Strawberries bloom early in the season. Most varieties have pure white flowers but this one is pretty in pink. Click to download a large (800x600) version of this image.
Blossoms, unripe fruit and strawberries fit for snacking are all present on the plant in springtime. Click to download a large (800x600) version of this image.
The common cultivated or garden strawberry (Fragaria X ananassa) is a complex hybrid species developed over many years by crossing several wild strawberry species. The plant is a low growing perennial with three-palmate leaves and toothed leaflets. Individual plants are usually around 4-6 in (10-15 cm) high but they send out numerous stolons (above ground runners) which root and start new plants. The flowers are white or pink with five rounded petals and usually produced over an extended period. The strawberry "fruit" is actually a fleshy receptacle with many dry, thin walled achenes imbedded in its surface. Each achene (the true fruit) contains a single seed. There are hundreds of strawberry cultivars, adapted to different climates, different day lengths, different soils and with different fruit characteristics. Strawberry cultivars known as "everbearing" tend to produce throughout the growing season, whereas "June bearing" produce most of their crop in spring and early summer. Day-neutral varieties can produce fruit within three months of planting, regardless of the season. Development of new strawberry cultivars continues at a fast pace as growers search for improved flavor, productivity, disease resistance, and improved methods of cultivation and harvest.
Wild strawberries are still popular, especially in Europe and the northern U.S., and many people insist that, although smaller, they are mush tastier than the man-made cultivars we have today.
The parent species of the cultivated strawberry, Fragaria X ananassa, include species native to the New World: Fragaria virginiana occurs naturally from Newfoundland to Alberta and south to Georgia and Oklahoma. F. chiloensis occurs on the West Coast, from Alaska to Chile. A European species, F. vesca, also figured in the development of the modern strawberry. The garden strawberry has the widest distribution of any cultivated fruit, being grown in temperate and subtropical climates from Alaska to South America, and in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Strawberries are grown commercially from the equator to the Arctic Circle, and from sea level to 1000 ft (3000 m) above sea level.
Strawberries do best in sandy soils. Unfortunately they are susceptible to numerous diseases and pests, and although technically perennial, strawberries are usually grown as annuals. Light: For the best fruit production, strawberries should be grown where they get full sun all day. Moisture: Strawberries grow best on well drained but moisture retentive soils. The small plants have shallow roots, and require frequent watering, especially during dry spells. Hardiness: USDA Zones 2-11. There are strawberry cultivars adapted to all climatic zones where plants will grow. To overwinter in cold climate areas, strawberry plants should be covered with a straw or hay mulch before permanent snow buries them. A floating row cover in spring protects against late frosts which would kill early blossoms. Propagation: Strawberries are propagated simply by removing and replanting the little plantlets that form at the end of runners usually near the end of the growing season.
Specially designed, stack planters equipped with drip irrigation provide an efficient growing environment that requires little space. Steve has outfitted his (seen here) with several different varieties of strawberries.
In the southern U.S. and in California, strawberry plants are set out in the fall. Elsewhere they are planted in early spring. Strawberries are often grown 15-30 in (37-75 cm) apart in rows 3-5 ft (1-1.5 m) apart. The runner plants are confined to a strip just 2 ft (60 cm) wide, and are used to start a new crop the following year. Another method is to grow the plants in hills 1-2 ft (30-60 cm) apart and remove all runners as they form. Plants grown this way get larger and usually produce more fruit per plant. There are actually dozens of different methods for cultivating strawberries in various parts of the world. In all methods of cultivation, it is important to mulch around the plants to suppress weeds and reduce evaporation from the soil. Since strawberries are very prone to soil borne diseases, it is customary to purchase new, disease free stock each year.
Since strawberry plants are small and have small, compact root systems, they are especially well suited for container cultivation. Plants grown in containers are usually easier to keep disease free, easier to keep weed free, and easier to keep pest free. Growing them in a hydroponic system, where nutrients and water are constantly available is even better.
Little strawberry plants are attractive with their shiny toothed leaves, pretty pink or white flowers and bright red fruits. They make an excellent border around the herb garden, or use them as a ground cover. Strawberries look good in a pretty container, and you just might get something to nibble on if the birds don't beat you to it.