Tuesday, 8 April 2014

How to grow strawberries in containers

The most popular of all fruits for the home gardener to grow must be strawberry plants. With constraints on space becoming ever more severe, it is a good thing to know that these most delicious of the soft fruits are very easily grown and can yield very well in containers. Their root system is comparatively small and with the environment in a container more readily controlled results achieved can actually be better than those cultivated in the traditional manner in the ground. It is also possible to obtain a very extended yield season, especially if you have a greenhouse or conservatory.
Choice of container
Any material is suitable but it must be not less than 12” in depth and it must have adequate drainage. These are the two must-haves. The choice of material will likely be dictated by budget; clay pots are authentic and look most attractive but are more expensice to buy. They heat up more readily in the spring than plastic so may provide earlier crops and growth. But plastic is fine as is resin or wood.
Drainage
Line the bottom with some crocks and/or lift the container an inch or two off of the ground with chocks; this will ensure water drains away freely and that the pot doesn’t sit in water.
The substrate
This should always be a proprietary compost and never garden soil which compacts when used in containers, will be poorly aerated and littered with weed seeds. Invest in a bag of compost and it will bring much better results. All purpose potting compost is fine, but for best results I like to use a loam based compost which has lots of heart in it.
Types of container
You can be imaginative and have fun here. I have seen wonderful healthy strawberry plants growing in troughs, Versailles planters, hanging baskets, ordinary pots of all shapes and sizes, growbags etc. A growbag will house 3 or 6 plants depending on it’s size and litreage. A 15” hanging basket would accommodate 4 or 5 plants. And a 12” pot 3 plants.
Watering
Is the single greatest factor that will influence the success of your strawberries. During the growing season it will be necessary to water every day, whether inside or out. Even if it has rained during the day it sould be necessary to water because the foliage canopy often stops the rain from penetrating the roots sufficiently. Remember that any plant in containers has a higher water requirement than it’s ground-grown counterpart. Water early in the morning or in the evening when the take-up will be greater and it won’t evaporate during the heat of the day. Try to water at the base of the plants rather than showering overhead. This is especially important when the strawberries have fruit because overhead watering encourages botrytis and rot. You may find the addition of water-storing crystals to the compost mix at planting helps.
Feeding
Maxicrop seaweed extract applied fortnightly as a foliar field is safe and easy to use and provides by far the best results for container grown strawberries.
Vine Weevils
Can be a hazard with strawberry plants and are particularly attracted to plants grown in pots. Keep an eye out for these damaging insects, or incorporate a natural nematode control when potting.
Varieties
You can grow any varieties in containers but these are particularly good:
Emily [very early]
Honeyoye [early]
May [second early]
Elsanta [main season]
Pegasus [late mid season]
Red Gauntlet [mid season]
Rhapsody [late summer season]
Aromel [autumn fruiting]
Flamenco [autumn fruiting]
And for protected or forced early crops under glass:
Cambridge Vigour
Elvira.
Remember that strawberries grown under glass or plastic may required added protection from mildew and other fungal diseases. The flowers will also benefit from hand pollinating because there may be a lack of pollinating insects in a greenhouse or under a cloche.
Extra late crops

Can be achieved by bringing perpetual/autumn fruiting varieties inside in early Autumn. These types often go on cropping until stpped by frosts so with the benefit of some protection you can often get several extra weeks of tasty strawberries, deep into the Autumn or early winter even with simple frost protection.


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