficient.

That’s about all there is to winterizing your potted strawberry plants. Honest. Strawberries make a great container crop for the following reasons. They…

1. Have shallow root systems

2. Are low-maintenance plants

3. Produce small fruits that don’t require a lot of room

4. Have a vine-like quality that allows them to grow and produce outside the container

5. Naturally propagate runners that can be rooted quickly and easily into more pots

Ever-bearing strawberries (those which produce berries in the spring and late summer) are usually the best for growing in pots. Some of the more popular varieties of ever-bearing berries are Calypso, Alpine, Arapahoe and Alexandria.

When buying your plants, make sure you purchase plants with nice green foliage, few if any runners and plants whose root crowns are firm but fleshy feeling. Plants can be purchased at your local home and garden centers, or from fellow gardeners in your area who have plants to spare. Any of these reputable seed and plant catalogs are also excellent sources for quality plants that come with limited guarantees: Henry Fields, Gurney, Jung, Burpee, Park Seeds and Harris Seeds.

Growing strawberry plants in pots is a fun, economical, easy and delicious way to introduce yourself or your children to gardening and healthy eating.

Growing strawberries in pots and hanging baskets

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Growing strawberries in pots and hanging baskets is an easy way to enjoy super-sweet fruits all summer long. I keep a pot of strawberries on my sunny back deck as well as a few baskets in my polytunnel so I can graze as I putter in the garden. But why grow in containers? Why not plant them right in the garden? Strawberry plants are compact and perfect for tucking in small spaces like pots, planters, and baskets. Growing in pots is also a good way to foil pests like slugs that seem to know just when a strawberry is most sweet. Plus, strawberries grown in containers are generally less prone to bacterial and fungal diseases.

Berries grown in containers need excellent drainage and plenty of sun.

Best types of strawberries to grow in pots and baskets

You can grow any type of strawberry in a pot or basket and expect a harvest, but certain types of strawberries produce fruits once a year while others yield over months, not weeks.

  • June strawberries – June-bearing strawberry plants produce a generous harvest of large, sweet berries for several weeks in early summer. They’re popular among home gardeners and there are many varieties available to grow. To extend the season, you can plant early, mid-season, and late-season varieties of June-bearing strawberries.
  • Day neutral strawberries – These varieties yield a modest harvest of berries from late spring through autumn, and even offer a good crop the first year. The fruits, however, are smaller than June and ever-bearing strawberries.
  • Ever-bearing strawberries – While the name implies ever-bearing strawberries fruit continuously, the truth is that they produce several medium harvests over the course of the season. I’ve also found the plants to be less winter hardy than June-bearing or day neutral varieties. Protect the plants in winter with a mulch of straw or shredded leaves.

Many garden centres now offer strawberries in hanging baskets. Be sure to keep an eye on watering and fertilize the pot every few weeks with a liquid organic food to encourage high production.

Best containers for strawberry plants

It may seem like a small consideration, but container selection impacts the health of your plants and how much watering you’ll need to do. For example, choose a pot without drainage holes and you’ll quickly see the impact saturated soil has on plant health. Therefore, be sure to choose a pot with several good-sized drainage holes.

The container material also plays a part in maintenance. A porous material, like terra cotta, is gorgeous, but it dries out very quickly and you’ll need to be extra vigilant in keeping an eye on soil moisture. A plastic planter, on the other hand, retains moisture better than terra cotta. And if you really want the look of terra cotta, just find a plastic pot that fits inside the terra cotta one to boost moisture retention.

For a sunny deck or patio, there are some very cool stackable strawberry pots, hanging planters, or baskets for strawberries. Even fabric bags can be used to grow strawberry plants.

Strawberries can be planted in pots, planters, window-boxes, baskets, and even grow bags.

Best soil for strawberries in pots and baskets

Plants grown in containers need well-drained soil. In her container tip list, our container expert, Jessica recommends filling pots with a 50-50 blend of high-quality potting mix and compost. You can also DIY your own potting mix with our simple recipes.

Planting is also the right time to add slow-release organic fruit and berry fertilizer to your container. That way, you’ll feed your plants a little bit each time you water.

Planting strawberries in containers

Once you’ve assembled your strawberry plants, containers, potting mix-compost, and slow-release fertlizer, it’s time to plant! Many nurseries sell strawberry plants bareroot in spring or potted in 4 inch pots. For containers and baskets, I usually go with pre-potted strawberry plants as I only need a few and they generally are already growing well and have a head start over bareroot plants.

A typical 12 to 14 inch diameter hanging pot or basket can accommodate two to three plants. For strawberry towers or pots, tuck one plant per pocket. Plant so that the roots are covered, but the crowns of the plants are just above the soil. The crown is the short, thick stem where the foliage emerges on top and the roots below.

Water well and move your pot or basket to a location where it will get at least six to eight hours of sun every day. If you’re growing strawberries in a hanging basket, avoid hanging it in an area that receives a lot of gusty wind.

Strawberries grow best in pots that are in full sun and filled with a high-quality potting mix-compost blend. Don’t crowd them in the container, leaving at least 8 inches between plants.

Growing strawberries in pots and baskets

Ok, now that you’re growing strawberries in pots, planters, or baskets, it’s time to consider maintenance. Like all container plants, you’re in charge of watering, fertilizing, protecting, and, at the end of the season, prepping the pots for winter.

Watering strawberries in pots

Water regularly, especially when the plants are fruiting to ensure good-quality berries. Don’t overwater however. If you’re not sure if your pot needs to be watered, stick your finger into the soil to see if it’s still damp about an inch deep. Moist soil means don’t water. Dry soil means it’s time to water.

Fertilizing potted strawberries

I like to work in a slow-release organic fertilizer when I plant, but you can also use an organic liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks over the growing season (read package directions for specific instructions).

Pruning strawberry runners

Some varieties of strawberries produce runners which look nice when cascading down the side of a pot, but they do take energy away from the plant, reducing yield. Snip runners with sharp hand pruners as they appear to encourage maximum fruit production.

Protecting the fruit harvest

My container strawberries are bothered by fewer pests, diseases and even birds than my in-ground plants, but that doesn’t mean these things can’t occur. Keep an eye on your plants and if birds become a problem, drape the pots or baskets with bird netting.

Caring for potted strawberries in winter

In my northern region, strawberry plants won’t overwinter outside in pots and baskets. You can move the pots to a sheltered location like an unheated garage or basement. Do check every few weeks to see if the soil has dried out, watering when necessary. Or, you can pop them out of their container and tuck them into a garden bed to overwinter. Cover them with a mulch of straw or shredded leaves for added protection.

Are you growing strawberries in pots or baskets this season?

For further reading on growing plants in pots, be sure to check out these articles:

  • Organic fertilizers for container gardening
  • Container vegetable plants: the best varieties for success
  • Growing berries in containers
  • The 7 best herbs for container gardening

Tips For Winterizing Potted Strawberry Plants

Whether grown in pots or outdoor beds, suitable winter care of strawberries is essential. Strawberry plants need to be protected from both cold temperatures and wind in order for them to reproduce each year. Therefore, you’ll need to know how to care for your outdoor bed or strawberry plant pot in winter.

How to Over Winter Strawberry Jars

One of the most common questions pertaining to strawberry plants is, “Can you keep strawberries in a strawberry jar over winter?” The answer is no, not unless you plan on keeping them indoors, well away from any freezing temperatures. For instance, you can move pots to an unheated garage for winterizing potted strawberry plants until the return of spring; however, more often than not they are put in the ground instead.

While normally these plants are quite hardy, especially those planted in the ground, keeping them in strawberry pots (or jars) outdoors over winter is not recommended. Most strawberry jars are made of clay or terra cotta. These are not suitable for winter weather as they absorb moisture easily which leads to freezing and makes them more prone to cracking and breaking. This is detrimental to the plants.

Plastic pots, on the other hand, withstand the elements better, especially when sunken into the ground. For this reason, strawberry plants are usually removed from their clay containers after the first initial frost, and repotted into plastic ones that are at least six inches deep. These are then placed in the ground about 5 ½ inches, leaving the rim sticking up from the soil rather than flush with it. Cover the plants with about 3 to 4 inches of straw mulch. Remove the mulch once the plants show signs of growth in spring.

Winterizing Strawberries in Outdoor Beds

Mulch is all you need for winterizing strawberries in beds. The timing for this depends on your location but usually takes place after the first frost in your area. Generally, straw mulch is preferable, though hay or grass can also be used. However, these types of mulch usually contain weed seeds.

You’ll need to apply anywhere from 3 to 4 inches of mulch over the plants, with raised beds receiving somewhat more for additional protection. Once the plants begin growth in early spring, the mulch can be cleared away.

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