Fruit trees and bushes are planted in the garden with the intention of remaining for the long term, providing produce for many years. In return for this supply of fresh fruit they require regular feeding, training, pruning and, in some cases, protection from harsh winter weather. However, the most prolific, dependable and easiest fruit to cultivate is the strawberry. Strawberries do not require much attention and provide great tasting fruit for very little effort.
Strawberries can be grown practically anywhere and are well suited to borders, hanging baskets and raised beds. They are very popular with urban gardeners who manage limited space very carefully. Each plant generally has a productive life of 3-4 years but will put out runners for propagation the following year.
The young strawberries should be planted in autumn or late spring in a sunny position in well manured, free draining soil or multipurpose compost. The site should be sheltered from wind which would deter any insects from pollinating. The roots of each plant should be spread out over a small mound in the soil and back filled so the crown of the plant is just poking above the surface. They can be grown in rows or clumps leaving a space of 6”/150mm between plants. Summer fruiting strawberries like 'Cambridge Favourite',a popular variety, will be ready for picking from June into July. Pots and containers can be placed under cloches or an unheated greenhouse for an early crop.
A small white flower grows in spring which eventually develops into the rich red berry. During this growing season liquid potash feed should be applied weekly to promote healthy fruit development. A mulch, traditionally straw, should be placed on the soil to protect the ripening fruit from the damp compost and may also help to deter pests and weeds. The strawberries are ready to be harvested when the fruit is red and shiny, but daily inspections should be made in order to pick the tasty berry before birds and slugs arrive.
The ease of growing strawberries makes it ideal for for community and school gardening projects. Since they require little attention strawberries can be cultivated in beds or containers of any size making them portable and easy to manage, revitalising neglected spaces. With a relatively short growing season helped by a high success rate they promote a positive attitude towards gardening, home cultivation and healthy eating.