Eleanor Clarke

Masterclass: Strawberries

Here at The Nunhead Gardener we love strawberry season. We’ve been growing some new varieties to see which are tastiest.

Although in truth, any strawberry, perfectly ripe and warmed by the summer sun, is the most exquisite mouthful in summer–ideally picked straight from the plant. There’s so much that’s great about these brilliant little plants.

Not only are they easy to grow in veg beds, but they’re totally doable even if you don’t have a proper garden. Yes, wherever you’re growing them, they need it to be sunny. But given plenty of sunshine, strawberry plants will be happy and ripen in a roomy hanging basket (in fact they’ll ripen earlier against the warmth of a wall), or in a pot.

Photo: Margaret Jaszowska

Next bit of good news: strawberries are perennials. Which means you’ll have them for more than a year! Plant them in spring, in good well-drained soil, in a sunny spot, and they’ll fruit for two or three years. Even better if you can dig in some well-rotted horse manure. After a few years, they do tend to run out of steam, so you can either replace them with new plants or grow more from runners (see below). Adding slightly to the ease of growing strawberries is the fact that there are two types: summer fruiting and ‘perpetual’. The first has one heavy crop, usually in June, the second will give lighter harvests of fruit throughout the season. And then there are alpine strawberries, which give tiny, intensely sweet berries over a long period and tolerate much more shade than the classic larger fruited varieties. Brilliant for a semi-shaded flower bed or window box.

A few little tips to keep your strawbs productive and looking good:

  • From mid-spring, feed weekly with a liquid tomato feed. This will encourage lots of flowers and fruit.
  • Mulch in mid-spring with a cosy layer of straw-tucking it between the plants and under the leaves. It serves three purposes: the berries are protected from muddy splashes, it improves airflow around the plants, reducing the likelihood of mould, and it helps to deter slugs and snails.
  • Water regularly, especially in dry weather and if you’re growing in pots.
  • Cut off runners in spring. A healthy strawberry plant will soon produce long runners, which will root into the soil around it. If you don’t have the space for new strawberries, cut off the runners to concentrate the plant’s energy on producing strawberries from the mother plant.
  • Peg down runners in summer. If you want new plants for free, peg down your strawberry runners to the soil (or to another smaller pot filled with soil) with a piece of wire and a new plant will grow. Once you can see that the runner has rooted (tug it gently to check), you can cut away the runner.
  • When fruiting’s finished, cut back all the leaves to around 5cm from the ground and feed with a general-purpose fertiliser. This will help your plants store energy for next year’s berry production.
  • Remove your old straw in late summer, once your plants have finished fruiting.

Photo: Ave Calvar

6 of the best varieties to try

1) ‘Honeoye’ A lovely early strawberry, fruiting in June with glossy red berries

2) ‘Cambridge Favourite’ Continue the strawberry season into July and August with this classic variety

3) ‘Mara des Bois’ A favourite in France, very sweet and cropping well from July to September

4) ‘Just Add Cream’ Delicious, with pretty pink flowers and a brilliant scent

5) ‘Montana’ Compact with plenty of flowers and fruit, so great for pots

6) Fragaria vesca, The wild strawberry, ideal for ground cover in a semi-shaded bed 

Remember, if we don’t have specific plants in stock, just come and ask one of the team. We’ll be happy to suggest an alternative or order it for you, if we can.

See what Strawberries we have to offer: