Growing Strawberries in Containers

growing strawberries in containersQ: Problems Growing Strawberries in Containers?

On September 23, 2015, Bob asked:

I have a large container on my patio with strawberry plants in it. This was the 2nd summer for these strawberries. Unfortunately, the plants only put out a handful of strawberries back in early June. I was very disappointed to say the least. I had stopped by a local nursery to pick their brains about the lack of yield I had this summer. The lady there told me that strawberries grown in containers don’t typically produce a lot of fruit compared to those growing in the ground. She also asked me if I had fertilized my strawberry plants last fall before winter set in. I had never heard of doing this. Why would you fertilize a plant that is about to die from the coming cold months? If this is true, when do I fertilize? Now, that the plant is still green and alive, or do I wait for it to curl up and die after winter hits? It should be noted that I leave this container outside on my patio uncovered and exposed to the snow and elements all winter long. It survived fine this way last winter and grew back really nice this past spring, so I really didn’t have to baby it at all to keep it alive. It survived! Also, what fertilizer, if any, do I use for this fall fertilization?

Answer to: Growing Strawberries in Containers…

Bob,
Thanks for writing in and asking about the best way to grow strawberries in containers.  Believe it or not, many people write in asking about one aspect or another of using mobile, hanging, or other smaller containers for cultivation of their strawberry plants.  And, like you, many people are less-than-thrilled with their results.  To help you get things going in the right direction, let me make a few comments, and I’ll then list some of the common problems people have to deal with when growing strawberries in containers.

First a little bit of information about the strawberry plant itself may be in order.  Amazingly, strawberry plants don’t actually die during the winter months if cared for properly (or if they live in a location where temperatures are sufficiently mild).  They enter a state of dormancy where they are still living, but only just barely.  This reduces the metabolic demands that are present normally to a bare minimum.  The leaves die back, plant functions slow to a crawl, and they surely do look dead.  But, come warmer temperatures during the late winter or spring, they burst forth again into vibrancy and verdant vivaciousness!  Potted plants can even survive without any additional care in places with relatively mild winters simply by benefiting from the radiant heat that passes through house walls (if they are kept close enough).

6 Tips for Growing Strawberries in Containers

With that said, strawberries CAN be grown in containers successfully.  They can even produce just as well in containers as their in-ground counterparts.  However, since strawberry plants don’t typically find themselves in pots out in the wilds, the folks who put them there need to keep a few things in mind.  Remembering these tips will help your plants do well.

container strawberries1.  Pots are small, so avoid overcrowding.
Strawberry plants are small, and they can easily fit into most pots.  But, just like most other plants, they like their space and hate to be crowded.  When growing strawberry plants in containers, the temptation is to let more plants root than the small area can support.  To make sure you get the most out of your berry plants, be sure to let no more than 3 (or if a smaller variety, 4) plants root per square foot of soil.  Since strawberry plants have relatively shallow root systems, the surface area (as long as the pot or container doesn’t taper too quickly) is sufficient to use as your calculation.  If you allow too many plants to root, they will provide you with few strawberries, even if they look green and lush.

2. Snip the runners.
Most strawberry plants put out runner plants.  These plants are great if you have a garden with extra space, but they aren’t so great for pots.  While they will often make a very pretty cascade from a hanging basket, they also put quite a drain on the productive capacity of your plants.  Snipping the runners as soon as they are recognized will allow and encourage the plants to devote most of their energy in the direction you would like: making strawberries!

3.  Growing strawberries in containers increases exposure.
Strawberries are temperate by nature.  That means they thrive in the temperate zones of earth above and below the equatorial tropic zones.  They can’t stand tropical conditions very well without some sort of climate control.  If the heat doesn’t do them in outright, the fungi and pests that do thrive in the tropics usually will.  Growing strawberries in containers exposes the all-important roots of the plants to warmer temperatures than they would normally find in the ground.  Without the thick and insulating properties of the ground surrounding their roots, strawberries in pots will often see their root temperature rise with the temperature of the surrounding soil.  Especially if you have dark pots/containers, the root temperature is likely to rise to the point where strawberry production is affected.  To mitigate this, try to shade the containers where your strawberries live.  You can also put a reflective material like aluminum foil around the pots to dissipate the heat and to shade the pots as well.  Also, lightly spraying the containers with a little bit of water when you water the plants can cool them as well as the water evaporates and takes some of the residual heat with it.

4. Water more often with less water.
Due to the exposure mentioned in the last point, the soil in pots will often dry out more quickly than you water them.  Or, to compensate for that tendency, you may water them too much and keep the soil soggy.  The trick to growing strawberries in containers is to avoid both dryness and sogginess.  That is accomplished by watering with less water several times a day in the heat of the summer.  The soil should stay just-damp, never dry.  Also, make sure that your chosen container will drain adequately.  If the soil stays soggy, even beneath the surface, deadly microbes can set up shop and deal death to your once-happy plants.

5. Container strawberries need attention after harvest.
Unbeknownst to most, the life cycle of a strawberry plant is somewhat complex.  Strawberries themselves don’t actually originate in the springtime.  They started their lives in the fall of the previous year.  After producing a (hopefully) bountiful harvest for you, the humble strawberry plants don’t check into the equivalent of a plant Hilton for the rest of the summer to enjoy life as a container plant.  No, indeed.  They get busy growing and reproducing themselves via runners.  Not only that,  but by the beginning of fall, the little strawberry plants have begun forming the perennating buds within their crowns that will turn into next year’s flowers.  The flowers turn into strawberries subsequently.  So, failure to pay attention to the well-being of your container strawberries after they give you strawberries will come back to bite you in the long run.  They need tender loving care through the fall.  Specifically, to provide the nutrients your plants need to maximize perennating bud formation (which you will then harvest as strawberries the next spring), apply an appropriate fertilizer (10-10-10 conventional, or an equivalent organic fertilizer) in August at a rate of approximately 1/3 of an ounce per square foot.

6. Provide extra insulation for strawberries in containers.
Just as heat seeps in during the blazing summer months, winter sends forth its icy fingers more readily into above-ground containers as well.  If your winters are mild, there is little to worry about.  If the temperatures stay in the twenties, or just dip into the upper teens for a short period, your plants will likely come out of the winter unscathed.  If the temperatures drop out of the low twenties and stay there for a while, your plants can freeze straight through.  That will surely kill them.  So, if the forecast calls for cold, wrap your sleeping strawberries snugly with some insulating material and/or put them in the garage to provide them some shelter from the harsh bleakness of winter.

Growing Strawberries in Containers: Concluding Comments

If you follow the general principles for growing strawberries as described here, and you pay special attention to the tips and cautions mentioned above on this page, there is no reason your container strawberries can’t perform just as well as in-ground strawberry plants.  Just keep an eye on the little fellows a little more than you would the strawberries out in a garden.  And, of course, good luck!

[ growing strawberries in containers ]

This is a question submitted to Strawberry Plants .org by a reader. The information provided in response to the question may benefit others with the same or similar inquiries. Therefore, it has been added to the archive page of submitted questions. See the Strawberry FAQ for more questions, or use the search box at the top right of this page to search this site for information.

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38 comments to Growing Strawberries in Containers

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Karolina,
    Thanks for pointing that out! I’ll go back and edit it to make it clearer, hopefully! Good luck, and thanks for the kind words.

  • Karolina

    Hi Mr. Strawberry,

    thank you so much for your answers. I’ll follow your advices for cutting the flowers in everbearing varieties. As for the nitrogen, you say that “Strawberry plants have a high nitrogen demand in the early spring and late fall.” That was a little confusing to me, as other websites advise using low nitrogen fertilizers. But I guess it makes sense to use a lot of nitrogen when leaves are growing, and then less when fruit starts to develop. In any case, I’ll be following your advice like a Bible, as I want to grow my three strawberries as best as I can 🙂

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Leslie,
    You can go ahead and put it outside. You just might need to bring it in for the night if the temperatures drop below freezing. Good luck!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Karolina,
    Thanks for visiting! Albion is an everbearing variety. And, as to nitrogen, you definitely don’t want to have too much or too little. You need to have enough to prevent Nitrogen Deficiency, but too much will greatly reduce strawberry production. In fact, too much nitrogen is one of the main causes for poor strawberry production (see #6). Can you point me to the place where I’ve said that strawberries need a lot of nitrogen? I may need to edit that part for clarity! Thanks, and good luck!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Vegas gardener,
    If your strawberries are damaged in any way, the accessory tissue (the red part of the strawberry) will be damaged. If ants find a damaged strawberry, they will feast upon it. Ants are fairly ubiquitous, however. The best option might be to go ahead and plant and then use diatomaceous earth to create a barrier to keep the insects to a minimum. As to plucking the blooms, you can probably go without doing it since you have potted plants. They are often already established with decent root systems, and, consequently, will do ok without snipping the blooms. Good luck!

  • Leslie

    I’m in upstate NY (Adirondack foothills).
    Is it too soon to put my hanging strawberry plant outside?

  • Karolina

    Hi,

    I’m just starting to grow my first strawberries this year, and I have two questions:

    1. Is Albion variety an everbearing or day neutral? My plants are already starting to bloom and I was wondering how long do I need to remove the blossoms.

    2. You say strawberries need a lot of nitrogen, but everywhere else I found that they need High-potassium-Low-nitrogen fertilizer. I’m a little confused as to why there are opposite directions.

    Thank you so much and keep up a good work, your site is the best and most comprehensive site I have seen so far 🙂

  • Vegas gardener

    I just bought 4 Junebearing plants. They’re already producing fruit and since it’s been a long time since I planted strawberries, in reading your article and response to a question, I see I need, although reluctantly, need to pull those buds right? I was going to plant in containers, but am now thinking I could put them in an area that has been rocked. My concern with that area is that a year ago, I fought ants. Is it ok to plant strawberries in an area where ants were living previously? Thanks for your articles and great help!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Stu Wilson,
    Yes, for the biggest total yield for perennial strawberries, it is best to snip flowers the first year. If you think your plants will last one more growing season, you might want to stick it out with your current plants and then re-plant in your gutters this fall. By planting in the fall, you give the plants enough time to establish themselves prior to blooming, and you don’t have to snip flowers. Good luck!

  • Stu Wilson

    I need to rejuvenate my strawberry plants that have been growing in rain gutters for 3 years. If I plant new plants this spring do I have to pick the blooms off this year to not allow them to bear fruit in until the second year? I know this is what you usually do for in the ground plants but really don’t want to wait another year for more strawberries. A

    Also are there any varieties that are particularly good for planting in rain gutters and small containers?

    Thanks for your help – great website.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Misty Holland,
    Thanks for the kind words! It is usually harder to successfully grow strawberries in the planters due to how the soil dries out or gets too soggy. Consequently, if you can devote yard space to a strawberry patch, they will likely do better there. The wild strawberries you referenced are probably not strawberries at all. If they have yellow flowers, read this. If you are not concerned about organic gardening, most of the commercial soils will do well. Miracle Gro has wide usage and works well for most people. If you do plant in the ground, you might want to consider raising the bed to facilitate drainage. If your soil stays waterlogged or muddy, there is a good chance that fungal infection will kill at least some of your planted strawberries. Also, according to those average temperatures you supplied, they pose basically no threat to your plants at all. I’d get them in the ground in March if the low will only be 30 degrees! And, to keep those bigger critters out, I’d recommend putting in a few garden stakes at the corners and then running a 2-foot high length of hardware cloth or chicken wire around the perimeter and then attaching bird netting across the top. That usually does a good job of keeping them out. Good luck!

  • Misty Holland

    I am just outside Philly. It’s Zone 7A; about 200 feet from the Delaware River and slightly below sea level – much of the township’s land is marsh. Being so close to the river our climate is a little different than most of PA; we generally have mild winters (snow rarely sticks around more than a few hours; while it does dip into the teens and 20s, we often get a rebound back to the high 40s within a few days,) and very humid summers (actual high temps in the high 80s to 90s, with real feel temps over 100 most of July/Aug). I purchased vertical pocket planters, because I was hoping in addition to growing yummy strawberries, I might also cover an ugly fence that is in full sun. I’m starting to think the planters may have been a mistake. Should I devote yard space for a strawberry patch instead? (The amount of full sun yard space I have is limited – so strawberries would be my only full sun plant. There’s also some nasty-tasting wild strawberries that come up in my yard in early summer.)

    Also I have questions on soil. If I grow in containers, can you recommend a commercial soil? If I grow in the ground, what do I need to look out for; our soil is a bit muddy throughout spring. I’ve grown cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuces, squash, zinnias, and cosmos in the yard with no amendments or fertilizers – these plants grew from seed to abundant harvest with minimal care for the soil – i.e. I tilled in the spring and that’s it.

    Timing: I’m planning to order bare roots of the following varieties: Tristar, Earliglow, Honeoye, All Star and Sparkle. If I order in the spring, I’m worried about getting them outside at the right time so they can thrive. I realize fall may be ideal, but I really wanted to start these in spring so long as that doesn’t mean I’m setting up for failure. When would you recommend ordering and planting? Our average temps are as follows:
    Mar 1 – high 48; low 30
    Mar 15 – high 52; low 34
    Apr 1 – high 59; low 39
    Apr 15 – high 64; low 44
    May 1 – high 69; low 49
    May 15 – high 74; low 54
    June 1 – high 79; low 59

    Wildlife – I’ve lost some plants in the past due to the abundance of small animals: squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, raccoons, opossums, birds and occasionally fox. I think the rabbits and groundhogs were the worst offenders. Aside from bird netting, is there any steps I should take to protect strawberries.

    Thank you so much. I’ve read through your growing guide twice and I think I may need to read it another 20 times before I order my plants. Your site offers the most complete, yet user-friendly guide to growing strawberries that I’ve found on the net so far.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Rima Faith Florin,
    As long as you are gentle when you move the pots, you should be able to move them as much as needed without causing damage to the plants. As for fertilizer, you may want to try composting your vegetable scraps or starting a worm bin that will produce good-quality compost or soil additives for you. Good luck!

  • Rima Faith Florin

    Good day to you!
    Im from Philippines and just started growing strawberries in pots… I already had some research about growing strawberries too… what i am worrying now is that it’s been raining everyday…if not in the morning, usually almost every night for maybe few weeks now already and i dont know when will this end..and the sunlight can’t even compensate to take water from the soil..I’m afraid that the roots may rot. I really wanted my plants to have sunlight but i have to move the pots everyday when the sun comes brightly and move again to cover them when it rains almost every morning and night.. Does constant moving the pots affect the plants?

    another thing, what else can i do aside from fertilizing, since i dont want to put inorganic fertilizer to the plant..organic fertilizer is hard to find in my place. thank you!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Terry Sipes,
    If they grew well this year, they should do well again next year as long as they have the right amount of water, nutrients, and sunlight. Good luck!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Koishi-sama,
    Yes, they should survive better indoors than outdoors with your climate, but you might want to consider adding a grow light and placing the strawberries by a bright window for best yield. Good luck!

  • Terry Sipes

    I live in southwest PA I planted Everbearing (Fragaria) strawberries for the first time this spring and put 2 plants in pots on my deck railing the boxes are app. 8″ wide 6″ deep and 24″ long. I have a unheated garage to put them in for winter my ?is should I put them in bigger containers next spring and should the potting soil be changed at all ? They grew really well this year and I’ve been cutting the runners off any advice would be very much appreciated! Thank you

  • Koishi-sama

    Hi,
    I live in Malaysia and this is my first time growing strawberries. Recently, I bought some plants before i return from Japan. The normal temperature here is about 34 Celsius in the day. So, I thought about it and I put the plants in witched my air-conditioned room. The lights are always switched on. Will my plants survive and give me a plentiful harvest?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Dawn,
    For a single plant, a gallon-sized pot whould be sufficient with appropriate care. As for the rest of the details, see this page: Growing Strawberries. Good luck!

  • Dawn

    Hi, I have a little strawberry plant that I bought at Woolworths the other day, its my first time having any form of plant and I know next to nothing about properly growing them, I haven’t even taken it out of the pot I bought it in. What size pot would I need for it? What do I need to do besides water it and give it a fair amount of sun? Please help!

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Steve Spruce,
    With exceptional soil quality, you could grow 1-2 plants in a gallon-sized pot. With the information you provided, I’d look to acquire a planter with at least a square foot of surface area and plant no more than 3 strawberry plants in it for best results. If you can’t amend the soil, the strawberries will likely not do very well, however. Good luck!

  • Steve Spruce

    Good day to you.
    Im an expat living in the Philippines (Cebu), and have a very small are that I use to grow some herbs that we cant buy off the shelf here easily,also some tomatoes of different varieties and what not,still experimenting with what will actually grow here as the weather is so hot most of the time.
    I have a friend who got hold of some strawberry plants from a local nursery and he gave me one to try out. We got about 10 strawberry fruit from it in March, I did not cut the runners off however as I wanted to try to get some more plants. So the fruiting stopped when the temperature hit is peak in March and more runners came so I pegged these into smaller pots and I now have at last count 16 plants, some runners had runners come of them as well so it was like a little train of of plants from 1 pot to the next and nest and so on. This is all from the 1 plant my friend gave me.
    Now the wet season is here, end of May till who knows when. I figure these plants I have are June bearing but the fact that I got fruit in March threw a spanner in my thinking there although may just be the climate conditions here that we have.
    As I have no space I use pots to grow and have just made a 3 tiered stand 3 mtrs long so as to get more plants into a small area.
    Question after all that intro is what is considered the best pot size to have say 3 plants in each pot, diameter and depth,oh and the soil here is terrible, and trying to buy decent potting mix is also difficult at best.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Joseph,
    Your strawberries will produce at least some strawberries at that temperature if they are day-neutral varieties or everbearing varieties. June-bearers will produce depending on when they are planted. If they have constant high-quality lighting, placing the pots on a heat source or raising the temperature just a few degrees will increase production. Good luck!

  • Joseph

    My garage is maintained at 60-65degrees in the winter. If I decided to grow strawberries in containers under constant lighting, will they produce any fruits? If it is not feasible to do so, do you have any recommendations on what do I need to do to grow strawberries in my garage in the winter. I look forward to your suggestions.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Karen Daugherty,
    It could be over- or under-watering, an infection with a pathogenic fungus, or a nutrient deficiency in your soil, among other things. The best option to pinpoint exactly what is causing the issue is to have one of the agricultural extension agents in your county to come and look at it for you. They should be able to identify the problem for you and suggest a course of action to remedy it. Good luck!

  • Karen Daugherty

    I have planted new strawberry plants a couple of months ago in an elevated planter. At first they seemed to do fine, and were growing nicely. However, now the outer edges of the leaves are brown on many of the plants. They are in full sun. Do you have any suggestions for me as to the cause? Thank you, Karen

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Shelley,
    Growing strawberries in containers can be harder than growing them in the ground due to the strawberry plant’s sensitivity to moisture levels. Too much, and the plants will usually succumb to root rot or another pathogenic fungus which will cause the plant to shrivel up and die. Too little, and the plant shrivels and dies. Other things can cause what you describe also. Read the Growing Strawberries reference page and follow as many of the guidelines there for best results. Good luck!

  • Shelley

    My strawberries start to grow and then they just shrivel up and die. Sometimes they make it to full size but most of the time they don’t. It seemed like when it was raining all the time they did the best. When it is not raining we water them during the week but the water timer is off on the weekends. I have not found any info on line to address this problem. Can you help?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Harinder Singh Madaan,
    If your abode is air conditioned, the best option is to bring them inside during the heat of the summer. Chandler is a moderately heat-tolerant variety. As for the perennial nature of strawberries, you can adapt this system for pots: transplanting strawberries. Good luck!

  • Harinder Singh Madaan

    I have recently grown few strawberry plants in containers in Punjab, India where the temperatures are extreme. 30f in winters and 100f in summers. I transplanted potted plants in the month of November when the average temp was about 50f and had fruit in the month of February when the average temp. is about 70f. There are about 5 – 6 fruits of mid size on each plant.

    I want to know how to protect the plants in the months of May – Sep when temp remain very high. Also please let me understand if these plants are perennial and will last for ever if taken care?

    Which according to you will be the best variety to be grown in such conditions. Regards.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Doreen Alexander,
    Just be careful to not keep the soil soaked with the drip lines. Too much water/moisture can allow pathogenic fungi to set up shop and do damage to your plants. If your plants are over a year old, you don’t have to snip the flowers. If they aren’t, it is best to do so to allow the roots to establish themselves well for larger future harvests. Good luck!

  • Doreen Alexander

    Plan on growing strawberries in milk crate towers, using drip lines for watering on our deck. Are there any special care items for this method of growing? Must we cut out all flowers for the first year? Plan on removing all runners.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Judy,
    This should hopefully help: growing strawberries. Good luck!

  • Judy

    I live in California. I have above ground strawberry beds. This is the second year. I am confused as to what to do for them. I read cut/mow leaves but fruit buds are set in winter. How do I treat the plant the second year besides cutting off runners?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Maria Maietto,
    Yes, you should be able to overwinter in the garage. You’ll need to water them periodically to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out completely, but they should do fine without any other help in Zone 6. I’d recommend waiting until they have fully entered dormancy until you move them inside, however. Good luck!

  • Maria Maietto

    Thanks for your info….wonderful site. I am not sure if I can apply answers I have read to my question though. We are in zone 6/ westernPa. I have beautiful plants in my bed, excellent producers and bought 20 more this spring in a flat boxtype container. Of course I did not have time to plant and it’s now Dec. We have had a few surface frosts but the ground isnt frozen yet. Can I try to over winter these guys in my unheated garage? They are still green but like I said 20 plants in a 24×12 inch box. They would need to be separated in Spring. Thank you in advance.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Bonnie Sattur,
    You can go ahead and fertilize, though it is a bit later than usual. Your garage is likely a little too warm to keep the plants dormant. You may want to try a sheltered outside corner/nook so that the ambient heat loss from the walls adds a bit of protection to the potted plants. Good luck!

  • Bonnie Sattur

    It’s Nov 1st and we’re in the Poconos, PA. Is it too late to fertilize my strawberry plants that I have in containers before covering them with straw? Our garage is heated to about 50 during the winter, is that too warm for them?

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