By Jane Smith
As long as they have well-drained, sandy, acidic soil with plenty of organic matter, strawberries will grow in almost any bed or container you choose. Let your space and production needs dictate whether you choose regular or raised beds or containers. Home gardeners who want fresh fruit in season do not need as much space as those who can, freeze or dehydrate their berries. Anyone who sells or serves fresh strawberries must protect the fruit from contamination.
Plastic, cloth and paper bags will all hold strawberry plants. Buy precut grow bags or cut a few drain holes in the bottom of heavy-duty plastic bags and make x-shaped slits in the sides. Tuck strawberry plants into the openings and the top after you fill them with low-loam compost mix to save weight. (see References 1) Strawberries grow well for two years in plastic grow bags, according to Wisley Garden fruit department superintendent, Jim Arbury, of the Royal Horticultural Society. (see References 1A)
Fill cloth or paper bags with potting mix and arrange them in a shallow tray. Paper grocery bags with the sides folded halfway down will hold two to three plants, while coffee sacks with slits in the sides might hold ten or more plants. Paper and cloth grow bags transfer to regular garden beds and will biodegrade, while plastic ones can be difficult to recycle.
A whiskey barrel’s rustic appearance makes it a pleasing addition to a patio or a country-style backyard. Form wire mesh into a tube, place it in the center of the barrel and fill the mesh tube with coarse bark or other mulch to create a soil wick, which ensures that water reaches the lowest plants in the holes of the barrel, advises retired professor and Texas Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist Jerry Parsons on his website. Whole whiskey barrels hold 15 to 20 plants, while half-barrels will support at least 10 plants if you drill 2-inch diameter holes in a staggered pattern around the entire barrel. Stuff plants into the holes and fill the barrel with potting soil or worm castings and sand.
Any cardboard box will hold three or more strawberry plants. Like cloth and paper bags, cardboard boxes will biodegrade by the end of each season. Provide a support tray for larger boxes, as the bottoms will collapse when you move them.
Stack two 30-gallon storage containers to create a self-watering strawberry planter, advises R.J. Ruppenthal, author of “Fresh Food From Small Spaces.” Plant as many containers as you have room on your patio or balcony. One strawberry plant yields one pint of berries if you keep them in full sunlight and fertilize them every seven to 10 days.
Use a nine-plant pattern when planting strawberry beds, with three “mother” plants down the center and two “daughter” plants to their left and right. The nine-plant pattern ensures that the strongest runners provide next season’s fruit. Protect the fruit from contamination by covering the beds with plastic. Slit the plastic to transplant seedlings after all danger of frost has passed.