Ever since I was little, I have loved strawberries. I remember going strawberry picking as a child, filling up on berries right in the field and getting what I called a “strawberry-ache” from the sore tummy I always had afterwards.
Those were fond memories for me and I continued to pick strawberries on my own, as I became an adult. Although I knew nothing of gardening during that time, I knew that strawberries tasted better when freshly picked.
After moving to the country, finding interest in gardening and building our first kitchen garden, I knew that strawberries needed to be included in my gardening plan.
Through experience, I learned that strawberries are quite simple to grow from seed, becoming my preferred method for growing them.
In this post, I share how you can successfully grow strawberries from seed. I walk you through the different strawberry types, so you may select the ones that work best for your garden. I also discuss the correct time for starting your seeds, tools required, the right seed starting mix, directions for seed sowing, pricking out into seed trays and strawberry watering requirements. Finally, I discuss transplanting your strawberry seedlings to the garden.
When choosing the right type of strawberries for your garden, first determine what you’re looking for?
Do you want your strawberries to produce throughout the growing season, thereby compromising size for availability? Or would you prefer to pick the juiciest, largest berries right at the start of summer, but only for a few weeks? All of these factors may be considered when choosing strawberry varieties.
Personally, I love Alpine or wild strawberries and these will produce berries throughout the entire growing season. However, they usually don’t produce enough to bring indoors because most get eaten in the garden and they don’t store well anyway. As such, I continue to visit “pick your own” farms for all my preserving needs.
Types of Strawberries:
Everbearing – This strawberry type generally produces two harvests in one season, one in the spring and another in the late summer. Strawberries in this category fall under the species Fragaria x ananassa or Fragaria vesca. Varieties in this type include Alexandria, Alpine, Baron Solemacher, Calypso and Flamenco. Unlike other types, these strawberries tend to concentrate their growing energy on producing more fruit and less on producing runners.
June-bearing – This strawberry type produces strawberries over a period of a few weeks and usually during the earlier part of summer, usually in June. Depending on the variety, some will produce earlier or later than others. Strawberries in this category are typically larger than everbearing types and are typically the ones harvested at “Pick Your Own” farms. Examples of June-bearing varieties include Earliglow, Alba, Avalon and Northeaster
Day-neutral – This strawberry type will set and produce fruit throughout the entire growing season, regardless of day-length and until the first hard frost. This ability to produce fruit continuously throughout the season and even as the days grow shorter is why they are known as day-neutral strawberries. Some examples of day-neutral strawberry varieties include Albion, Tribute, Tristar and Elsanta.
Now that you’ve decided on the strawberries that work well for your garden, here’s what you need to know to begin growing them from seed.
When to Start Strawberry Seeds:
- 12 to 14 weeks before the final frost date
- Strawberries are very slow growing and need a long headstart before transplanting to the garden
- Use to my Seed Starting Calculator for specific seed starting dates in your area
- Seed tray flats
- Seedling starter trays or inserts
- Seed starting medium, i.e Pro-Mix Seed Starting Mix
- Worm castings – (1/4 of total seed starting medium)
- Vermiculite (or perlite) – (1/4 of total seed starting medium)
- Strawberry seeds
- Small dibber or pencil
- Plastic domes or plastic wrap
- Plant labels
- Grow lights
Preparing the Seed Starting Mix:
Although the seed starting mixes sold in stores may be used immediately for seed starting, I prefer to adapt them slightly to increase water retention while maintaining drainage and to add nutrients, since the store-bought mixes contain almost no nutrients.
Using a ratio of 1/2 seed starting mix, 1/4 vermiculite and 1/4 worm castings, measure out all three ingredients into a bucket or potting tray. Proportions need not be precise, simply eyeball each for approximate amounts. Mix all ingredients together thoroughly.
The added vermiculite will help to hold some moisture, since most mixes are either peat or coir-based and these ingredients dry out quickly. The worm castings will provide a light nitrogen component, typically of 1 or 2, that won’t burn plant roots. The largest benefit of worm castings however, is their microbes. These microbes help plants to grow larger and faster, by breaking down available nutrients into an easily digestible format.
Once your seed starting mix is ready and you have your seed trays and cell inserts on hand, you are ready for seed sowing.
Directions for Sowing Strawberry Seeds:
- Fill a seed tray or module with Seed Starting Mix. The mix will be dry and will need to be watered after sowing.
- Scatter strawberry seeds over the surface of the seed starting mix.
- Top the soil with a layer of vermiculite. The vermiculite will allow light to penetrate through to the seeds.
- Be sure to label your seed tray, including the date of seed sowing.
- Water the seed tray from below by placing into a sink or pan filled with 1 to 2 inches of water. Remove once the soil is sufficiently moist.
- Cover the tray with a plastic dome or plastic wrap and place under a grow light.
- After you see your seedlings begin to germinate, remove the plastic covering to prevent mould from developing on the surface of the soil.
- Prick out once the first true leaves develop. They will be delicate so work slowly and carefully. (Refer to my YouTube video “How to Prick out and Pot on Strawberry Seedlings“.)
Once your strawberry seedlings have developed their first true leaves, they are ready for pricking out. The seedlings will be tiny but they won’t be frail. Exercise a light touch and patience when wedging them out. Be sure to only handle your seedlings by their leaves and not by the stem, as this would damage them. Refer to my YouTube video for step-by-step instructions.
How to Prick out and Pot on Strawberry Seedlings:
- Fill a 1-inch cell pack with seed starting mix.
- Using the wider end of the dibber, make indents in the centre of each seed cell.
- Turn the dibber over to the narrow side or using a pencil, gently scoop out one baby seedling at a time.
- Carefully place each seedling into a dibbed hole of each seed cell. *Be sure to avoid holding the seedling by the stem, as it will damage it.
- Carefully firm the soil around each baby seedling.
- Water the cell inserts from below by placing in a basin or sink filled with 2 inches of water.
- Place cell inserts in a seed tray and continue to grow under grow lights.
*If runners begin to develop, cut them off to redirect growing energy back to the seedlings.
**Remove any developing flowers, if desired, to redirect energy back to the seedling, until transplanting outdoors. However, I prefer to leave them in place, to enjoy fresh berries under the grow lights.
Watering Requirements and Tips:
- Don’t let the soil dry out while the seedlings are small
- Seedlings are fragile and will die quickly if allowed to dry
- Don’t allow seedlings to sit in soggy soil, be sure to drain away any excess moisture
- Keep moisture level consistent
- Water from below – watering at the soil line may damage leaves and make conditions overly saturated and humid
Approximately 4 to 5 weeks before the final frost date, begin hardening off your strawberry seedlings. Strawberry plants are tough and can be transplanted out to the garden 2 to 3 week before the final frost date. However, a hardening off period is required first. For more information on hardening off your seedlings, please refer to my post, “How to Harden off your Seedlings“.
How to Transplant Strawberry Seedlings to the Garden:
- Select a full sun area with your garden and well draining soil, to grow your strawberry crop. Strawberries are perennial and will grow successfully for at least 3 years. Be sure to select a long-term location.
- Prepare the soil by removing any weeds, old plant debris and rocks, then rake out the top layer of soil to smooth it out.
- Top the soil with a 2-inch layer of compost. This may be well-rotted garden compost, leaf mould, sea compost or other light compost material. If the compost is heavy or wet, top the soil and leave it to dry for approximately a week, as heavy, clumpy compost will be difficult to work with. Once the compost is topped and dry, use the back of a garden rake to smooth it out.
- Space your strawberry seedlings 1 to 2 feet apart and plant your seedlings at the soil level. June-bearing strawberries may be hilled up to allow for runners to spread along the soil surface.
- Allow the strawberry seedlings to grow in the first year to establish their roots. Remove any flowers that develop to redirect growing energy back to the roots.
- Once established, strawberry plants will happily produce strawberries throughout the growing season.
There is nothing tastier than fresh-picked strawberries, right off the plant. They are the quintessential summer berry, reminding us of summer days, warm temperatures, spending time outside, tasty jams, drinks, pies and so much more. To me, they bring back happy childhood memories of “strawberry-aches” and red-stained faces. Today, I see those same reactions from my children, since they too participate in the “pick-your-own” tradition.
If you haven’t grown your own strawberries, these instructions will make it simple. Even if you don’t grow enough and need to pick extra at a farm, there is still nothing tastier and sweeter than homegrown. Not to mention the satisfying self-sufficiency of growing your own fruit.
Here is a recipe for Strawberry Jam that my mother used to make when I was little. This was my favourite jam and I remember topping my pancakes with it every Saturday morning while watching cartoons. Click this link and have it sent directly to your email in PDF format.
I hope you give strawberry growing a try!
Here are the tools that I mentioned in the post.