Growing Strawberries in Raised Beds
Growing strawberries in raised beds has few disadvantages and many benefits when compared with growing strawberries in the garden strawberry patch.
Strawberries are perennial plants and one must take great care about their soil. One of the drawbacks of growing strawberries in raised beds are higher initial costs, but these costs can be kept under moderation with little DIY skills.
If you like shortcuts, there are many ready made raised garden bed kits on the market offering everything a gardener can wish.
For more general information about raised garden beds, their material and construction, feel free to check How to Build a Raised Garden Bed - Elevated and Raised Garden Beds article.
Soil Preparation and Watering
Regardless of soil type in the garden, raised garden beds enables a gardener to tailor the soil to suit the strawberries - they prefer slightly acidic soil with pH between 5.5 and 6.5, preferably around 6.0 - 6.2, rich in organic matter and nutrients, moist, but it must drain well.
If the raised bed is a foot or less high, before positioning its frame, remove topsoil, especially if the raised bed is positioned on the lawn/grass. Fill the raised bed with good potting soil, aged manure, compost/humus and add some balanced NPK fertilizer with gradual release of nutrients.
If the raised bed is tall, for example two feet (60 cm), fill it first with branches and straw, followed with a layer of aged manure. Last foot of the mix should be potting soil with added aged manure, compost/humus and NPK fertilizer.
Note that the soil in taller raised beds will set over time, so be sure to water them several times, before planting strawberries. As branches and straw decompose, they feed the raised bed and generate heat that warms the root system - very important in early spring and late autumn, when such heat can extent growing season, especially when raised bed is protected by transparent plastic effectively creating small greenhouse.
The best watering system for strawberries is in the form of dripping system, keeping in mind that strawberry fruit must be kept dry in order to prevent fruit rot. If dripping system is not an option, water strawberries regularly to keep the soil constantly moist - large fluctuations in moisture level can lead to irregular and damaged fruits. During spring and autumn, water the strawberries twice per week, however, during summer heat in warmer areas, watering on a daily basis is required.
Amount of water depends on number of plants, type of soil, sun/wind conditions etc. The best indicator are strawberries - if they grow strong and healthy, there is enough moisture and nutrients in the soil. If they are shriveled before watering, add more water and/or water more often.
Strawberry Raised Garden Bed Position
Strawberries like sunny positions, so it is vital to set up the raised bed in the full sun. Strawberries can grow in partial shade, especially during long and hot summer days, but quality of the fruits in spring and autumn will decrease.
Strong wind can damage the plants, flowers and fruit and decrease the crop. During summer, wind can increase moisture evaporation and force a gardener to water more often. Long story short, position raised beds in area of the garden, sheltered from the strong winds.
Planting and Caring for Strawberry Plants in Raised Beds
The best time for planting young strawberries is spring, when danger of late frosts is over. In small gardens, day-neutral and ever-bearing strawberries are almost exclusively planted, while June-bearing varieties are not so common.
Day-neutral and ever-bearing strawberries are relatively small plants, they don't produce many runners and they bear fruits in the first season.
When planting strawberry plants, get the planting depth just right - strawberry crown should be above the soil, and roots below. Depending on the size of the plants, space them 6-10 inches (15 - 25 cm) apart. Some alpine strawberries are so small (both plants and fruit) that can be grown 4 inches (10 cm) apart - such plants and fruit require plenty of labor, but those strawberries have fantastic taste and fragrance.
Rooting daughter plants growing on the runners is vital for keeping the raised bed in good shape - strawberry plants after several years lose vigor and bear less fruits.
Rooting of such plants is very easy - bend a nail in the form of letter 'U' and using it, fix the daughter plant on permanent position. After few weeks, it will grow enough roots to continue to grow as individual plant and to bear fruits rather quickly.
Photo: runners and daughter plants, fixed using ordinary bent nails
Strawberry varieties that don't produce runners (in larger numbers), often propagate by dividing small strawberry plants from the crown - be very gentle with plants when doing this, since any sudden movement can break roots, crowns and leaves, in essence, killing the plants.
Photo: thick strawberry crown, time for separating the small strawberries from mother plant
When planting is done, add a layer of mulch to the raised garden bed. This mulch will prevent strawberries from touching the soil and will decrease the evaporation. Most common mulch is a straw (hence the name 'strawberries'), but other similar materials can be used.
One of the benefits of raised beds, especially multi-tier raised beds is the long edge when compared with the growing area, enabling the gardener to 'force' strawberry fruit to grow hanging in the air, without touching the soil.
Regular pruning should help reduce thickness of strawberry plants and keep the strawberries away from the rest of the garden. Also, prune anything that is sick, ill or old.
Protect strawberry plants and fruits from pests like mice or birds using protective nets with mesh large enough to let the bees in, but keeping the pest away from the strawberries. Also, rodents can dig their way through the soil, so if you have issues with rodents in general, when setting the raised garden bed, put a metal wire net into the soil.
When strawberries in spring start to grow and flower vigorously, gardener will have plenty of work caring just for them.
But, when strawberries are fully ripe and ready to be picked up, no work is too hard for such delicious fruits.