Growing strawberries in a container

Strawberries are a sweet treat that you can grow in outdoor containers. Use any container that is at least 6 inches deep and has drain holes. If you are in an area that experiences freezing winter temperatures, plastic containers are a better choice since they can be left outdoors without fear of cracking from cold temperatures. I use plastic window flower boxes, which can also be set on the ground, suspended from a fence, or set on top of a flat railing in addition to be secured under a window. The container location must receive at least eight hours of sunshine. Fill the container with fresh potting soil.

3 types of strawberry, which to choose

  1. June (or spring) bearing plants produce strawberries for two to three weeks in the spring.
  2. Day neutral types of strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season.
  3. Everbearing produces strawberries two or three times a year in spring, summer, or fall.
June bearing types of strawberries produce the most runners of the three types of strawberries, making that type of strawberry less desirable for a container. The better choice for container-grown strawberries are day neutral strawberry cultivars like Selva, Tribute, or Tristar or everbearing strawberry cultivars like Fort Laramie, Ogallala, Ozark Beauty, Quinalult, or Tillicum. Not all cultivars are available in all areas. Strawberry plants that are available at your local garden center at the proper planting time are more likely to grow well in your area. I use everbearing Ozark Beauty here in USDA planting zone 7.

Planting strawberries in containers

Plant the strawberries in mid to late spring. Set plants about 8 inches apart in the container. Set the plant so the crown of the plant, where the roots meet the stem, is slightly above ground. Water after planting. Keep the soil moist, which may require watering multiple times a week during hot, humid weather.

Dealing with runners

As the strawberry plant matures, it sends out new shoots called "runners" that look like stems with new growth on the tip. Roots will grow where the runner touches the soil. Runners from container-grown strawberries can cramp the growing area. The easiest solution is to cut the runners off the main plant.

Harvesting and caring for strawberries

Pull off strawberries as they turn dark red, indicating that they are fully ripe. Collect the berries in the morning. Use an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer if desired. In late fall, cover the potted strawberries with mulch or leaves as added protection in the colder USDA planting zones north of zone 6. In the spring, use garden clippers to cut back the plants. 
If birds, squirrels, or other animals are a problem with your potted strawberries, create a wire cage or tent from chicken wire. The cage can surround the container or rest inside the lip of the container. You need to be able to lift the wire to harvest the strawberries. For a window box, leave the backside of the cage (side to the window) open. You can then harvest the strawberries from inside the house.

By Barbara Raskauskas