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Last season, we grew strawberries in containers! It was a big success. Pots of strawberries can be squeezed into any garden, even if you only have a patio or balcony. Learn why these compact fruit are perfect for pots, the best varieties, types of containers, how many berries to plant in a pot, and other container strawberry tips.
Why Grow Strawberries in Containers?
Strawberries are a natural choice for container growing for several reasons. They’re perfect for aspiring gardeners with little or no space. They look good – especially when in a strawberry tower or trailing from a hanging basket. And strawberries love a well-drained soil, so by growing them in containers, we can better supply that.
Plus, growing strawberries in pots makes them so much easier to protect the fruits from slugs and animal critters and they’re also much easier to harvest without bending over strawberry beds!
Before we get planting, let’s take a quick look at the different types of strawberries you can grow. There are two main types of strawberries.
Everbearing aka perpetual strawberries. These, as their name suggests, crop over a longer period, producing berries all summer long. The berries tend to be smaller, but are widely considered to have a superior aroma and taste. Quinault is a great variety for containers.
Summer-fruiting aka June-bearing strawberries. They ripen in late spring/early summer. The berries tend to be larger and, because they come all at once, are great if you want to make jam, can your berries or freeze them.
There’s also a third, less common type of strawberry – the day-neutral strawberry, which is unaffected by daylength. The plants simply crop once they’ve reached a big enough size and if conditions are warm enough.
Then you have the alpine strawberries and, unlike the other strawberries, they grow well in shade and can be left to pretty much get on with it! They are the sweetest, most aromatic fruits of all – but they are tiny, as you can see, so probably not worth growing in containers, but they would make a fantastic ground cover beneath, say, shrubs.
Strawberries for pots are available anytime from spring and are best planted as soon as you get them.
Types of Containers for Strawberries
Strawberries are shallow-rooted, so there’s little point having a deep container to grow them in as it would just be a waste of potting mix.
Strawberries tend to do well in classic strawberry urns with little pockets or strawberry towers, tucking one plant per pocket. (See an example of a strawberry tower.) Or, a typical 12 to 14 inch diameter pot can accommodate two to three plants. We prefer a wider, shallower container which should hold about 5 plants. You could, of course, plant a smaller 6- to 8-inch container for one individual smaller pots like these will dry out quicker and need watering more often, so just bear that in mind.
Potting Mix for Containers
Use a good-quality, peat-free all-purpose mix. We never advise using garden soil as, in a container, it will just compact and become slow to drain, which strawberries definitely won’t like. Strawberry plants prefer a free-draining mix – something that stays moist enough but never gets sodden. Something like this beautiful potting mix here is just perfect.
To help plants along, try adding some blood, fish, and bone. It’s an organic by-product of the food industry. If you’re vegan, then there are plenty of alternatives available: look for a balanced fertilizer – or one, ideally, with slightly more potassium in it and less nitrogen, because too much nitrogen will encourage soft, leafy growth over flowers and fruits.
Alternatively, you could just apply a liquid feed that’s higher in potassium at regular intervals – something like a tomato fertilizer every two weeks throughout the growing season. This way you could just add your container strawberries onto the same feeding schedule as your tomatoes, peppers and other fruiting veggies.
See the full video with a demo of how to plant in containers.
Planting Strawberries in Containers
Set the crowns so they sit just above the soil level. Don’t bury them or they could rot.
Firm them in properly. If the crown is leaning to one side, then have it pointing towards the edge of the container. That way the plants will grow up and over the rim, hanging down from the container to make the most of the available space.
You can get away with spacing them a bit closer than they would need to be out in the ground – aim for about 8 to 10 inches apart.
Leave a bit of space at the top – an inch or so – to make watering easier and to leave room for your mulch.
The last thing to add is a mulch of straw. What the straw will do is lift the foliage, fruits and flowers up above the potting mix. This will help to keep the fruits clean and ensure they’re not sitting on the damp surface of the potting mix, which could causing rotting – something these soft fruits can be prone to. Straw will also help to shade the potting mix so it retains moisture for longer while keeping the roots a little bit cooler – something very desirable on hot, sunny days. Its light color also reflects some of the sunlight back onto the fruits to help them ripen.
Feed straw in around the crowns, making sure the foliage is lifted onto it, not buried by it. If you can’t get straw, you could use wood chips – anything to keep the top growth dry.
Now let’s water everything in. And there – you can see that the potting mix isn’t splashing up onto our plants or washing away. It stays put where we want it because the straw cushions the pressure of the water.
Water plants regularly to keep the potting mix moist.
Set your container(s) in full sun, ideally with a minimum of six hours direct sunshine a day. A sunny spot on a patio will do well. If you have part-shade, look for a suntrap position, with warmth radiated from the walls and paving. Just expect a more modest harvest and fruits that aren’t quite as sweet and aromatic.
Caring for Your Plants
Now a few extra things to consider, to help you get the most from your strawberry plants.
Birds love strawberries, and we love birds, but not when they’re munching on our berries! Keep them off by simply draping any old netting over your plants once they’ve set their fruits. Just peg it down to stop it getting blown off or birds from getting trapped inside. As easy as that!
Should you let your plants produce fruits in the first year? These are decent sized plants, so if they do start to flower and fruit before the end of the season, let them.
Plants may produce long stems. These are called runners and we can use these to grow more plants – but not just yet! Remove any runners that appear in the first year and, if you can, avoid leaving too many to grow in the second. By removing the runners we’ll be encouraging our plants to concentrate on getting bigger, better, bolder.
If you’d like to know how to propagate more plants from runners – and it’s a really simple and effective technique. It well worth trying as plants will need replacing anyhow when yields start to fall after three to four years. Keep a beady eye out for our video on growing from runners later on in the summer.
Pick your strawberries and enjoy them as soon as you can. Try not to refrigerate them, as this pretty much kills the flavor.
Forget the cream, a little sprinkle of pepper really helps to bring out the flavor – honestly!
Once the harvests are done, trim off the old foliage and tidy up your plants. (See video.)
Other Growing Options
Strawberry pots are an incredibly efficient way to grow strawberries – I mean, just look, we have one, two, three, four, five… six plants growing in this one small area.
The downside is that they do need very regular watering – turn your back and you run the risk of the plants simply shriveling up. Terracotta also wicks away moisture that much quicker, so if you’re in a very hot climate, plastic is better. If there’s a gorgeous terracotta pot you’d like to use, maybe line it first or drop a close-fitting plastic pot inside it, so you get all the good looks but none of the inconvenience of a quickly-drying pot.
If you’re determined to grow your strawberries in a strawberry pot, one way to cut down on watering – and to make sure the water gets right down to the plants at the bottom – is to insert a pipe down the center of the pot before planting. Use a plastic pipe with half-inch holes drilled at regular intervals right down its length. Then you can water into the top of the pipe and water will seep out along its length. (See video demo.)
You could also plant into a strawberry barrel. Or make a strawberry tower by stacking two to three pots of different sizes on top of each other, starting with the biggest at the bottom. Use a cane to center the pots on top of each other. (See video demo.)
Another option is to grow your strawberries vertically – in containers or deep guttering secured to a wall or fence. Pick a sunny wall. This will make a real showstopper and it’s something I’m planning for this wall here. The white paint will help to bounce back the light and I reckon it should look simply stunning!
Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprise that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann