I remember the first time I plucked then greedily devoured my first garden-grown strawberry. Aside from inwardly beaming with pride at the fact I'd managed to nurture my fulsome plants to delicious fruition, I was knocked back by the fill-the-mouth taste packed by these beauties. The sweet succulence was joined by an almost intoxicating aroma that filled my palate and travelled up and into my nasal passage. I was hooked – I had attained gardener's nirvana!
My first brush with growing strawberries was as an enthusiastic teenager. I'd grown them in a mismatching trio of pots and watched them with obsessional eagerness, all the while willing the plants to flower then the green fruits to turn red. With time they did and for four glorious weeks I had a succession of strawbs that marked the beginning of a continuing passion for these most generous fruits.
Ideal Strawberry Containers
Strawberries make ideal container fruits given their compact and quick-growing habit, although they are equally at home within a dedicated bed. Hanging baskets, terracotta pots and special strawberry planters are just some of the containers to grow them in, though for bucolic effect I prefer old wooden wine or vegetable crates. You can seek out originals or source convincing replicas online. My preference for classic country garden style also puts willow window boxes and tubs, reclaimed animal drinking troughs and repurposed wheelbarrows high up the list.
There are a number of distinct advantages to growing strawberries in tubs of any kind. Plants can be moved to track the sun, thereby enjoying more warmth and light than they might otherwise. They can be lifted off the ground to avoid the interest of slugs and dodge soil-borne diseases. And plants can be moved under cover in winter to force an extra-early crop. With some plants left outside and others housed under cover of a greenhouse or polytunnel it is possible to enjoy a much longer harvest from exactly the same variety of strawberry.
Planting Strawberries in Containers
Late spring into early summer is the right time of year to plant bare-root runners that have been cold-stored to hold them back. Brought out of the cold and sold on, they will get away very quickly indeed to give a pick of fruits in as little as two months. Alternatively, you can plant regular pot-sold strawberries which should also bear fruit in the same summer.
Set plants into multipurpose compost, spacing them 25-30cm (10-12in) apart – this is closer than they would be in the ground as it will be easier to water and feed them. Bare-root runners can look quite severe with their minimal top growth and often less-than-plump roots. This is normal, so worry not! Give the runners a soak in a bucket of water to revive them or water pots of strawberries if they are at all dry.
Fill your tub with compost to within an inch of the rim then plant your strawberries so that each crown (where the leaves emerge) sits just above the surface. Firm the plants in and water to settle the compost around the roots. I like to sink empty 7cm (3in) pots into the compost at regular intervals. These act as reservoirs so that by watering into them the water is slowly released at root level rather than running straight off the compost surface.
Caring for Strawberries in Containers
Compost should be kept moist by watering whenever the soil dries out. When watering, try to keep moisture off the leaves to prevent fungal diseases getting a hold and spoiling the fruits. If you can, carefully lift the leaves to apply the water to your sunken pots. Your plants will also appreciate regular feeding with a high-potash liquid feed as soon as the first flowers appear – a brand sold for feeding tomato plants will work just fine for this purpose.
Keep your tubs of strawbs in a sunny part of the garden, patio or terrace in order to encourage young fruits to swell and ripen. Developing strawberries can be kept clean of compost by tucking in wood chips or straw beneath the fruits to lift them clear. Drape netting over the tubs if birds start to nab your fruits.
After fruiting is over foliage can be cut back to leave just the central, young leaves intact. Runners should be removed, unless you want to propagate new plants, to ensure plants bulk out again before winter. Tubs can be moved into a greenhouse or polytunnel for winter to coax an earlier picking next year.
If you have never grown strawberries before then housing them in containers is a great way to start. It's an almost fool-proof option and the rewards are indescribably sweet! Plant, water, feed and pluck then fill your own mouth with the unbeatable aroma of home-grown strawberries.
By Benedict Vanheems.