Planting a Strawberry Patch from Scratch (Bare Roots)
Today I’m sharing with you my “strawberry patch from scratch” adventure. This was my first time planting strawberry bare roots, and I’m hooked! Basically, this project was jumpstarted by my sudden desire to increase the amount of berries we grow at home after a purchase-gone-wrong. Recently, I had purchased some blueberries at the grocery store and was livid when they tasted like bland, mealy, watery berries! From my limited experience growing blueberries, I know homegrown ones are just so much better. So, right then and there, I just kind of committed to berries for 2023.
Starting a Strawberry Patch From Scratch
Did you know that strawberries are one of the “dirty dozen” ? If you’re not familiar with this list, a non profit organization (the Environmental Working Group) analyzes samples taken by the USDA each year to determine which non-organic produce has the highest levels of pesticides. Essentially, the dozen crops with the highest levels of pesticides are the “dirty dozen.” Why is this important? Because, when it comes time to choose what crops to buy certified organic or what crops to grow at home, knowing this information can be very useful. For example, I don’t mind buying non-organic bananas because I don’t eat the peels (and they aren’t on the list). Whereas, with crops like kale and strawberries, you are consuming the parts that come into contact with pesticides directly—-so I would prioritize those to buy organic or just grow your own. PS: kale and strawberries are both great crop options for beginning gardeners too. Don’t buy kale, seriously.
Did I mention that homegrown strawberries just taste better too?Therefore, since we have decided to grow strawberries, let me share why I chose to start with planting strawberry bare roots as opposed to plants.
Bare Root Versus Nursery Plants
The main reason I chose to plant strawberries from bare root plants was because of budget. Recently, I’ve been seeing strawberry plants at nurseries for around five dollars per 4-inch pot. Sure, there might be a few plants in each pot if you separate them, but overall it was still more expensive than bare roots. For example, I ordered 25 Albion strawberry bare roots from Burpee for $21.95 and 25 White Carolina Pineberry bare roots for $20 from Urban Farmer. My bare roots from Burpee arrived in the best condition, and I was super impressed with how quickly they started to grow.
Conversely, buying bare root strawberries isn’t always cheap. I opted to try a variety from Gurney’s Seeds called “whopper”—-how could I not with a name like that? The “whopper” bare root plants were $15 for 10 bare roots, but they aren’t a variety you’re going to find down at your local nursery. So, variety/availability is another consideration for choosing to plant bare root strawberries over plants.
Choosing a location~ Check out the new space!
This was me about two weeks ago—sprawled out in exhaustion, admitting defeat. We had not set up a full raised bed garden since our original ones in 2016….so, I had forgotten how exhausting it is! The first weekend after receiving our new Birdies raised beds, I was fully convinced that we were going to setup, fill, and plant everything in one weekend. Ha! By the time we picked up all our bulk supplies, cleared the area, and figured out the exact layout of our beds, the weekend was over and I was humbled. If you are about to embark on a new garden journey, just give yourself time and take it small bits at a time. It’s quite the process!
By the end of that week, we did finally finish filling our raised beds! Later in this post I’ll give you the details about what type of soil we used to fill our raised beds. Since these were mainly designated for strawberries, we did get creative and create our own custom soil mix.
By the way, if you love these new raised beds, there’s actually a Memorial Day sale happening right now! You can buy 3 Birdie’s beds and get 1 FREE. Simply use this sale link HERE and also enter code FreckledCA for an additional 5% off your order. What color would you choose? We personally chose the cottage green color because it went so well with the color of our home and the colors that bloom in the California native plant garden that’s right next to this space.
Once Your Bare Root Strawberries Arrive
Ready to start planting your strawberry bare roots? Mine arrived in a bag in the mail. You might remember in my No-Stress Guide to Bare Root Planting that I talk about the importance of not letting your bare roots dry out. I misted mine quickly and closed the bag for the night because I couldn’t plant until the next day. You really want to be ready to plant your bare root strawberries ASAP because keeping them alive without soil is more risky.
But guess what?! Life happens sometimes. My strawberries arrived in the mail but we had nowhere to put them! Between family graduations and holidays and some shipping delays, we could not set up our new raised bed garden for almost two months! This is why I had to use temporary pots and containers to plant the bare roots to give them time to start growing. Funnily enough, I’ve had to pot things up early many times before due to life circumstances and scheduling, so you get used to the chaos. You can read about how I potted up my dahlia tubers early and also see that I did the same with my bare root roses last year (see my short video for the rose bare root plants).
Soaking & Planting Bare Root Strawberries
Once your bare root plants have arrived, they should be soaked for about 30 minutes to an hour before planting. Simply unbundle the bare roots and place them in a vase or bucket of water. Ideally, I don’t like submerging the crowns in water, so propping them up in a bowl or bucket is probably best.
The crown of the strawberry is most susceptible to rot! How do I know this? Well, I lost all my seed-grown asparagus one year due to crown rot myself, so I’m hyper aware of it! On a strawberry, the crown of the bare root is the part that kind of looks like a crown (it’s thicker and the roots dangle below). During this whole process of planting strawberry bare roots, the idea is to not bury the crown (okay, that part is different than planting asparagus). In fact, you can watch this short video on how I planted my strawberry bare root plants from start to finish upon their arrival. If you have your garden beds ready, you’d do the EXACT same process, but space your strawberries farther apart (about one foot) because that would be their permanent home. In my case, I was only giving my strawberries a temporary home, so I planted them close together.
Preparing our Soil for Prolific Strawberries
I’ve planted strawberries in everyday “raised bed mix” before and they still produced just fine—but since this was a brand new, dedicated raised bed garden for strawberries I took the opportunity to create a soil mix that I felt was more tailored to growing strawberries!
When filling multiple raised beds, it can be much cheaper to buy soil in bulk. Typically, we are only topping off our garden for the season, so you might notice we will buy some raised bed mix, acid mix, compost, potting mix, etc. in bag form to top off the beds (you can read all about how we amend our soil organically each season HERE). But setting up a new raised bed garden is a whole different game! The best thing you can do is research bulk soil and landscape providers near you. We have a pickup truck, so we could have the soil dumped into the back of our truck to be shoveled out at home. Some companies do offer delivery though! I do want to note that many municipalities offer free garden compost in bulk. These will not be certified organic, but you can ask for a copy of their soils test to see if it fits your parameters (the one we used is STA certified, which means it was tested for pathogens and trace metals). It really comes down to your personal preferences as to what you are comfortable with, and everyone should do their own research.
The main components of our raised bed soil mix are topsoil, compost, and drainage elements (perlite, sand, pumice). Essentially, the internet will tell you that a proper raised bed mix is about 40% compost, 40% topsoil, 20% aeration material. Honestly, we decided to go by feel and measured each ingredient into a wheel barrow so I could figure out the ratio. Here’s where we ended up:
Strawberry Soil Mix Recipe:
2 shovels of compost
2 shovels of topsoil
¼ shovel of sand
1 handful of perlite or pumice
***additionally, to each raised bed we added 2 bags of high-quality potting mix because it contains things like worm castings and different types of composts/minerals.
Strawberry Specific Amendments
I should re-iterate that this mix is SPECIFICALLY FOR Planting bare root strawberries, which is why we included some sand. Have you ever noticed that your strawberries from the store seem to have some sand in the mix? Strawberries seem to love the drainage and the looseness it provides. Alternatively, if I were planting annual vegetables or want a more generic mix, you could leave out the sand and simply follow the typical raised bed garden mix formula.
Lastly, here in Southern California mulch can be a huge benefit in the garden. Mulch serves the purpose of slowing down evaporation, thus helping to keep root systems cool and regulated. I’ve talked about the different types of organic mulches I’ve used in the past on the blog before, but for these beds I found a cool new product to try! While perusing the soil section of a nursery in Long Beach, I found an Oak Leaf mulch that is OMRI certified and specifically made for acid-loving plants. Therefore, I’m trying this oak leaf mulch on our strawberry beds and can’t wait to see how it goes. I applied a very thin layer all around the plants.
Irrigation & Watering After Planting Bare Roots
Do you remember our California Native Shade Garden? Luckily, this new raised bed garden is located right next to this area. Because the native garden doesn’t need irrigation, we actually had a whole irrigation zone that wasn’t being used. Sam decided he would just dig down some tubing under the decomposed granite to connect each Birdie’s bed to that irrigation zone. After he covered the tubing back up, you couldn’t even tell that there’s tubing underground!
Admittedly, we have not yet finished setting up the irrigation. The tubes are there so we don’t have to do more digging, but I haven’t actually laid the irrigation dripline into the garden. My plan is to use ¼ inch irrigation tubing in a spiral pattern all around each bed. If you’re looking for a more ready-made irrigation option, check out Garden-in-Minutes Watering Grids (use Code FRECKLEDCALI10 for $10 off $100). I have a few of these in my rectangular wood raised beds and love them!
After planting your bare root strawberries, water very thoroughly. Since I didn’t finish setting up my irrigation completely, I’ve been coming back each day to check on the strawberry beds and see how it’s going. For now, it’s not Summer yet so it hasn’t been too difficult to hand water.
Some First Year Strawberry Maintenance
There are two classifications of strawberries: Ever bearing and June bearing strawberries (there are also day-neutral, but those are often lumped in with ever-bearing). Of the bare root strawberries I planted, the Albion and the Pineberry are ever-bearing strawberries whereas the Whopper is a June-bearing strawberry. Essentially, these labels refer to when the strawberry will set fruit. Ever-bearing strawberries can set fruit in Spring, Summer, and end of Summer/Fall while the June-bearing will usually only set fruit one time a year (in June).
During the first year of growing strawberries, Master Gardeners recommend pinching off all strawberry flowers. This will allow the energy of the plant to be devoted to root development and establishment. As my strawberries sat in their temporary containers, I kept going back to pinch off the flowers that were developing. There is a caveat: you can stop pinching off the flowers of ever-bearing strawberries in June/July in hopes that you’ll get one crop later in the year. For June-bearing strawberries, it’s usually best to pinch off all the flowers the first year—-but keep in mind I’m a beginner here. Honestly, I don’t always follow garden rules anyway.
Bring on the berries (and melons)
It has officially been a week since we finished planting this space. If you’d like to see a video of this setup from start to finish please check out our video over on YouTube and subscribe to our channel (watch the video embedded above). As of now, everything is starting to push new growth!
As for my Berry Obsession 2023… well, I also added in four varieties of raspberries this year. I look forward to evaluating the performance of each variety in my Southern California climate (zone 10b) . Is it likely that I’ll have tons of strawberries or raspberries this year? NO. These crops take time, but “future me” is gonna be so grateful we did this. Happy berry growing my friends!