Growing strawberries is a relatively easy gardening activity, and when well cared-for, strawberry plants can bear crops for five years and sometimes even longer, making the establishment of a nice strawberry bed a worthy gardening endeavor. Assuming that you live between USDA zones three and nine, you should be able to grow strawberries with great success, and people outside of this region are sometimes able to cultivate this crop as well.
The first thing to know when it comes to growing strawberries is that they break down into three basic types: June bearing, everbearing, and day neutral. June bearing strawberries produce one big crop early in the summer, typically developing numerous runners which will eventually root and develop new plants, along with big, juicy berries. Everbearing and day neutral cultivars produce smaller berries and fewer runners, with crops appearing in the spring, summer, and fall.
To grow strawberries, you will need a sunny spot with sandy, well-drained loam. You can grow strawberries in containers, raised beds, or the ground, and there are several different ways to organize strawberries in the garden. In containers, strawberries like lots of room to put out runners, or they can be grown in a strawberry planter, a vertical planter which gives the plants room to expand. When grown directly in the ground, strawberries can be grown as individual plants on mounds of soil, or in raised rows. Some people like to use the matted row system, in which plants are grown close together and allowed to mingle, while other people prefer the spaced row method, which promotes slightly less chaotic growth.
Strawberries should be planted in the spring as soon as the soil is soft and dry enough to work easily. Seedlings can be purchased from a garden store or started in a greenhouse. They should be planted in just enough soil to come to the tops of their roots, and the soil should be amended with compost or manure and mulched to keep back weeds and retain moisture. You should not grow strawberries where members of the nightshade family like eggplant and tomatoes have been growing, as these plants can carry disease.
In the first growing season, gardeners should pinch back the blossoms of growing strawberries, to encourage the plants to leaf out and produce runners. After that, flowers can be allowed to mature and set fruit. Strawberries also like to be fertilized around this time, and the plants should be kept well-watered to promote healthy growth. Do not fertilize again until midsummer, or the plants will develop too many leaves and no blossoms, and never fertilize right before winter, as this can encourage the plants to grow in a frosty season, when they are vulnerable to damage.
An important part of growing strawberries is renovation, a practice which encourages the plants to go dormant in the winter and bounce back in the spring. After the last harvest, the plants should be mowed or trimmed back so that just the crowns are exposed, and the leaves should be mulched back into the soil, or discarded if they appear diseased or moldy. When the plants burst into leaf and flower in the spring, the first round of flowers should be pinched off as discussed above for best results.
Some people find that growing strawberries as perennial plants does not work, because their climate is too severe. In these instances, strawberries can be treated as annuals, with fresh plants being set out every spring.