Gardening · Homesteading · Urban Homesteading

In Ground Versus Hanging Strawberry Plants: A Season of Studying

You might ask…why write about growing strawberries on the last day of September? As fall settles in you have time to ponder, to dream, to plan for the coming early spring. You will find the time goes by faster than you think. So start thinking now!

And did the prices of strawberries make you blanch this year?

Local prices were crazy, even trucked in ones from California and Mexico were often $5 to 10 a pound here in the northwest! (That same half flat was under $20 just last year!)

Over the years, in both urban and rural settings, I have worked hard on growing strawberry plants. Both traditional and alpine types. Growing in ground, in raised beds, in gutter setups, in pots and in hanging baskets. If there is a method, I have probably tried it.

The end result is fresh berries for the children to eat, and maybe if I get outside early, we have dried ones for the winter to enjoy. No fungicides used. Ever. No insecticides. No questionable fertilizers. No herbicides. And not stored/sold in one use plastic clamshells, where the berries are weeks old often.

(These evil strawberry pots are often left on the side of the road for free. They sucker you in. And they are not great. At all. Why? The strawberries just don’t get enough rooting, and they dry out too fast in the summer. If you do use these, keep them up off the ground, as slugs also love them. Yet, I will still stop and pick up a free one…..)

This hot mess of a pallet strawberry planter actually works well – if you keep it off the direct ground (think stone pavers under it).

In this post, I will be discussing growing traditional plants, of the everbearing types (where you get a crop in early summer, then in late summer/fall) such as Quinalt, Seascape, Ozark Beauty, Albion, and Everest – and yes, there are more than that. They are easy to source at garden centers and nurseries, or from friends who have runners. While they don’t produce massive crops like the June Bearing types do, they have some of the best berries around and eating them in early October is a treat. I highly recommend having a number of the plants. The flowers are pretty, and bees love them. Pruning back runners can be done with fingers.

Over the years I found some distinct issues/problems with growing in ground and in raised beds:

  • The bane of strawberry plants is the slug, the invasive types, that love to eat the berries, leave slime everywhere, and their eggs that look like translucent pearls behind.
  • It is also easy for the plants to become a mess, with runners going everywhere, and weeds hard to remove. With soil right below, the new runners root constantly, and quickly.
  • Picking isn’t fun. You must wiggle through the mess, then try to not step on any berries. Feet get damp in early fall. Berries are often hidden under leaves.
  • The berries can rot from not drying out, as the leaves hold the moisture, and the berries tend to lay on the ground, touching soil.
  • The soil takes longer to warm up, dry out in spring.
  • Birds find field berries an easy target.

Where as, with hanging pots, and gutter setups:

  • Pots warm up and stay warmer for far longer.
  • Good ventilation from wind keeps the plants less likely to get mold.
  • The pots dry out and the leaves don’t stay all wet.
  • Runners are easy to trim back.
  • Berries are easy to see, and to pick.
  • The berries often hang over the sides, so they don’t rot like on the ground.
  • You can bring the plants into a greenhouse in late fall and winter, and extend the crops.
  • Slugs are rarely an issue if hung high enough up – and if they are trying you are likely to see them, and can destroy them.
  • Birds can be dissuaded with netting over each container.

It had occurred to me this year how much success I had at our last place, when I used an old swing frame to grow berries from, and that we had pot hangers on every fence post, with a pot hanging.

(An early version of it. I still wish we had brought it with us, but by then the grapes on the sides had grown up)

(The second year, as it got lush. It was so nice to sit in there.)

I had struggled these past 4 years, wanting large beds of berries, yet getting very few berries back from my time investment. I did everything by the book, with in ground berries.

So I reversed, gave up the dream (mostly) of ground berries and went back to hanging pots. And they thrived. In a way I hadn’t seen in years, production of berries went up and off the charts.

It seems they enjoy nearly no slugs, drying in the wind, and the pollinators seem to enjoy flying high.

Awhile back my neighbor gave me a nearly free dog kennel, that I turned into a potting cage (to keep deer out of). It’s 6 feet tall or so, and works great.

Who it made happiest were our children, they now run out there and pick – it’s right at face level for them. They can see all the berries, and the ones growing on runners, hanging down? Those are their favorite berries, where they brag to each other what they found.

Inside are 3 pop up greenhouses we use in season, tables and yes, a potting area, but also strawberry plants lining the walls, hanging high. My plan this coming spring is to top it with bird netting to ensure even less issues happen, but with winter coming, I will hold off for now.

The point is this: Hanging pots work great for us. I wish I had realized this earlier on, but I was very stubborn about it. And that I don’t have to bend over to pick, weed and prune them anymore? That in itself is a bonus.

You’ve got 5 months to think it out. Start planning and you might have a great berry harvest come next summer.