Strawberries are a popular grow your own fruit.
This is because they are fairly easy to grow; generally produce a (small) crop in the first year; and need only take up a little space in the garden.
But there is much more to this berry that isn’t a berry than a spot of tennis.
Strawberries – a Bit of Botany
The garden strawberry, Fragaria x ananassa, is cultivated worldwide and is part of the Rosaceae, or Rose family. It is one of the most popular berries, favoured for its sweet taste and inviting red juicy flesh.
However, it isn’t a berry, it’s arguably not even a fruit! Botanically speaking, the strawberry is an aggregate accessory fruit; what is sometimes called a pseudocarp.
Any wiser? Let’s try that in simpler terms…
A berry is a simple fruit which is derived from one flower which intron has one ovary. Typically, one fruit has many seeds.
On the other hand, strawberries have a single flower but more than one ovary. Hence it is called an aggregate fruit.
It gets better…
Whereas fruits such as tomatoes and grapes have seeds on the inside, strawberries would seem to carry their seeds on the outside.
Well they would, if the seeds were seeds, which they’re not. They are undeveloped fruits, known botanically as achenes.
And really, the strawberry isn’t even a fruit as the part of the plant we eat, is a fleshy receptacle or stem, which hold the many fruits – accessory fruits.
Mind you, all of this doesn’t prevent the strawberry from being a sweet and tasty summer food source!
Strawberries – Ways to Grow Your Own
A very adaptable edible plant, strawberries are suitable for growing as a container crop in –
- Pots on the patio
- Hanging baskets – trailing varieties are available
- Special strawberry pots
- Small raised beds
Strawberries are ideal for growing straight into the ground in –
- Dedicated strawberry bed
- Part of the perennial fruit section
- As an edging in the vegetable garden
- As an edging in the flower borders in the ornamental garden
- As a border edging and ground cover in perennial shrub gardens
If you are using a crop rotation method in the vegetable garden, strawberries should not be included as part of the rotation as they are a perennial plant.
Special strawberry pots look decorative, but remember to turn them around so that all the plants get a chance at sun worship, or you’ll only have half a crop!
As they are happy to be grown in containers, strawberries are suitable for those gardeners with balconies and small patio gardens.
Types and varieties of Strawberries
There are early season, mid-season and late season varieties; plus alpine and perpetual types of strawberry.
Alpine strawberries, Fragaria vesca, have much smaller fruit but a larger crop for a longer time. Good for ground cover and in containers, but not if you want to make jam!
I’ve suggested some varieties below, but the best way is to look for named varieties at the farmers’ market, supermarket and pick your own farms and decide which you like.
There is a certification scheme for commercially sold plants; these will be more disease and virus resistant.
Early season – Honeoye, Vibrant
Mid-season – Cambridge Favourite, Toscana (has pink flowers)
Late season – Alice, Pegasus
Perpetual, Trailing – Elan
Perpetual – Albion, Mara des Bois (both produce good size fruit)
Strawberries – Propagation
Strawberries are hardy perennials, so survive most of the weather that the British climate and other temperate zones throws at them. The foliage may die back over winter.
They are short lived; certainly in terms of producing a decent crop. About five years would be average, although some varieties may be less productive or die off after three years.
But this is not a real problem as this plant propagates easily by runners. These are the long stems which even a young strawberry plant will put out in later summer, after harvest, sometimes whilst still bearing fruit.
At the end of each short runner a new plant will form. Long runners may have three plantlets along their length. Pin each of these baby strawberry plants into a small, 9cm pot filled with potting compost. Digging a small hole so the pot is partly in the ground reduces watering requirements. A good tip if you have a strawberry bed in the vegetable garden or are growing strawberries among your ornamental plants.
Wait until the babies have developed a reasonable root system before cutting them loose from their parent plant. Giving the young plants the protection of a cold frame, unheated greenhouse or horticultural fleece can be a good idea over winter. In the following spring the young plants can be planted out and potentially provide you with garden fresh strawberries that year.
Starting off with reliable, certified plants is obviously the best policy. Bare rooted strawberry plants can be bought which may be cheaper if you’re buying a quantity to begin with.
This is not what you see when you look up into the night sky after a surfeit of strawberries! The strawberry moon is the full moon that appears at the Summer Solstice. I tried taking a photo this year on June 20th – pathetic result, so I’m pleased to share this one with you by Patrick Pleu – and the related article about Rutland Water is worth a read too.
Strawberry Moon, Summer Solstice 30 June 2016, photograph by Patrick Pleu
Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K as well as providing a good dose of fibre, folic acid, manganese and potassium.
So whether they’re a fruit or impersonating a fruit my feeling is that they’re an excellent addition to most gardens.
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