Strawberries are one of the best fruits to grow in the home garden. A traditional strawberry growing system has them growing in the garden or raised bed in wide rows. When little garden space is available or there is not enough space in full sun to grow strawberries, containers are a fun alternative. When grown in a container, plants not only produce fruit but are also ornamental, making them an attractive addition to a patio or deck.
Growing strawberries in containers takes some special considerations. Learn more below about getting the most from container-grown strawberries.
When grown in containers, strawberries are best treated as annuals. Because they are shallow-rooted and short-term perennials, they are rarely successfully overwintered. Day neutral and everbearing cultivars are the best to use because they fruit readily their first year, making them easy to grow as annuals.
While not recommended, June bearing cultivars can be grown in containers. They, however, have several limitations. June bearing types will only flower and fruit once early in the growing season, making them less ornamental. They also tend to produce runners more vigorously than day neutral and everbearing types, which require more care and place more stress on the plants.
Nearly all day neutral and everbearing types of strawberries can be successfully grown in containers. Day neutral are often the best suited because they bloom and fruit most of the growing season, whereas everbearing have two major flushes of bloom. Day neutral varieties to consider include 'Albion,' 'Cabrillo,' 'Everest,' and 'Seascape.' 'Ozark Beauty' is a good everbearing cultivar.
Several cultivars of strawberries are available that are particularly ornamental. They often have bright pink flowers (instead of white) and are selected specifically for growing in containers. These cultivars will not be as productive as other types of strawberries, but they are still nice options. Cultivars of more ornamental types well suited for containers include 'Beltran, 'Summerbreeze Snow,' 'Summerbreeze Rose,' Summerbreeze Cherry Blossom,' 'Elan,' 'Toscana,' 'Frisan,' and 'Ruby Ann.'
The best containers for strawberries are relatively large with a lot of surface area. Because strawberries are shallow-rooted, containers do not have to be deep. Containers at least 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep are best.
Strawberry pots or jars are also nice options, as the open "pockets" along the side of the container allow for more area to grow plants. Maintaining consistent moisture in strawberry jars can be difficult because plants are at different levels within the pot. This means the upper plants (especially those in side pockets) will dry out more quickly than those lower on the container. Watering both from the top and sides will help.
Strawberries are readily found at garden centers growing in hanging baskets. This is an attractive way to highlight the pretty flowers and fruit. However, hanging baskets are difficult to maintain throughout the growing season as they dry out quickly and can have high soil temperatures. These conditions are difficult for strawberries as they require consistent soil moisture and do not tolerate drying out. Additionally, the soil temperatures in hanging baskets can get very warm. As soil temperatures increase, fruit size tends to get smaller, especially for day neutral varieties.
Strawberries can be planted in containers as dormant bare root plants or live plants purchased at the garden center. Start plants in spring (early to mid-April) and protect them from below-freezing temperatures by bringing them indoors should frost threaten. When plating, it is essential not to put plants too deep in the potting soil. The crown of the plant should be even with the soil surface.
Containers should be placed in an area that receives full sun. Plants should receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Utilize an all-purpose potting soil. If no starter fertilizer is included in the potting soil, an all-purpose fertilizer can be incorporated prior to planting as outlined in the label directions.
Ideally, plants are spaced about 8 inches apart in the container. A 12-inch diameter container can accommodate 3 or 4 plants. Those varieties that don't have extensive runners can be placed a bit closer together than those that set runners profusely.
Consistent moisture is essential because strawberries have shallow roots and don't tolerate dry, hot conditions. Sometimes maintaining consistent moisture in containers, especially hanging baskets, is difficult. Check regularly and water when the soil surface is dry. This could be daily and sometimes, in the heat of the summer, twice daily.
Apply fertilizer 2 to 3 times throughout the growing season. Just after a flush of fruit is harvested is an ideal time. Use a water-soluble, all-purpose fertilizer as outlined on the label.
Remove any diseased leaves or fruits as soon as they're noticed. Strawberries can be prone to disease issues and without regular scouting and removal of disease-infected materials, diseases can spread rapidly in containers.
It is beneficial to remove the first flush of blooms that form early in the spring season. This will allow plants to develop a more extensive root system rather than spending energy on early flower and fruit development.
Remove any runners that form. Day neutral and everbearing types typically produce few runners, so one or two small plantlets can be allowed to root alongside the parent plant, but any additional runners should be removed as they form. Runners with small plantlets hanging from the edge of the container or hanging basket can be attractive, but these small plantlets cannot root and support themselves. This means they take additional resources from the parent plant at the expense of flower and fruit development.
While day neutral and everbearing cultivars are better for containers, if June bearing cultivars are used, they can be grown similarly. When grown in the garden, the flowers are removed from the plants to promote runner development. It is best to allow June bearing strawberries to flower and fruit in the first year since it's not feasible to overwinter strawberries grown in containers and runner development is not beneficial in pots.
Harvest strawberries when the fruit is uniformly red. Pick the berries with the cap and stem attached to retain firmness and quality. Cut off the stem about 1/4 inch above the cap.
Container-grown strawberries will be less productive than their garden-grown counterparts. Everbearing strawberries will produce two major crops; one in June and another near the end of summer when temperatures cool. With day neutral types, expect to harvest a handful of berries every few weeks. Additionally, day neutral strawberries stop flowering and fruiting when temperatures get above 80-85°F. So the harvest will slow down or even stop during the heat of the summer but should resume when temperatures cool in the fall.
It is not recommended to overwinter strawberries grown in containers. Their shallow root systems and susceptibility to diseases make it difficult to grow these plants year to year in pots or hanging baskets. At the end of the growing season, simply remove them from the container and compost the plants. New plants can be purchased and planted next spring.
While the best varieties to use in containers are day neutral and everbearing, if June-bearing cultivars are used, they are still recommended to be treated as annuals. To overwinter these plants, containers must be dug into the soil and covered with at least 6 inches of straw. Even with this protection, they are highly prone to winter damage or death.