Strawberry plants are easy to grow if you attend to a few important things.
1) Avoid water-logged roots. Strawberry plants require very well-draining soil. Use potting soil for containers, which drains faster than garden soil, adding perlite if necessary. If planted in the ground add compost and even a bit of sand, although this can be time-consuming and, well, a lot of work. An alternative is to grow them in mounds or rows raised 4-6 inches above soil level.
2) Keep parasites controlled. Check for them regularly on stems and the undersides of leaves to prevent an infestation that weakens your plants. If you notice insect damage but don’t see insects, carefully dig down 2-3 inches near the roots or slowly flood pots with water for a few minutes to see what crawls up for air (this is my favorite technique and very effective because it kills some of the pests and I can pick some of them off the surface). Key culprits include:
- Aphids– a sharp blast of water will knock them off and and kill most of them. Well-stocked gardening stores sell hose attachments that shoot water up so you can get under leaves (I foundthese helpful for controlling aphids on my lemon and lime trees). If, like me, you are too lazy to keep this up, use Plan B: encourage lady bugs to take up residence in your garden. To do this you must resist the urge to use chemical pesticides because along with the aphids you will kill any natural.predators that may be growing (along with bees and many other beneficial bugs). If you see ants on your plants, they are “farming” the aphids. In this fascinating symbiotic relationship (that you don’t want in your garden) the ants protect the aphids from predators and take some of the honeydew in return (sounds kind of like the mafia, no?).
- .Loopers and caterpillars – you can pick them off on cool days or in the morning and evening, when they surface from the soil around the roots to feed. Again, I am far too lazy to keep this up so I use the hose to apply a solution containing Bacillus thuringiensis (the label will probably call it Bt). This is by far the most effective and easiest method. It paralyzes their “gut” and they cannot continue to feed on your plants. I use this to control caterpillars on my bougainvillea, geraniums and petunias too. You’ll need to repeat application every 7-10 days or so but it is well worth it.
- Slugs – place containers of beer (I use empty plastic yogurt containers) so that the lip is even with the soil. Slugs and snails are attracted to the fermentation and will crawl in at night and drown (Hotel California). If their soggy bloated bodies are too much for you to deal with the next day, copper tape (which can be found in hardware and gardening stores) can be used as a boundary to repel them. Another deterrent is anything sharp that can pierce or scratch their bodies (ugh) as they attempt to slime (er, crawl) toward your plants, such as crumbled egg .shells or even jagged mulch.
3) Plant crowns well above soil level.
Strawberry plants detest it when their crowns are too low and will languish with drooping leaves and stems. It is better to err by setting them too high than too low (for location of crown see strawberry plant above).
4) Keep well fertilized. Dark veins in light leaves? Your strawberry plants have depleted the soil and are starving. Solve the root problem (pun intended) by adding an inch or so of high quality compost, which will break down slowly for long-term continuous feeding. Plants in this condition will also need a short-acting fertilizer (Miracle Grow makes an organic fertilizer that I like).
5) Take tender loving care of your runners if you are rearing them to be your next generation of strawberry plants. Once they have formed solid root systems, clip then off and set them free in their own pots!