Strawberries are one of nature’s best treats for anyone with a sweet tooth. And while many home gardeners long to incorporate strawberries into their vertical gardens, not many varieties of strawberries will enjoy the endeavor.
Either way, strawberries are an excellent choice for a light snack filled with Vitamin C and antioxidants, so they’re the perfect fruit to grow at home. Oftentimes, they can even be sown in a small space like an apartment balcony or window box, so you don’t need a whole plot of land to get started.
Below, we take a look at some basic strawberry gardening tricks and talk about the basics of strawberry gardening. We also answer the question, “do strawberries need a trellis?”
Read on to find out why you might find it challenging to grow strawberries vertically.
Table of Contents
Strawberry Plant Overview
|Scientific Name||Fragaria x ananassa|
|Common Names||Strawberry, Wild Strawberry|
|Origin||North and South America and parts of Europe and Asia|
|Size and Dimensions (Mature)||Normally, they grow between 4 – 13 in, not counting runners|
|Distinguishing Features||Strawberries can grow between 18 – 25 cm (7-10 in) with distinct red juicy fruits|
|In-Home Placement||Strawberries are best placed near areas with abundant sunlight (10+ hours daily)|
How Do Strawberries Grow?
While strawberries are technically part of the Rose family, they don’t tend to grow much like rose bushes.
Rather, the strawberry plant grows from the base of a dense crown (the area where the plant’s stems meet the roots) and is considered a creeper plant.
In fact, every part of a strawberry plant, including the roots, stems, runners, leaves, and flowers, all grow from the same crown, so it serves as a central hub of energy and transport for the plant.
One of the distinguishing growing patterns of this plant is its long runners, commonly regarded as “daughter plants” or “runners.”
These stolons (or long stems) extend a few inches away from the mother plant, take root, and a new plant forms at the ‘nodes.’
The runners grow to average lengths of 8 – 18 inches, depending on the variety.
The runners spread easily, and when your strawberry plant is taken care of correctly, the runners can produce a full bounty of strawberries.
Strawberries are small plants with shallow root systems and toothed trifoliate leaves and maintain a striking visual appeal with their white flowers and pinkish-red fruits.
They are also perennial plants, so they live a relatively long period of time (about 4-6 years on average) – although you should only expect 2 or maybe 3 years of fruit-bearing growth.
The first year and second year will likely bring the most bountiful harvests.
Ripe strawberries are firm when touched and should taste sweet.
When to Plant Strawberries
When should you plant your strawberries? It’s a good idea to plant as soon as favorable weather arrives, which will vary depending on your region or USDA Hardiness Zone.
Still, the typical growing season for strawberries begins around early spring in a warmer climate, but you can still have success planting strawberries as late as early summer (or late summer in some cooler locations of the US).
Take note to only purchase disease-free seedlings from a well-known nursery. Always consider picking healthy, well-established plants free of blemishes for the best results.
Baby plants need all of the help they can get at first, so the less established the plant, the more likely you are to have problems down the line.
Do Strawberries Climb Trellis Structures?
In most cases – no, strawberries won’t climb a trellis. After all, strawberries are crawlers, and they have weak stems that love adjacent land for their runners to dig in.
That’s the short answer.
But as with anything, there are exceptions.
You may be able to domesticate a smaller wild strawberry variety and train it to grow vertically, but most standard strawberries will struggle to remain upright once the fruit grows.
They’re just too heavy for the weak stems on strawberry plants.
Still, unless you’re looking for a particularly challenging endeavor, I don’t recommend it.
Your best bet for a successful harvest is to let the runners lie rather than trying to train them to climb strawberry supports.
Potted Exotics Pro Tip: For people without much space, vertical alternatives such as window boxes or vertical strawberry planters are a good choice. You can find a variety of planters at your local garden or home improvement store (like Home Depot), or you could make one at home as a DIY project. Strawberry container gardens are another great portable option.
Regular Strawberries vs. Wild Strawberries
The main difference between wild and domesticated strawberries is that wild strawberries have not been cross-bred for bigger and sweeter fruits.
Instead, wild strawberries grow, well, wild!
They are tiny in comparison to the fruits you see in your local produce section of the grocery store, and they weigh seemingly nothing!
Wild strawberries can thrive in shadier areas compared to their cultivated counterpart, but it’s also what results in tiny fruits.
Still, these fruits are packed with nutrients, and since there is rarely any type of harmful substance nearby, you can pop them into your mouth from right off the vine.
While domesticated strawberries are definitely one of the most popular fruits for consumption, wild strawberries can add a bit of excitement to the classic red strawberries you’re used to eating.
Different Varieties of Strawberries
Like mangoes, apples, and other fruits, there are numerous varieties of strawberries, and many of these types of strawberries are considered some of the easiest fruits to grow.
Planting different varieties in your first growing season may guarantee a more successful or frequent harvest since some fare well in certain environmental conditions.
You’ll quickly learn which varieties fare best in your space or on your land and which you can provide proper care and conditions for.
Commonly known as wild strawberries, woodland strawberries (Fragaria vesca) can be found in many temperate regions, including woodland areas in North and South America and in parts of Europe and Asia.
Unlike their cultivated variant, they tend to have unique differences – mainly, their capability to survive in soils with low nitrogen.
Woodland strawberries can also thrive in the shade, which is not a typical trait of cultivated strawberries, which need up to 10 hours of sunlight daily.
These strawberries grow without human intervention and are usually sweeter than standard cultivars.
As a note, woodland strawberries are sometimes also called alpine strawberries, depending on the region of reference.
As the name suggests, June-bearing varieties produce one large harvest around mid-June to early July.
Be aware, though, that June-bearing strawberries typically don’t produce fruit during the first growing season, so don’t give up hope if you don’t make it to harvest with your first fruits.
The following years should prove more “fruitful” until the last year of viability.
June-bearing varieties include cultivars such as Annapolis, Jewel, Seneca, Earligrow, and Allstar.
This variety produces at least two harvests throughout the growing season but normally not more than three, which usually happens in late spring, summer, and fall.
However, everbearing strawberries rely heavily on environmental conditions to start their cycles, so growth may vary depending on the amount of light, water, and temperature conditions present.
Flower buds start to form when there are at least 12 full hours of light per day.
Common everbearing strawberry varieties include Ozark Beauty and Everest.
Day-Neutral strawberries have a long growing season and generally produce an abundance of strawberries as a result (although in a longer time).
Day-neutral strawberries enter their dormancy period at the first hard frost of the season, so if you see a cold front moving through before harvest, add a ground cover to retain the heat present in the soil.
Suitable ground cover can be nearly anything that won’t crush your plants, but white or black plastic mulch, straw, or other vegetative materials work best with day-neutral plants.
As a bonus, organic materials break down and provide your soil with extra organic matter in the coming season – which is great for day-neutral varieties, among others.
Albion, Florida Beauty, and San Andreas are some of the many Day-Neutral Strawberry varieties.
Strawberry Care and Growing Conditions
Strawberries are not particularly picky, but they thrive best in well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter with a sandy loam consistency.
They also grow well in slightly-acidic soils with a soil pH of around 6.0.
Soil with good drainage will almost always provide better fruits, so consider adding just a touch of something like pine needles or coir to break up the soil structure.
If you are planting lots of strawberries, you may want to consult a nearby soil testing lab or agricultural office to get your soil tested for nutrients and organic matter.
Soil testing can help you narrow down the perfect fertilizer application rates for the coming seasons.
Regardless, they can tolerate most types of soil, including slightly acidic soil. A great thing to consider is avoiding clay-heavy soils since they tend to restrict water uptake.
Strawberries are composed of about 90% water, so ensuring they get enough water to thrive is crucial.
Early mornings are the best time to water the plants, and mulching is beneficial during warmer months as it keeps the moisture in the soil surface from evaporating.
Another method to keep moisture at the top of the soil is by using a bit of peat moss. This should also provide a bit more organic matter throughout the year.
Plastic mulch can be a good ground cover to limit water loss but be sure to air out your rows consistently.
White plastic mulch will keep ground temperatures lower than black plastic mulch – although either will increase the heat and humidity.
Because of their native distribution, strawberries are naturally hardy plants, so they tend to thrive in places with a colder temperate and colder climate – like many parts of North America.
In some areas, they can also be found in sub-tropical locations. Yet, they may not grow as robust when planted in warm climates.
If you plan to overwinter your strawberries, you can cover the ground with mulching material such as straw for winter protection.
Doing so will keep the soil temperature warmer than if the soil was bare – helping you start off the next season with a bit of a head start.
Strawberry plants require a significant amount of energy to produce fruits.
They require at least 8 hours of direct sunlight or full sun and even prefer 10+ hours of sun daily, while only a few varieties can tolerate partial shade.
A sunny spot is a cultivated strawberries best friend. If you’re planning to have vegetables in your garden as well, sugar snap peas work perfectly for full sun conditions.
Strawberry plants require relatively high humidity – about 60 to 75% should be sufficient.
USDA Hardiness Zones
Generally, strawberries grow well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 6, although some varieties with hardy traits can grow just outside zones 4-6.
Cultivated strawberries are known to be nitrogen-hungry during early spring and late fall, as they use so much energy to spread their runners.
When possible, amend your soil before the growing season with lots of organic matter and compost so that the soil is loaded with nutrients and ready to feed these hungry growers.
Doing so will reduce the risk of overfertilization, which could potentially destroy your hopes of harvest.
Single applications of a slow-release fertilizer during the growing season are acceptable.
However, the best choice would be to apply low doses of fertilizer throughout the growing season so that you don’t burn or over-feed your strawberries.
Normally, it’s hard to overfeed your plants when using an organic fertilizer like worm castings.
Worm castings act as natural slow-releasing fertilizers, and when added to compost, they can help reintegrate vital soil microbes and nutrients in your otherwise healthy and rich soil.
Blood meal and well-rotten manure can also boost nitrogen in the soil.
How to Propagate Strawberries
There are different methods of propagating strawberry plants.
But first, gather all the necessary tools and materials needed for propagation. Remember, keep your equipment clean and sanitized to avoid bringing harmful pathogens to the young plants.
Tools and materials you will need:
- A piece of cloth, paper, or tissue paper
- Watering can
- Seeds or seedlings
- Soil amendments
- Seedling Tray
- Sterile seed-starting mix
Strawberry daughter plants “run” from their mother plant and establish themselves in nearby areas, and these new plants can be propagated and thrive on their own with just a little assistance.
Propagating via runners remains the best way to grow strawberries without much hassle and can be done anytime between spring and fall.
Just be mindful of the harsh summer weather in some of the more arid parts of the country.
- Identify healthy runner plants. Make sure the runners have an established root system and know that the younger runners are best to use, as they require the most energy from the plant to grow.
- Using sanitized garden scissors or clippers, cut the stem connecting the daughter plant to the crown. That will allow the plant to continue focusing on fruit production rather than growing its daughter runners.
- If the flower buds started to emerge earlier than expected, pinch off all the buds. Pinching them encourages further plant growth as it redirects their energy back.
- Position your runner cuttings on the soil where the tiny roots are showing new growth. New roots are shallow roots that grow from where there are clusters of leaves growing together (typically around the nodes), and that is where you should focus on getting them to root.
- Pin your runners down at each flower-producing leaf cluster to ensure secure contact with the soil. That will help the plant focus its energy on that goal.
You can also expand strawberry plant growth by pinning down runners without cutting them, which will ultimately just bulk up plant production using the same crown, and may end up becoming more compact plants, so choose whichever method is suitable for you.
If you use this method in an existing pot, pin the runners down along the edge of the pot so as not to overcrowd the soil.
Try to cover any bare roots when possible. Bare root plants have a much harder time growing than those with covered roots.
A raised bed for your strawberries will also help if you need to manage runners or keep them away from garden pests.
- Select the best-looking plant with green leaves and a robust crown.
- Water the mother plant to soften the soil the night before.
- Tie the visible stems of the other crowns with a piece of string to secure them.
- Gently dig down to about 5-6 inches with your sanitized trowel until you reach right underneath the root ball. Tilt your trowel upwards and lift the root ball gently.
- Once removed from the soil, carefully pull away each crown from the root ball. Be extra cautious when pulling to avoid root trauma.
- Remove any dead leaves and plant matter from each crown of the plant.
- Plant each crown in a small pot, bag, or in your garden beds.
- Make sure to water thoroughly.
Planting from seed can be as rewarding as propagating strawberries with cuttings. This way, you can see the strawberries grow from the very beginning.
- Lay down a clean piece of paper or tissue.
- Using a toothpick, remove the strawberry seeds from the fruit as gently as you can.
- Let the seeds dry.
- Sow strawberry seeds 1/4 in deep in seed trays with a sterile seed-starting gardening mix.
- Keep the mix moist (not wet) while the seeds germinate. They should sprout in approximately 2-3 weeks.
- Thin the seedlings and repot when they reach 1-2 in. tall.
- If planting outside, harden the strawberry seedlings before planting them on the ground.
Excellent Strawberry Companion Plants
Just like any other fruit or vegetable crop, some grow better with certain companions than others.
Throughout my experience, these are my favorite and most successful companion plants I have grown in my strawberry garden.
- Sugar Snap Peas
There are surely more fantastic companion plants, but in my experience, the above listed are no-fail options!
Common Challenges with Growing Strawberries Vertically
Water and Nutrient Availability
Because of its shallow root systems, nitrogen availability is one of the main challenges when growing strawberries.
Be sure that when you feed your soil, the bulk of the nutrients doesn’t seep too far into the soil.
Remember, these are shallow root systems you’re working with; they won’t be able to reach further than a couple of inches to suck up nutrition.
It is advisable to keep strawberries away from plants from the Solanum genus, e.g., eggplant, peppers, potatoes, or tomatoes. The genus is known to carry Verticillium, a rot fungus that attacks strawberries.
Also, be wary of too much mulch as it promotes fungal diseases.
Powdery mildew is probably the most common problem with strawberries – so keep an eye out for any powdery white layer on or near your strawberry plants.
It is important to remember NOT to wash fresh strawberries right after harvest. Only do so if you are ready to munch down a bowl.
Washing strawberries right away could cause mold growth and affect their overall taste and quality.
Like any other crop, the strawberry plant is not exempt from any pests, wildlife, or rodents. Fruit flies, thrips, slugs, worms, and leafworms are all common enemies of strawberries.
Adding barriers, such as fences and metal wires, would be a great idea to fend off unwanted harvest losses due to rodents or birds.
Growing natural pest-repellent plants and introducing beneficial predatory insects like ladybugs is also a good choice.
Although it reduces light exposure, garden nets are a good thing to consider during unusual insect infestations.
Garden weeds may inhibit both young and mature plants, so adding plastic covers can offer you a bit of relief.
Vertical Garden Alternatives to a Strawberry Trellis
A strawberry tower is one way to maximize every square foot of soil. These towering structures keep the plants away from the ground, thus reducing plant damage.
Unlike trellises, a strawberry tower is more solid and has manageable holes with either a growing medium or soil.
Strawberry plants can grow in areas with limited space, and hanging strawberries in baskets can offer a pleasant visual addition to gardens and homes. They’re also portable, which makes life easy if a summer storm rolls through.
Similar to a raised strawberry bed, window boxes offer a controlled environment for plants like strawberries to grow, and you can position them on the south side of your house to get the most daylight possible.
Recycling is a great way to help the environment, and repurposing terracotta pots and clay jars can bring contrasting colors to your strawberry patch or strawberry gardens.
Hydroponics is another viable growing alternative to a strawberry trellis. This system offers a more hands-on approach to managing plant nutrient uptake and limits the chances of acquiring soil-borne diseases and pathogens in your strawberry garden.