Growing Strawberries in Pots
This article was originally published on March 1, 2010 and expired on June 1, 2010. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.
Strawberry pots are great for growing strawberries, herbs, and small annual flowering plants, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture unit educator.
"A strawberry pot is a flower pot, usually less than two feet tall, that has a series of holes around the sides out of which additional plants are grown," said Jeff Rugg. "They can be made from clay pottery, ceramic pottery, plastic, and even wood.
"Plastic pots are lightweight for use on balconies, but they can also blow over. Clay pots that have not been sprayed on the inside with a waterproofing agent, such as clear acrylic, can break down over a year or two's time. Untreated pots soak up water from the soil and evaporate it into the air so they require more careful watering to keep the roots moist. Ceramic pots that are coated on the inside can last but are often very heavy."
If you fill the pot with new, sterile soil, you won't have any weeding to do, and the strawberry or herb roots will have fewer disease problems.
"Strawberries are often planted in these pots because they are small plants with a shallow root system, so each plant doesn't compete with the others for water," Rugg said. "And, because the fruit isn't touching the ground, it is not susceptible to bacterial and fungal disease problems. Strawberries can be planted in the pots in areas of the country that can't grow them successfully in the ground. Usually, the plants are replaced each spring."
Cover the bottom hole of the strawberry pot with a piece of screen or cloth that will let the water out, but not the soil.
"Never add a layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot," Rugg cautioned. "It does not increase drainage. In fact, it slows the drainage in the bottom layer of soil.
"Fill the pot to the bottom of the first set of side holes, poke the roots into the hole and spread them on the soil, then add more soil up to the next holes, and repeat until you can plant a few in the top opening. You can add some crumpled newspaper or sphagnum moss around the plants to keep the soil from washing out of the hole. When you replace the plants, you should replace at least half the soil, if not all of it."
To make it easier to water every plant in the pot without overwatering the top plants and underwatering the bottom ones, you can insert a pipe in the pot before adding the soil. Drill holes in the pipe so that the water can seep out at all levels.
Large strawberry pots filled with wet soil can weigh a lot. It is best to fill and water them in the location where they will sit for the summer. If you use new, sterile soil, it will probably have fertilizer in it, but additional slow-release fertilizer is beneficial during the summer.
Normal strawberry plants only produce fruit in the spring, but ever-bearing, day-neutral plants should give you fruit most of the summer. They are called day-neutral because the length of daylight does not affect their flowering. Ever-bearing plants make the best varieties for strawberry pots. Tillicum, Ozark Beauty, and Quinalult are good ever-bearing varieties.
If you want to plant herbs or annuals in your strawberry pot, be sure to get plants that have similar requirements for light and watering. Use small-growing species like parsley, thyme, chives, pansy, nasturtium, and viola. Avoid invasive plants like mint that will send up new sprouts in all the other openings in the pot.
"If you live in a climate that freezes during the winter, you can bring the pot indoors," Rugg noted. "Strawberries are best when left dormant in the cold, but the pot may freeze and crack. Many of the herbs can be grown indoors over the winter in the pot, so in the fall take out the strawberries, replant with herbs, and bring the pot inside."
"I use a modern version of the strawberry pot called a 'Stack-A-Pot.' It is a series of trays that each holds three plants," he said. "They can be stacked to create a column and come in a variety of diameters. There are versions that can stack on a deck railing and others that can hang.
"With Stack-A-Pot, I can take off a tray and easily reach the soil and plants on that layer to replace them or change the order of the stacks. They have an overflow system between layers so when I water the top layer, the water moves down a layer until all the trays are watered."
Source: Jeff Rugg, Unit Educator, Horticulture/IPM, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pull date: June 1, 2010