Do you ever get bug bites in your strawberries? That’s my main challenge to harvesting perfect, plump, red ones. So the last couple years I’ve grown fewer strawberries in the ground and more in containers, which has vanquished the bug threat.
I start the strawberry plants in one-gallon containers, whether I’ve bought a six pack or bare-root plants, or if I’m transplanting runners.
And I put just one plant in a one-gallon container. I’ve tried two or three plants (as pictured above), but they quickly outgrow that volume. You need a five-gallon container if you want to grow more than one strawberry plant in a single container for more than a month or so.
I use my homemade compost for the container mix, which includes some composted chicken manure, and that has achieved good results. I think that any high quality potting mix would perform just as well or better. For example, I’ve found that Recipe 420 performs very well for growing most vegetables in containers.
Off the ground
But here is the most important thing. The reason that growing strawberries in containers prevents (or at least greatly reduces) bug damage is that the berries are not lying on the ground where the bugs live and roam. The bugs that eat my strawberries most often are pill bugs (rolly pollies) and earwigs (pincher bugs). These bugs can climb the walls of a container, but they rarely do, in my experience.
Further, to make it even less likely that bugs get up into the containers, I elevate the containers. I usually place the containers on top of bricks.
There are other effective ways to minimize bug damage on strawberries. I’ve used my chickens to debug the area around the strawberries. Having bare ground (no mulch, including straw) around the plants helps because it eliminates habitat. And there are poisons you can buy that will kill the bugs. You can also lower expectations until it heats up around June or July, which is when the bugs become less active; you’re likely to get more undamaged berries then.
These alternatives to reducing bug damage on strawberries might be the best method for your situation. But for me these last few years, growing in containers has been the best in terms of least time required, most effective, cheapest, and safest.
On the topic of safety, strawberries from the grocery store rank dirtiest among all fruits and vegetables, according to the Environmental Working Group’s report. (Also, see here.) So my take is that if you’re going to eat strawberries, it’s wise to either buy them from a farmer you trust or grow your own.
In about July, it becomes difficult to keep plants in containers watered in my hot, inland location. Because of this, I either move my container strawberries into half-day sun near the east side of my house or I put the strawberry plants into the ground under a fruit tree.
From these plants under fruit trees, I can then dig out runners the following winter to make the new year’s potted strawberries. I dug some runners out today.
This winter’s strawberries for my kids
In addition to digging up and potting up runners, I’ve also bought some new strawberry plants in the last few weeks. I bought a six-pack of Albion, one of my favorite strawberry varieties.
“Each of you gets two plants,” I told my three kids. And then I helped them pot up the new Albion strawberries into one-gallon containers. They decorated their containers and even named their plants.
My daughter showed me hers: “This one is Bunch because it has a bunch of leaves, and this one is Runner because it has a runner.”
January is an excellent time to get started on strawberries — in containers or in the ground — in Southern California.
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