Strawberry Bed Renovation

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Building Raised Beds for Strawberries

Strawberries are often given a bad rap as a fussy, needy plants.

They are actually one of the easier plants to grow. They are very tolerant of both heat and cold, heavy rainfall and brief periods of drought. In fact, it is because of their ability to thrive in any condition that certain varieties need a somewhat strict adherence to routine maintenance to keep them from becoming unruly. While the maintenance needs to happen within a certain timeframe, it's all very easy, taking minimal time to complete!

My first experience with strawberry plants about 7 years ago left me feeling overwhelmed by the end of the second year. My plants were growing on a patch of ground in my garden and, in spite of reading prior to planting them that after each harvest I needed to thin my June-bearing plants to rows 8 inches wide and 3 feet apart, I found myself looking down at a dense patch that was about 10 feet by 10 feet, overrun with weeds. The prospect of sorting through the whole thing and trying to determine what was new growth and what was old and being afraid to just till through it all to re-establish rows made me throw my hands up let it keep growing out of control.

My strawberry patch fed us for 3 years before it began to decline in production and when it was time to replace it, we knew I needed a better method of management. My husband suggested growing them in raised beds which, for my situation, has resulted in easier care and better production. There are many resources available on the internet on how to establish a strawberry bed. An even better resource is the extension office of your closest university agriculture program. If you are new to growing strawberries, I suggest doing some research on recommendations for growing them in your region and learn about the different types of strawberries to determine what best meets your needs. My focus with this article is working with existing beds.

When growing June-bearing strawberries in the ground, while there may be variations from one gardener to the next on details like how many runners to allow or when to mulch for the winter, the basic method for renovation is:

  • Within a week after the final harvest, mow the plants to 1 inch above the crowns.
  • Thin the rows to around 8 inches wide.
  • Fertilize with 1/2 to 1 pound of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet.
  • As runners grow, allow them to root freely to create rows no more than 2 feet wide. Alternatively, you can keep them thinned to 5-6 plants per square foot.
  • Continue watering with an inch of water a week.
  • Continue weeding.
  • Mulch the plants after the first few frosts but before the temperature reaches 20 degrees F. This is generally mid to late November, depending on your region.
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When growing strawberries in raised beds, the renovation is basically the same. However, it's unlikely that you'll be able to get a mower in the beds! Fortunately, there is a simple (and inexpensive) solution. I use the Fiskars Garden Shears, grabbing the stems and leaves of each plant into a bunch and cutting them off 1 inch above the crown. Another alternative is to use a pair of Fiskars Grass Shears.

While growing strawberries in raised beds has the advantage of allowing you to eliminate the step of thinning the plants into rows 8 inches wide, it is beneficial to production to keep the plants from becoming too crowded so thinning them is an option.

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When finished with the shears, the beds will look pretty ugly but you'll be rewarded for your bravery in doing this to your plants next spring!

I have plants on the ground that developed from runners that spilled over the sides of the beds. I never intended to let the runners take root outside the beds. But if you'll remember, I mentioned earlier my inability to make myself destroy a healthy plant! These plants were my big producers this year.

However, next year the "bed" will be 3 years old and, depending on how it produces, possibly in need of being removed. In addition, the production of my original beds dropped off and the beds are in need of being removed and replaced.

strawberry plant renovation 4

To prepare for the inevitability that a strawberry bed has a limited life of production (generally 3-5 years) I started 3 new beds last fall, this being one of them. I used runners from my healthiest plants. This brings me to a bit of a deviation from traditional methods for establishing a strawberry bed. Typically, new plants are put in the ground in the spring, the first flowers are removed as they appear, and the following year is the first strawberry harvest. Putting your plants in the ground in the fall will give your plants an opportunity to begin developing buds for a harvest the following spring. Instead of waiting a whole year for berries, your wait is reduced to one winter season. It can be challenging to find a nursery that sells strawberry plants in the fall but they do exist!

So with my new rotation schedule, barring any uncontrollable outbreaks of disease, I should have a steady, abundant harvest of strawberries indefinitely. All with very little fuss!