Several methods for strawberry production (Tucson Gardener)

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The Tucson Gardener

The Strawberry Adventures

It’s easy to start new strawberry plants from the runners. Each small pot is the beginning of a new plant.

Last year’s impulse purchase of a dozen bare-root strawberry plants and two plastic grow bags turned into an adventure in search of a suitable method to grow strawberries in my garden. The plastic grow bags are long gone but the strawberry plants have multiplied and prospered. Whether it’s worth the few strawberries I picked this past spring is debatable but you can’t say I didn’t try several methods for strawberry production with varying degrees of success. Strawberry plants produce runners which in turn produce a plant at the end and then the new plant may send off another runner and so forth. The plants easily root whether it’s in the soil or small soil filled pots. The simplicity of strawberry plant propagation is what caused my troubles to begin. I rooted just about every plantlet I saw and by the end of last summer (2003) I had dozens and dozens of young strawberry plants.

The Strawberry Bed
ith so many plants the obvious place to put them was in the vegetable garden. I cleared a raised bed under a mesquite tree and added plenty of composted steer manure and compost. Then the plants were evenly spaced near the three soaker hoses that run though the bed.  The whole bed was covered with floating row covers to discourage insects, birds and other pests.  Prior to spring strawberry production I added straw mulch around the plants to help keep the berries off the moist soil.

In a past strawberry planting experience the plants in the raised beds developed a persistent leaf spot and eventually the leaf cutter ants ate all the foliage. I believe the bed also had nematodes which didn’t help the plants develop strong productive foliage and I eventually gave up on the strawberry plants and discarded them. 

The new bed of plants had its problems. The first was the difficulty in removing the floating row cover. It needed to be done almost daily to check on the ripening strawberries. If not, the strawberries either rotted or became insect nourishment. Some sort of cover is needed or the birds and rodents would dine on the easy to spot ripe red strawberries.

The Strawberry Pot
ith more plants needing a home I planted a large Mexican clay strawberry pot (20 openings not including the top) that had been the container for many of my Hens and Chicks, Echeverias, I’d started from seed. (Not to worry, the succulents have found a new summer home under the ramada in a copper fire pit that has a protective screen to keep away succulent eating birds and rabbits.) 

More plants ended up in a smaller clay strawberry pot that I had had plans to fill with a variety of succulents I’d started from cuttings.  That pot became more of a new plant generating base where the runners were placed on small pots so the plants could root. Eventually I removed the strawberry plants from the small strawberry pot because the clay pots are too difficult to keep watered. They dry out quickly and all the moisture need for the strawberry plants deteriorates the pots rather quickly.

Strawberry pots are great for succulents and plants that don’t require constant watering in the Tucson climate. As for strawberries, too much trouble for the reward.

The Strawberry Plastic Self-Watering Container
ith still more strawberry plants to add to the garden I finally found a use for a plastic self-watering container I’d purchased several years ago. I’ve planted lettuce, herbs and a collection of Amaryllis bulbs in the container.  It was empty so I cleaned it out really well and rinsed it with a weak Clorox® solution before filling with a potting mix. Then in went a few strawberry plants and the water reservoir beneath the container was filled with water and water soluble fertilizer.

I’d never been that impressed with the plastic container although the Amaryllis did quite well while planted there.  The problem was the container was difficult to move and it seemed to dry out a lot faster than I expected. That all changed with the addition of the strawberries. I had placed the container on a makeshift cart so it could be moved around the yard and it was high enough off the ground that the rabbits didn’t hop up to investigate the strawberry plants.

The plants grew well because they were easily fertilized and watered. When they started to produce strawberries, the ones hanging over the sides were easy to find by both myself and the birds. Quail became regular visitors to the strawberry producing self-watering container.

The Strawberry Hanging Basket
always seem to have an empty plastic hanging basket or two so strawberry plants found their way into the containers and were hung in the greenhouse. The baskets produced a few strawberries but certainly nothing to write home about.

As runners formed and began hanging over the side the strawberry baskets became considerably more interesting and were moved to a shady area where they could be seen.

Maybe they’ll produce more berries next year as the plants grow and are given a bit more fertilizer.

The Strawberry Hanging Bags
he strawberry adventure began because of two plastic
grow bags which I discarded because they were small and difficult to keep watered. They did produce a few strawberries while I had them. Well darned if I didn’t see some different grow bags in one of the seed catalogs and I couldn’t resist ordering a couple of them.

The bags were made of a reinforced plastic material similar to what is found in inexpensive tarps. They were about 14 inches tall and seven inches in diameter and had openings for 12 plants. What was nice about them was you could sit them on the ground and really water from the top making sure the bag’s soil was saturated.

The bags still dried out quickly but I like them much better than the first set of grow bags I tried that held less soil and had all the plant openings on one side of the bag.

The Homemade Strawberry Tower
ou would think by now that I’d be out of new strawberry plants but I wasn’t. I still had about 50 young, healthy plants that needed to find a place in the garden or were destined for the compost bin. I happened to read where someone suggested drilling holes in a whiskey barrel filling the barrel with potting soil and the holes with strawberry plants. That’s when I decided I’d build a grow tower from inexpensive wood just to see what would happen.

Using cedar fence boards and lots of screws I made a four foot tall by about 15 – inch square container. Then I drilled a bunch of evenly spaced inch and a half diameter holes.

I then treated the outside of the wood with a water sealer and moved the whole thing to a place in the vegetable garden where I placed it on four concrete stepping stones to keep it from sitting on the ground. I ran a loop of soaker hose down to the bottom of the four foot tower and hooked it up to the watering system.

Then came the hard part – planting the strawberry plants. I filled the container with a good potting mix and some slow release fertilizer putting plants in the holes as I filled the tower. At the top I added a few more plants. Eventually I had to replace three plants that didn’t make it because I may have planted them too deeply covering the crown.

I had plans to make a removable cage that I could slip over the tower with the beginning of fruit production to fend of birds and rodents but production wasn’t so great that I needed to build the cage. I did construct a simple frame to support shade cloth to help the plants make it through the hot summer.

I must admit I like the looks of my tower but it hasn’t been a big strawberry producer. My biggest fear is it may fall apart sooner than I’d like. I’m hoping it will last for three years. The verdict isn’t yet in. Until then the strawberry tower makes and interesting addition to the vegetable garden.(2004)


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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