How to Grow Strawberries in Containers

Picking that first handful of strawberries on a cool spring morning, inhaling their sweet smell, and adding them to my morning bowl of cereal is one of the nicest feelings in the whole wide world.  And guess what!  You can have the same experience, even if you live in an apartment.

This article was originally published on Stacie's old blog, The Petite Farmstead. You can find all of the other posts from that blog here

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How to Grow Strawberries in Containers

Strawberries are one of the most satisfying and delicious crops you can grow.  Plants are inexpensive and readily available, they're easy to grow, and homegrown strawberries are far superior in taste (and price!) to those found in the supermarket.  If you have a sunny spot (such as a balcony) and space for containers or a barrel, you can grow strawberries for your cereal, too.

Ever-bearers: the best choice for containers

There are two main varieties of strawberries available: June-bearing and ever-bearing.  As the name implies, June bearing (or spring bearing) strawberries produce a single large crop in June or July.  Ever-bearing strawberries depend on longer daylight hours (15 hours or more) to produce smaller crops of strawberries throughout the season.  Berries are usually smaller than those produced by June-bearers.  Ever-bearers are your best bet to grow in containers, walls, or barrels — perfect for small-space gardening.

My strawberry garden consists of two ever-bearing varieties: Quinault and Ozark Beauty.  Both of these varieties produce berries that are very sweet and tasty.  Ozark Beauty plants are very adaptable to different climates with larger berries.  Quinault plants are disease resistant and also have good growth and size characteristics.  Choose plants that are hardy to your gardening zone.

Choose a Container for your Strawberries

Strawberries need soil with good drainage, so choose a container with this in mind. I love growing strawberries in hanging baskets.  Not only do hanging baskets look beautiful and use vertical space, but they also allow the berries to hang over the edge, protecting them from moisture and mold.

Self-watering containers are also great for growing strawberries (and other fruit and vegetable plants).  You water these containers from the bottom, and the plant wicks moisture up.  This prevents water-soluble soil nutrients from washing out the bottom of the container, and keeps the plant evenly moist (not too wet and not too dry).

Prepare Your Soil for Strawberries

Loose, well-drained soil with lots of organic material or compost will help your plants thrive.  I like to choose an organic general-purpose potting soil, and place a layer of gravel in the bottom of my pots to help excess water drain.

You will need to fertilize your plants to keep them producing.  Strawberry plants will deplete the soil of nitrogen and phosphorus.  You can add small amounts of compost, or add a small amount of 5-10-5 fertilizer to your soil.  Ask your local nursery for recommendations on fertilizer types and amounts.  It's a good idea to mix fertilizer in with your potting soil before planting.  I add my used coffee grounds to the soil around my strawberry plants every so often, and they love it! 

How to Plant Strawberries in Containers

When choosing standard pots or hanging baskets, plant one strawberry plant per container.  If you have a very large container or a strawberry barrel, you can plant more than one plant per container.  Place an inch or two of medium gravel in the bottom of your pot, and then fill the remainder of the pot with your amended soil, leaving room to place your plant.  Cover the roots with soil, and water thoroughly.

Growing and Caring for Strawberries

To help your plants develop strong roots and produce more fruit, it's a good idea to pinch all blooms and runners on ever-bearers for the first two months.  This allows the plant to put energy into developing roots instead of producing fruit or more plants.  Keep the plants watered and fed, and you'll have a lovely crop of strawberries in late summer and fall.

You'll also want to turn your containers every so often, so that your plants can get the maximum amount of sunlight.  This is especially important if you're growing plants in a barrel, since some plants will be on the shady side of the container.

Overwintering Strawberry Plants

Strawberries are perennial plants, which means they come back each year in the spring.  When you grow strawberries in a raised bed or garden, it's a good idea to cover the plants with a thick layer or mulch or straw to help protect them from cold temperatures.  I'm guessing you don't want a patio covered in straw!  However, you do have some options:

  • Place smaller pots in large planters. Surround the smaller pots with mulch, straw, leaves, or paper to help insulate the pots from winter cold.  Place the planter next to a wall, or somewhere out of the wind.
  • Set your containers in an unheated garage or shed for the winter.  The plants will be dormant, but will still need a little water every few weeks.

It's important for strawberries to go through a cycle of dormancy during the winter so that they will bloom and fruit properly in the summer.  Dormancy is like a rest period for the plant.  If you live in a climate where it's warm all year round, store your strawberry plants in a cool, dark location if possible.

Harvesting and Storing Strawberries

At the first appearance of new berries in late May or early June, check your plants every day and pick ripe berries.  Pick the ripe ones even if they're imperfect — this will help prevent mold and disease.

If you don't eat them all right away, store your berries unwashed and with green caps in the refrigerator. Removing green caps causes berries to lose juice and to spoil sooner.

Photo by  Artur Rutkowski  on  Unsplash

Propagating New Strawberry Plants

Strawberry plants produce their best fruit in their first 2-3 years.  To propagate new plants, you can use the small runners that shoot out from your plants to create new plants.  Train runners from larger plants into a new pot, pinning them into the soil.  The runner will create a new plant and establish roots.  Snip off excess runners with scissors.

How does your container garden grow?  

With a little planning and care, you can have a successful crop of strawberries even if you don't have much space for a garden.  How does your container garden grow?  Share your tips, experience, or questions in the comments below.