Even if you're new to gardening, you can grow your own strawberries — but they do require some extra TLC. By choosing the right ones for your garden and providing the care they need, you can enjoy your own delicious berries.
Pick the Pot
Strawberries even have their own style of container, a strawberry jar, shaped like an urn, with individual openings in the sides where you can ‘plant a plant’ all around the container, they are a great choice for balconies. Strawberry jars are fine so long as you don’t let the plants dry out for too long in the hot sun. Other suitable containers include standard flower pots, long, low planters and even hanging baskets.
Planting the Plants
If you choose a strawberry jar, think about creating a watering tube. Drill evenly spaced holes into a piece of PVC tubing and fill the tube with gravel, then seal the ends with permeable fabric (a piece of fine fabric cut from old pantyhose is perfect). Place the tube in the centre of the pot and fill round it with pre-fertilised soil. Once in place, add your small plants to each opening and gently tamp them in, then add a few more plants to the top of the planter. It's a good idea to work some well-rotted compost into the soil before planting, which helps add nutrients to the soil, improves drainage and increases microbial activity, all of which will benefit the plants.
If you have the space outside, raised beds are ideal. Strawberries won't tolerate weed competition, and raised beds help keep grasses etc from sneaking in. Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart, and choose a site located away from trees and buildings that cast shade for more than a few hours each day. Trees will compete for water and nutrients and will cast shade, so the strawberry bed should lay beyond the root zone of large trees.
Plants that can work well as companion plants alongside strawberries are asparagus, beans, peas, spinach, lettuce, garlic, onion (and even horseradish in cooler parts of Portugal). Beans and peas grown near strawberries will improve the soil, fixing nitrogen and thus feeding the strawberry plants. Asparagus in particular is a compatible neighbour as their roots spread in different ways, so they don't compete for space or nutrients.
Ideally, strawberries enjoy full sun to partial shade and temperatures 21-29°c, but new plants might need to be kept in the shade for a day or so until they acclimatise. You may also need to adjust location and watering intervals to better suit the plants’ needs. Too much direct heat can cause sunburn, and they just won’t ripen properly, so you might have to use canopies to protect the fruits from the full summer sun. They don’t like to go to bed with wet feet either, so ensure you water them early in the day so that the water has a chance to soak down to the roots without leaving the soil too boggy.
Protect plants from birds with netting once fruit begins to develop, and if it rains, bring pots indoors or under cover to avoid overwatering. If you are in an area prone to frost in the winter, mulch or straw to cover the plants will protect them from freezing. Research your choice of plant’s pruning requirements for best results and a better yield for next season. You might need to divide your plants if they multiply beyond their space in the containers, and move pots around your yard to ensure optimal sun/shade conditions. You can remove ‘runners’ (these are properly called ‘stolons’, which comes from the Latin word ‘stolo’ meaning a shoot or twig, springing from the root) throughout the season or your strawberry plants will take over your garden– but let nature take its course for a super easy way to gain new plants if you desire.
Lastly, picking is the fun part! If you get your container, your location and watering in hand you’ll be in good shape to enjoy delicious berries and the joy of growing your own year after year.
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.