We freed up a spot in our yard last year and I decided that it would be nice to start growing strawberries. I went ahead and ordered two varieties from Gurneys: Ozark Beauty (25 plants) and Gurney Whopper (10 plants).
The plants arrived in mid March. Unfortunately I was really busy with work at the time, so one night I got home at about 8pm, after dark, and decided to plant them. I put on a head lamp and took a bit over an hour to plant ~35 plants in the drizzling rain. Strawberries can be planted as soon as the soil is workable in the spring. They are also quite hardy. We had several weeks of ~20 degree high temperatures this winter and my strawberries all survived without any problems.
I planted most of my plants on a mound, but not all 35 plants would fit, so I planted 12 or so plants on the south side of a fence under my grape trellis. My grapes aren’t big enough to provide any real shade yet, so all the strawberries are in full sun.
The strawberries almost all survived at first. I got a few strawberries the first season, but nothing significant and I pinched off most of the blossoms so that the roots would develop. The plants quickly grew and started spreading. However, when the heat of July and August hit I found that my sprinklers didn’t cover the top of the mound very well. I lost about two thirds of the plants on the mound. To my surprise, the backup strawberries I planted on the south side of my fence really prospered. As of the first few days of June this year, I have picked at least 15 cups of strawberries, and there are still plenty on the way. It turns out strawberries need lots of sun, but also plenty of water so they don’t burn up.
One thing that I’ve learned about homegrown strawberries is that they are way juicier and sweeter than store bought. When you cut into a homegrown strawberry, it is often red/pink all the way to the core. When you cut into a store bought strawberry (even a very red one) it is usually white in the middle. I assume that this is because the shipping time requires retail strawberries to be picked prematurely, while my homegrown strawberries can ripen on the vine. It may also be due to the variety.
Here’s a view of one store bought strawberry (on the left) and two homegrown strawberries (on the right). You can see that they’re similar in size. The middle (homegrown) strawberry is slightly more pink on the outside than the left (store bought) strawberry, while the right (homegrown) strawberry is the most red.
But look at the difference when I cut into them! See how much more white the store bought strawberry is in its center, even though it was more red than one of the homegrown strawberries? This has been my experience about 95% of the time with homegrown vs store bought strawberries. Note how red the homegrown strawberry on the right is.
Homegrown strawberries can be much smaller than store bought. This can be attributable to the varieties used. My Ozarks are pretty small (but tasty!) but my Gurney Whoppers are actually about the same size as store bought. Strawberry size also decreases with the age of the plants. It generally takes 3-4 years and the soil and plants need to be rejuvenated.
You can encourage strawberry growth by limiting the number of shoots that the plants send off (just pluck off the shoots before they root). It is also good to compost around the plants and add 10-10-10 fertilizer. As I mentioned above, strawberries need lots of sun and need to be watered regularly (I water mine the same as I water my grass).
Finally, my number one strawberry enemy is the birds. They love strawberries. I actually expected them to be pretty hard on my strawberries since they have decimated my blackberries, blueberries, and peas (yes, peas) in past years. Interestingly, I haven’t used nets this year and birds have only eaten <10% of my berries. If that continues to be the case, then I am willing to share (or at least I’m more willing to share than to bother with nets). It seems that the large strawberry plants hide a lot of the berries from the birds’ sight. I also scare them away whenever I can. Robins seem to be the main culprit in my yard.