Guide To Growing Delicious Strawberries

Strawberries are one of the most delicious summer fruits around, and they are perfect for small urban spaces and apartment gardens because they can be grown in patio planters.  Traditional red strawberries are the best known variety, but we also love Alpine or Wild Strawberries, which are tiny gems that you can use in sweet or savory salads.

Growing your own strawberries is a rite of passage for many Kiwis, but there are some tricks to getting them to supply you with lots of red, sweet fruit.  Read this guide and you will be an expert strawberry grower before you know it.

 What variety of strawberry should I grow?

There are two types of red strawberry - 'short day' varieties  and 'day neutral' (or ''Everbearer') varieties.  The main differences are that they fruit at different times of year, and you plant them at different times too. 

  • Plant Short Day strawberry varieties (like Chandler, Pajaro and Camarosa) in mid-winter for an early spring crop
  • Plant Day Neutral strawberry varieties (like Temptation, Aroma and San Andreas) in late winter - early spring for a spring - summer crop.

We recommend that you plant two or three varieties so that you have a long lasting crop over spring and summer.

Camarosa strawberries
If you live in Auckland, where the summers are warm but humid, try Camarosa, as they cope better with damp conditions.  Camarosa strawberries are large, red and cone-shaped.  The plants like to spread out.  If you plant your Camarosa strawberry plants early enough, you should have a crop ready for Christmas.
Temptation strawberries
We also recommend Temptation strawberry plants.  Temptation strawberries are heavy producers and fairly disease and pest resistant.  They come to life in Spring, and produce right through to March if the conditions are right. 
Supreme strawberries
If you don't have much space, try Supreme strawberry.  Supreme strawberry plants are a small, compact variety of strawberry that can be planted closer together.   This variety produces delicious large red berries during the height of summer. 
Alpine (WIld) strawberries
How can we go past Alpine strawberries?  Although these are much smaller than their better known cousins, they have a tart, sweet/sour flavour that is popping delicious in salads!  There are two main varieties of Alpine or Wild strawberry in New Zealand - one white and one red.  Both make excellent edible ground covers.  The other bonus is that Alpine strawberries will grow in partly shady spots - very useful for those tricky spots in your garden! 
How many strawberry plants should I grow?

This depends on how many people you have in your household, how much space you have in your garden, and whether you want a bumper crop, or a handful every now and then for grazing. 

At a minimum, we recommend that you aim for 6 - 7 plants.  If you want enough for the whole family to graze on, a good rule of thumb is to plant 5 strawberry plants per person.

How much space do I need to grow strawberries?

You don't need much space at all to grow strawberries.  They do well in patio planters, hanging baskets and vertical planters as long as you feed them regularly, give them the right amount of water, and a good dose of sun.

Ideally you need about 30 cm of soil beneath your strawberry plants, and a similar amount of space around them (so they can spread out).

When should I plant strawberries in New Zealand?

The New Zealand season for planting strawberries depends on where you live.  In Auckland and the upper North Island, you can generally plant strawberries between June and October, but remember that 'short day' varieties are best planted in mid-winter.  The earlier you plant, the earlier your strawberries are likely to fruit, and the more fruit you are likely to get.

How to plant and care for strawberries

Strawberries are a bit like Goldilocks - they need just the right conditions to grow.  Too little, or too much of a good thing can reduce the size of your crop.

Our top tips for planting and growing strawberries are:

Plenty of sun and shelter
    Strawberries love a sunny, sheltered spo.
    Shallow plant in free draining soil 
      Strawberries don't like waterlogged soil.  Plant them in rich, free draining soil. Create little mounds/hills and plant on top of these, as it will assist with drainage.
      When planting, take care to avoid burying the crown (or the base) of the strawberry plant - this is where new growth comes from. 
      Lots of food

        Strawberries are hungry feeders, but their nutrient requirements vary across the growing season.  Freshly planted strawberry crowns need a good base of healthy (slightly acidic) soil with a mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  Work mature compost and slow release sheep pellets in before planting.  (Avoid using fresh manure, as this can be too harsh for young plants.)

        Throughout the season, feed your strawberry plants every four weeks with worm or seaweed tea.   (Water at the base of the plant so the fruit doesn't get wet).  Careful not to over do it though - if you give your plants with too much nitrogen you will get lots of leaves but not many flowers/fruit.  
        When the flowers and fruit appear, they need regular boosts of potassium and magnesium.  A homemade solution can be made by soaking banana peels overnight and using the water on your plants.
        Companion plant for pollination
          Beans and Borage are good companion plants for strawberries.  Beans are known as 'nitrogen' fixers, while Borage will attract pollinating bees.  Consider planting your strawberries near other pollinated plants too - Blueberries are a good choice for small gardens.  
          Mulch and weed
            Nestle some pea straw around your strawberry plants.  This keeps the moisture in, the weeds down, and the berries clear of the soil.  When your plants are fruiting, lift them off the soil and place some of the straw under them so they don't rot on the plant.
            It is really important to weed around your strawberry plants regularly.
            Strawberry Protection 101
              Birds and rodents love strawberries as much as we do, so make sure you set up a cloche or netting over your strawberry plants for protection.  Secure it over a frame - birds are clever and they will dive bomb your netting contraption to get to the berries if needed!  The netting should be just small enough to stop the birds, but large enough for bees and pollinators to fly through.

               

              Keep picking and remove runners

                When the first flowers appear, pick them to encourage more growth.  Once your strawberries begin to take off, pick the fruit regularly to encourage more to grow. Remove runners regularly (these are the leggy horizontal stems that grow across the soil and put down roots for new plants).  Runners are good for cultivating new plants, but they sap the fruiting plant of energy, which decreases fruit production.  Remove the runners in the first year.  In the second year, cut the runners off and use them as replacement plants.

                Culinary uses for harvested strawberries

                Sometimes berries come thick and fast.  If you grow more than you can eat, they work a treat in jam, a berry syrup, or sorbet.  We love raw strawberries sliced onto toast with a sprinkle of sugar over the top. 

                Strawberries also freeze well.  This is how you do it:

                • Gently wash the berries (don't scrub) and pat them dry.
                • Hull the strawberries.
                • Place the strawberries on a lined tray in the freezer (they shouldn't be touching each other)
                • Once frozen, pour them into a container or resealable bag, leaving a little room for them to expand.  Return them to the freezer.
                • Frozen strawberries will last up to 12 months, but in our households they never last that long!