Nothing says summer like plump, juicy strawberries— especially when they're freshly picked from your garden. The good news is, you don't need to be a gardening expert to enjoy harvest after harvest of delicious strawberries. Strawberry plants are relatively easy to grow and care for. Plus, there's no better feeling than knowing the strawberries you're eating are a result of your own hard work.
In this quick guide, we're offering helpful tips, growing step-by-step instructions, and answering commonly-asked questions about how to grow strawberries from seed.
Why Grow Strawberries from Seed
If you've got a bit of a green thumb, growing strawberries from seed is a great way to save money on your favorite summer fruit. Purchasing strawberries at the grocery store can get pretty pricey, especially when you're buying organic strawberries.
Additionally, using strawberry seeds allows you to grow special strawberry varieties that aren't always available as seedlings at your neighborhood garden store. Growing strawberry plants from seed will enable you to select the variety that's best suited for your location, gardening style, and desired end-use. Currently, there are over 200 different strawberry varieties to choose from. A quick Google search should provide information on which types are the best for where your area.
Growing Strawberries From Seeds
When to Start Strawberry Seeds
Starting strawberry seeds involves a bit of planning and patience. To ensure the seedlings reach planting size by spring, you'll need to start your strawberry seeds indoors around 10 to 12 weeks before the final spring frost. Strawberry seeds germination alone can take up to 6 weeks.
Strawberry Seed Germination
For most home gardeners, the biggest challenge when it comes to growing strawberry plants from seed is getting the seeds to germinate. Strawberry germination takes 1 to 6 weeks, so you'll need to get started in early spring.
To germinate, most strawberry seeds must go through a process called cold stratification, a fancy gardening term for surviving winter-like weather conditions. Before planting your seeds, you'll need to stratify them in cold temperatures. Some varieties do not require stratification. If you are unsure if the variety you have requires a stratification process or not, give the process a try anyway.
How to Stratify Strawberry Seeds
Stratifying strawberry seeds is a simple process that's essential for proper germination. You can recreate these conditions by leaving your seeds in the refrigerator for an extended period of time. Start by placing the seeds into a tightly sealed plastic bag or glass jar. Place the container in the refrigerator and leave it for 3 to 4 weeks.
After about a month, remove the cold seeds from the fridge but do not open the sealed container. Allow them to come to room temperature while the bag is still unopened, preventing unwanted condensation from collecting on the seeds as they warm up. For best results, leave the container out on the kitchen counter for a full day before you move on to planting.
How to Plant Strawberry Seeds
Once your strawberry seeds are fully prepped, it's time to start planting. Start by filling seedling a tray with moist soil. While it's fine to use rich garden soil or plain potting soil, a seed starting mixture provides the strawberry seed with the best growing conditions possible, leading to heartier, healthier plants down the line.
Next, place 3 to 4 seeds in each cell and gently press down. Do not cover the seeds with additional soil. Strawberry seeds are quite small, so they need to be planted on or near the surface of the soil.
Once you've finished planting your seeds, mist the soil so it's just barely moist. Place the trays in a warm spot in your house where they'll receive plenty of sunshine or growing light throughout the day. Keep the soil evenly moist, but don't let it get soggy.
Now comes the waiting part. In general, strawberry seeds take between 14 to 28 days to germinate. To give your young strawberry seedlings a boost, feed them with a bit of half-strength fertilizer every two weeks or so to encourage growth.
Transplanting Strawberry Seedlings
Your strawberry seedlings are ready to transplant when they've become anywhere between 2 to 3 inches tall and have begun to develop a root system. Once your seedlings are ready and the final spring frosts have passed, it's time to move your plants outside.
The young plants have grown accustomed to stable indoor growing conditions, so you'll need to harden them off before planting. Start acclimating your seeds by placing the tray in a shady spot outside for just an hour. Avoid direct sunlight exposure that can scorch the seedlings' delicate leaves and harsh winds that can damage the plant's structure. Gradually increase the exposure time over the next 7 to 14 days until they're hardened off.
Once your seedlings are fully adjusted, they're ready to be planted in their final location. Strawberries aren't very picky, so they can be grown in indoor pots, hanging baskets, outdoor containers, or traditional garden rows. Most varieties of strawberries prefer 6 to 8 hours of direct sun each day. While the plants don't grow deep roots, some varieties like to sprawl out as they produce fruit.
Gently transplant each seedling into a pot, hanging basket, or row in a prepared garden, spacing them 8 to 12 inches apart. Depending on how long your growing season is, these strawberry plants may not fruit until the fall of their first year (and in short-season climates, the following spring).
How to Care for Strawberry Plants
Caring for a strawberry plant is relatively easy. Experienced growers know that you can enjoy flavor-packed strawberries all summer long with consistent water, fertilizer, light, temperature, and care.
Strawberries love water, especially during the late summer when the plants produce heaps of juicy berries and prepare for winter dormancy. Water your strawberry plants daily, avoiding wetting the leaves.
Use fertilizer monthly to give your strawberry plants a boost throughout the growing season. To ensure your strawberries are safe to eat, always rinse them before eating and double-check that the fertilizer you've used is suitable for fruits and vegetables. Alternatively, you can add nutrients to the soil using organic plant food or compost.
Keep your pots or beds covered in mulch to reduce your watering frequency and help prevent weeds and diseases. Stay diligent about removing weeds and plucking runners during the first year. Once your plants are well-established, you can start to let a few runners develop. Gardeners can even transplant these runners to new locations instead of seeding new plants altogether.
Now comes the fun part: finally getting to harvest (and even more importantly, eat) your strawberries!
Your berries should be ripe about a month after your strawberry flowers have been pollinated. As soon as your strawberries turn fully red, they're ready to pick. Any that has gone too far can still b e used in many delicious ways, including jams, sauces, pies, and other desserts.
It's best to pick your strawberries in the morning when the weather is still cool. Be gentle when picking to avoid damaging the plant or disturbing the berries growing nearby.
You should always rinse everything off before eating to remove things like mulch or fertilizer that may still be lingering around. To store your strawberries, wrap them in a dry paper towel and refrigerate them in a sealed Tupperware.