Eye-popping red, sweet, delicious and nutritious strawberries are popular the world over. The varieties we are familiar with today are the product of a cross between a strawberry native to North America, the Virginia strawberry, and another native to South America, the Chili strawberry. What a happy union!
Choose your plants
Growing your own strawberries is really not that difficult, and these hardy perennials are grown in virtually all temperate climates. You can choose to grow them from seed, or buy small plants ready to transplant. Buying your plants definitely represents the easier option. There are basically three types of plant to choose from: ever-bearing, June-bearing, and day-neutral. Choose a variety that suits your taste and requirements, and one that is appropriate for the growing conditions you can offer.
Everbearing strawberries (remontant)
Plants produce a big crop of small strawberries in the spring, a few berries during the summer, and another smaller crop in late summer or early fall. Cooks and culinary enthusiasts love them!
June-bearing strawberries (non-remontant)
For these day-length sensitive berries, fruit production occurs all at once over a period of one to three weeks. They produce the largest strawberries and are the most popular. June-bearers are further classified into early, mid, and late-season varieties (see below).
- Early-season varieties: Plants produce fruit from the beginning to the end of June. Cultivars include: Annapolis, Clery, Wendy, and Veestar.
- Mid-season varieties: Plants produce fruit from mid-June to mid-July. Cultivars include: Chambly, Généreuse, Jewel, Kent, St-Jean d'Orléans and Saint-Pierre.
- Late-season varieties: Plant produce fruit from the beginning to the end of July. Cultivars include: Albion, St-Laurent, and Seascape.
Day-neutral strawberries (perpetual)
Insensitive to day length, plants will produce buds, fruit and runners as long as the warm weather lasts.
How to grow strawberry plants
Plant your strawberries in a sunny location with the right soil conditions. If you're aiming for higher yields, plant in the garden. You can, however, achieve wonderful results using containers on the balcony or deck, especially if space is limited. Pots, hanging baskets, geotextile bags: you have a choice!
You have a few planting options in the garden as well: the row system (particularly for June-bearing plants, or cultivars with a lot of runners) or; the hill system (for day-neutral and ever-bearing strawberries. Both are viable for different reasons.
Exposure: full sun and partial shade
Soil: slightly acidic, rich in humus and organic matter, loose and with good drainage.
Steps for planting in the garden:
For home gardeners, planting is typically done in the spring, as soon as you are able to loosen the earth. This way, plants are well-established before the warm summer weather arrives in July.
- Choose a sunny location.
- Check that the soil is fertile, rich and well-drained.
- Loosen the soil, dig a hole and create a mound within the hole so that the crown is at soil level.
- Put a layer of good compost in the hole.
- Place the plant in the hole and spread the roots down the sides of the mound.
- Fill in the hole and ensure the soil is level with the middle of the crown, then press the soil around the roots.
- Water thoroughly.
- Space plants 30 cm apart in a hill system, and between 40 and 50 cm apart in a row system.
- Add a layer of straw or mulch.
Steps for planting in containers:
Strawberry plants do well in hanging baskets or in large jars and containers with sufficient openings for drainage. Everbearing varieties are preferable for small spaces or balconies.
- Choose a location with 6-8 hours sunlight per day.
- Plant when all risk of frost has passed.
- Choose a dark and well-draining container. Geotextile pots, such as Smart Pots, are excellent options.
- Prepare a half and half mix of soil and compost.
- Delicately spread out the roots.
- Cover with earth, pat down, and water thoroughly.
- In the fall, either leave your plants in their geotextile bags or transplant them into the garden.
Maintaining strawberry plants
Strawberry plants aren't fussy, but they do require some light maintenance. With the proper care, your plants will stay strong and vigorous and provide you with a plentiful harvest of delicious, juicy fruit!
Watering: Water regularly during the fruit-bearing period to ensure plants are never dry.
Mulching: Spread a natural mulch after transplanting in order to be able to pick "clean" strawberries. Weed regularly.
- In containers, fertilize before and after harvesting with a natural fertilizer.
- In the garden, add a generous amount of compost before planting. Four to six weeks later, spread out natural fertilizer.
Pruning: Strawberry plants put out runners with plantlets at the end, which will take root over time. The new plants will take energy from the main, or adult plant, which results in smaller fruit. So, to avoid plant depletion, you will want to control the number of runners you allow to grow according to the number of new plants you want the following season.
- In the spring, cover plants when frost is still a risk.
- In the winter, cover plants with a protective layer of straw.
Diseases and pests: Powdery mildew (white), leaf spots, purple spots, root rot and gray mould. Root weevils in strawberries, spotted wing drosophila, white grubs and tarnished plant bugs.
Strawberry harvest and health benefits
You've planted your strawberries and cared for them for a year, and now it's time to enjoy these red beauties! Harvest your strawberries only when they are completely ripe and easy to pick. Strawberries are somewhat fragile and easily bruised, so handle them with care. The pedunkle, or stalk, serves as natural protection, so hull your strawberries just before you plan to eat or prepare them.
All fruit is packed with goodness, and strawberries lead the pack! Loaded with Vitamin C, just eight strawberries equal one orange (gout sufferers, take note). They have powerful antioxidant content and they're an excellent source of manganese, dietary fibre, and Vitamins A and B9. As a laxative and diuretic, strawberries are prescribed for rheumatism and arthritis.
There are several ways to enjoy strawberries:
- Prepared (coulis, sorbets and smoothies)
- Cooked (jams, jellies, pies)
- Processed (juice, liqueurs, wine)
Strawberries are truly at their best when eaten or prepared fresh. You can try to extend the celebration of your harvest, but preserving strawberries will always alter their texture, and taste.
Refrigerated: Not more than 1 to 3 days.
Frozen: Not recommended.
Dried: Rinse berries with lemon juice and put in a strainer. Spread out evenly on the dehydrator sheet. Set to 48ºC and dry for a minimum of 6 hours.