Growing Strawberries

Strawberry closeupI thought my days as a temptress were long gone not realizing that when I filled the front border of my streetside raised boxes with strawberries I would be back in business. Years ago I attracted the boys at the school dance, today it’s just about everybody. I know because I watch my delivery folks and joggers from behind my front curtain as they debate, “Should I or shouldn’t I snag a berry?”

I want you to know I had pure motives when I chose this perfect spot; as strawberries grow best in full sun, in fast draining soil, and the cascading berries would be safe from slugs and various rots.

Twenty years ago before I created edible landscapes I grew them discreetly in a backyard vegetable garden. Early one spring I had chosen a sunny patch about 10’ by 10,’ enough for our family of four, and added lots of aged manure and compost, plus soil sulfur to create a slightly acidic soil. (Gardeners with very acidic soils add limestone instead.) I added stepping stones to make weeding and harvesting easier. As I live in an arid climate I also installed a drip irrigation system. Two strawberry varieties were perfect for our area: ‘Sequoia,’ a June bearing variety and ‘Quinalt,’ an everbearing one. I placed bare-root plants a foot apart and spread out their roots. To prevent rot I placed the crown at soil level and covered the roots lightly with soil, tamped them down, and watered them well. When the soil warmed up I added two inches of clean straw to prevent weeds. To boost productivity, I pinched off all the June flowers and the constant crop of summer runners and kept the slugs at bay by hand picking. That fall the ‘Quinalt’ plants gave a small harvest, the next spring both varieties were spectacular. With only a spring fertilizing, mulching, and runner trimming the next summer crop was great too. At the end of the season I allowed runners to develop, and used them when I planted a brand new patch. I harvested from the old bed until the new one was producing and then turned under the old one. For eight years I had great harvests of berries for the kids to pick, pies, and extra for freezing and jam.

There are fewer diseases and pest problems when strawberries are grown in containers

As the years went by I needed fewer strawberries and had less time. Fortunately, I then discovered Alpine strawberries. These perennials produce all summer, have no runners, produce fruits on top of the plant out of reach of slugs, take light shade, and reseed themselves. With little maintenance we could harvest great berries for cereal, or even a smoothie, from June through October. Ten years later I still have small patches of Alpine strawberries but lately I had a longing for a bigger harvest and that’s when I discovered the new day neutral strawberries–and thus became such a garden temptress. I found the plants produce mostly berries, not runners, so are easier to control in containers and garden beds and for six months at that, so only a few dozen plants were needed. I had room in the front of my planter boxes and last spring, with only some added compost, planted the day neutral ‘Tristar’ berries. They didn’t need the flowers and runners removed and they started producing in late May–then ooh la la. Those perfect lipstick-red perfumed berries were tempting all but the most steely individuals. The neighborhood children help themselves on the way to school, I offered them to visitors who couldn’t get over how much better they taste than the ones from the store. I still have plenty for myself. Lots of berries to savor, and lots more to share, what fun!

Strawberries in Your Edible Landscape

Strawberry leaves in the fall

Strawberries and flowers

Accent your fruit color with red flowers and accoutrement

Strawberry Types and Recommended Varieties:

There are four types of strawberries: June bearing, everbearing, day neutral, and Alpine strawberries.

June bearing: June bearers are day length and temperature sensitive and produce only one big June crop. Perfect for eating fresh, and for preserving, are generally planted in large patches and the beds are replanted every few years.

‘Allstar’: large sweet berries, plants are June bearing and have good disease resistance; best in Northeast, Midwest, and eastern Canada.

‘Honeoye’: great flavor. Plants are June bearing, for Northeast and Midwest.

‘Sequoia’: produces in June and July, bred for the West but adaptable throughout zones 5 – 8, disease resistant.

Everbearing: plants are similar to the June bearing but less sensitive to day length. They produce a big crop of berries in June and small crop in fall.

‘Ozark Beauty’: classic old-timer with wedge-shaped large berries. Good for Midwest and Northeast.

‘Quinault’: flavorful berries, plants are very disease resistant and best for the Northwest.

Day neutral: these plants form flower buds regardless of day length and produce from spring through fall; the berries are small, but of high quality. Plants are less prone to diseases but produce poorly in hot climates.

‘Tribute’: medium-size berries. The plants are vigorous and very disease resistant.

‘Tristar’: fairly small berries, great flavor, vigorous; resists red stele and verticillium wilt.

Alpine: selected from wild European strawberries, they are started from seeds or plants. The berries are small and intense. The plants set no runners and prefer cool conditions and some shade.

‘Alexandria’ – The most common red Alpine strawberry, small mounding plants.

‘Rugen Improved’ – small mounding plants, fruits larger than most Alpines.

alpine strawberries

Alpine strawberries do not produce runners and tolerate light shade, making them perfect for a woodland path.

Strawberry Recipe:

Strawberry French Toast

This makes a very special brunch (it’s lovely with champagne) and takes full advantage of your gardens’ first spring flush of berries.

Filling:

  • 1/4 lb. natural cream cheese
  • 4 tablespoons strawberry yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup sliced ripe strawberries

Prepare filling: With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, yogurt, and powdered sugar until smooth and light. Slowly add the milk until the mixture is of spreading consistency. Gently fold in sliced strawberries. Cover bowl; set aside.

Toast:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 8 slices hearty Italian bread, slightly stale
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Garnish: whole strawberries

In a large bowl whisk eggs, milk, sugar, and nutmeg until blended. Soak the bread slices in the mixture for a few minutes. In a nonstick frying pan, or griddle, over medium heat melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add 1 tablespoon oil and stir to blend. Drain off excess milk mixture from the bread slices as you remove them from the bowl and arrange them in one layer in the frying pan, or on griddle, and cook each until golden brown. Turning them occasionally for even browning. If you need to cook the toast in separate batches add more oil and butter for each batch and repeat the process, keeping the finished pieces warm in the oven.

Spread equal amounts of cream cheese onto 4 French toast slices and cover each piece with another slice. Place each serving on its own plate, cut in half, dust each with powdered sugar, and garnish plates with whole strawberries.

Serves 4.

Strawberry french toast

April 23, 2012 - 4:23 am

Sue - Your strawberries look so beautiful. Thank you for providing excellent and organized information on your website. The receipes are a plus!

June 18, 2012 - 8:33 pm

Angela Webb - Thank you for your article. I was wondering why my strawberries were not producing. I am going to try the new day neutral strawberries.

September 5, 2012 - 9:59 am

Miava - Would tristar berries thrive on the north side of my home? It isn’t shaded, but it is on the north side. I live in KC,MO.

I’ve never grown strawberries before, but I have 2 little girls that love to pick and eat them, so I’d like to give them a try next year.

I first read about you at Powell Gardens. My girls loved it there. And i’ve decided to start gardening a lot more. But i need fairly low maintenance plants.

Thank you for the inspiration!

September 8, 2012 - 7:19 pm

Rosalind Creasy - Hi Miava,
Sorry, but it takes about 6 hours of midday sun to get good garden strawberries. Instead, see if you can get plants of Alpine strawberries for your garden. They are small, intensely flavorful berries on upright plants that tolerate quite a bit of shade. They’ll thrive as long as they get occasional fertilizer and sufficient water. These strawberries get few pests and diseases, and generally, the birds leave them alone. Look on line for a source, and i’ll be surprised if you plant a dozen or so, that they don’t give you years of pleasure.
Cheers, Ros Creasy

November 20, 2012 - 4:35 pm

Gladys - I have read your article about the stawberries, I’d love to plant, I’m in Southern Florida-zone 10, which variety is best?

November 26, 2012 - 10:57 am

Stacy - Rosalind, I love in your book and the glazed strawberry towers and I love this great pot! Where can I get these or who can I refer my Nursery man were to get it? ….Also do you try to keep NON GMO plants out of your Yard? I know you do organic but I’m finding some starts aren’t a NON GMO varieties. I am loving the Sustainable Seed company near you for the seeds I need! THank you! You inspire me with your Driven ness!