If you don’t have much garden space for fruit, great news – strawberries are compact plants that are very happy in containers. Strawberries look gorgeous in containers, especially when grown in a strawberry tower or against a sunny fence. Read on or watch our video to discover the best ways to grow these irresistible fruits…
Types of Strawberries
There are two main types of strawberries. Everbearing or perpetual strawberries crop over a longer period, usually from early summer to the start of autumn. You won’t get a sudden rush of berries, but instead a few berries regularly for months, which is great if you want your crop spaced out to enjoy fresh throughout the summer. The berries tend to be smaller, but are widely considered to have a superior aroma and taste.
Summer-fruiting or June-bearing strawberries crop all in one go, with different varieties cropping at slightly different times over a few short weeks any time from early to midsummer. The berries tend to be larger and, because they come all at once, are great if you want to make jam, can your berries or freeze them.
There’s also a third, less common type of strawberry – the day-neutral strawberry, which is unaffected by daylength. The plants simply crop once they’ve reached a big enough size and if conditions are warm enough.
A fourth option is alpine strawberries. Unlike the other strawberries they grow well in shade and can be left to pretty much get on with it! They are the sweetest, most aromatic fruits of all – but they are tiny.
How to Plant Strawberries in Containers
Potted strawberry plants become available in garden centers and from online suppliers anytime from spring, and are best planted as soon as you get them. Strawberries are shallow-rooted, so there’s little point using a deep container to grow them in as it would just be a waste of potting mix. Instead, a wide, shallow container is perfect for growing a few plants together. You could plant a smaller container with just one plant, but smaller pots will dry out quicker and need watering more often, so just bear that in mind.
Strawberries will grow well in a good-quality, peat-free general-purpose mix. I wouldn’t advise using garden soil, as in a container it will just compact down and become slow to drain, which your strawberries definitely won’t like. Strawberry plants prefer a free-draining mix that stays moist enough but never gets sodden.
To help plants along, incorporate a fertiliser such as blood, fish, and bone or a vegan alternative into the potting mix. Choose a balanced fertiliser (one with roughly equal N:P:K ratio on the packet), or ideally one with slightly more potassium in it (K) and less nitrogen (N), because too much nitrogen will encourage soft, leafy growth over flowers and fruits.
Alternatively, apply a high-potassium liquid feed such as a tomato fertiliser every two weeks throughout the growing season when you feed your tomatoes, peppers and other fruiting vegetables.
Firm the plants into the potting mix, making sure the crown of your plants (where the stems emerge from) sits just above the soil level - don’t bury it completely, or it could rot. If the crown is leaning to one side, then have it pointing towards the edge of the container. That way the plants will grow up and over the rim, and fruits will hanging down over the edge the container, making them easier to pick.
You can get away with spacing strawberries a bit closer than they would need to be in the ground – aim for about 8-10in (20-25cm) apart.
Don’t fill pots to the brim with potting mix, but stop an inch (2-3cm) or so from the rim so that water soaks in rather than running straight off, and to leave room for mulch.
Mulch for Strawberries
The last thing to do is add a mulch. Straw is a great choice because it will lift the foliage, fruits and flowers up above the potting mix. This will help to keep the fruits clean and ensure they’re not sitting on the damp surface of the potting mix, which could causing rotting – something these soft fruits are prone to.
Straw will also help to shade the potting mix so it retains moisture for longer while keeping the roots a little cooler on hot, sunny days. Its light colour also reflects some of the sunlight back onto the fruits to help them ripen.
Tuck your straw in around the crowns, making sure the foliage is lifted onto it, not buried by it. If you can’t get straw, you could use wood chips or other dry organic matter.
Strawberries prefer full sun, ideally with a minimum of six hours direct sunshine a day - a suntrap patio is perfect, where warmth radiated from walls and paving can help ripen fruits quicker. They will cope with a part-shaded position, but expect a more modest harvest and fruits that aren’t quite as sweet or aromatic.
Caring for Your Strawberry Plants
Birds love strawberries, and we love birds, but not when they’re munching on our berries! Keep them off by suspending bird netting over your plants, which should allow pollinating insects access to the flowers. Make sure to weigh down the edges so that birds can’t get under and become trapped.
If your young plants are sturdy and healthy, and they start to flower and fruit before the end of the season, it’s fine to let them fruit during their first year. But if you’re planting very small plants it may be wise to pick off the flowers in their first season to encourage the plants to bulk out a bit first.
Plants will produce long stems with no flowers or leaves at the end. These are called runners and we can root these into pots of potting mix to grow more plants – but not just yet! Remove any runners that appear in the first year and second years to encouraging your plants to concentrate on getting bigger, better, and bolder. They will become gradually less productive after three or four years, so that’s a good time to start rooting runners to replace them.
Pick the berries when they are a rich red all over, and enjoy them as soon as you can. Try not to refrigerate them if possible, as this pretty much kills the flavour. Forget the cream, a little sprinkle of pepper really helps to bring out the flavour – honestly!
Once the harvests are done, trim off the old foliage and tidy up your plants.
Other Container Options
Troughs or deep guttering secured to a sunny wall or fence is a showstopping growing option, but strawberry pots and towers - with lots of planting pockets up their height as well as on the top - are an incredibly efficient way to grow strawberries in a small area. The downside is that they do need very regular watering – turn your back for a moment and you run the risk of the plants simply shrivelling up!
If your strawberry pots are made of terracotta, be aware that this wicks away moisture more quickly than other materials. However, if there’s a gorgeous terracotta pot you’d like to use, maybe line it first or drop a close-fitting plastic pot inside it, so you get all the good looks but none of the inconvenience of a quickly-drying pot.