Most start their strawberries from plants grown in nurseries. They are easy enough to grow from seed but won't crop well in the first year. As the lifetime of good cropping is short with strawberries, not many choose to grow them this way. Propagated from runners or starting from nursery plants will give a good crop in year one and potentially good crops for up to 5 or even 6 years. Some suggest moving strawberry beds and using new plants every 3 years as a way of ensuring a continuously good crop every year.
It's best to plant strawberries in either the autumn or spring then can be planted through membranes and need around 30cm-60cm apart dependant upon variety. Most importantly you must leave the crown (the central point of the plant that sits directly above the root ball) above ground as this is where new growth will come from. Water well to help them establish particularly in dry spells and then they tend to look after themselves through to harvest time.
Once established, strawberries are half hardy perennial plants that will keep growing for many years, but as mentioned above the quality and quantity of the crop reduces over time. They will benefit from some protection (straw, hay or fleece) from hard frost as although they will likely survive, the plants could be damaged. This would make re-emergence in the spring much slower and ultimately reduce the number of berries to harvest.
Strawberries need a good amount of sun and although you can find some varieties that cope better with shade, in very shady gardens you may be better enjoying the candy-like texture and taste of alpine strawberries (although the size of fruit is much smaller). They also prefer fertile and free draining soil but again some special varieties can cope in heavier soils and most will do ok. They can be grown under cloches and in glass houses which extends the season. With these different environments and by using different varieties you can be harvesting from May through to September.
One way of growing them in heavier soil conditions would be raised beds, containers and baskets. They work as a hanging plant well and growing in this style leaves less concern of the berries being eaten by insects and garden molluscs. To make good use of space, consider growing strawberries in beds mixed with other plants, as long as they don’t compete for light, water or nutrients (so give some more space between plantings). By doing this you will be making the most of vertical as well as horizontal space. People sometimes grow strawberries in baskets hung from cloth-rails above a ground-level bed of strawberries, or strawberries in the middle of bean poles, using an early cropping variety that fruits just as the beans begin to climb high in mid-June. There is scope to be imaginative in how to make the most of space.
Once they begin to flower and fruit, it is best to ensure they are watered over any dry spell to help the fruits ripen and grow. They benefit from a standard feed, once or twice over that period and feeding may encourage further cropping across the season.
When harvesting it is best to move the strawberries round to check that they have fully ripened (very easy to pull berries that are red on one side and opaque on the other) although if you do harvest some too soon they will ripen in a sunny spot or next to bananas. You will often have a glut of fruit at one time. Jam making or freezing can allow you to enjoy your fruit for months to come.
Once they have finished fruiting they will begin to send out their shoots. These will resemble the usual form of strawberries, but the leaf will begin growing a good few centimetres away from the main body of the plant. Then just below the leaf a new crown and root ball will emerge and attempt to bury itself into the ground. You can assist this process by pinning the runners into the ground, you can use cloche pegs, bent garden wire or even hairpins. Essentially you are supporting the runner to maintain contact with soil. You can pin the runners into the ground or into small pots of compost.
It isn’t advised to allow the runners to grow in the first couple of years as it will detract from fruit production. At the early stage it is often best to cut the runners off at the crown, although producing one new plant from each probably doesn’t reduce the quantity or quality of fruit too much. On allotments and in larger gardens it is possible to migrate the strawberry patch slowly across the space and reduce the build up of pest and disease.
Using runners well means that you may go your whole life only ever buying strawberries once, although you would have to be the most conscientious and disciplined gardener to do this. Nevertheless, they are a good value plant, providing good variety and endless joy from harvests and propagation. Their taste and scent is exquisite and they are versatile in storage and culinary use. A true must-have plant for any garden.