Up with Strawberries!

During the spring, summer, and fall months, I repeatedly hear,  “ What do you have in your front yard—those white columns inside of a black fence?”  What these curiosity seekers are asking about are my strawberry towers—strawberry plants grown UP or vertically instead of in a bed.  And the fence????  “You know how strawberries run!”  Not, it’s to protect the plants from the deer and rabbits that enjoy the plants and fruits as much as I do.

Several years ago, we were traveling through Minnesota and came upon a pick-your-own strawberry farm in August.  Out of curiosity, we stopped.  Inside of a green house, we found pots atop pots of strawberries being grown vertically, not in the typical low-grow patch.  And hanging on those plants, were a plethora of huge, red, succulent strawberries.  It didn’t take me long to decide that this was a much better way to grow strawberries than in the garden bed we had.  I became almost giddy with excitement as I imagined not fighting weeds, rodents, bugs, and rotting strawberries.  And best of all, no “strawberry stance” back-bending or down-on-your-knees work looking under every leaf or reaching to the middle for another berry.

My husband spent considerable time researching where to purchase the strawberry towers we had seen in Minnesota and found them at  Agro-Tower.  We initially ordered one set of six to try them out. To keep the pots together and sturdy, my husband attached a metal pipe to the center of a tractor wheel weight.  The metal pipe slips through the center of each strawberry pot with the first pot resting on the weight; the tractor weight made a very sturdy anchor.  Each pot has six open cups to hold a single strawberry plant.  When stacked on top of each other, the openings are alternated so the plants receive adequate light and water and allow the fruit to hang out of for easy picking.  With success our first year, we ordered three additional sets.

However, it is not necessary to purchase containers as they can be an investment.  All kinds of containers can be used for growing strawberries.  In the process of searching for the towers, we came across numerous DIY web articles and u-tube videos showing different styles of towers and containers. The University of California’s master gardener’s page shows how to make bucket planters.  Strawberry plants easily adapt to small spaces so containers are perfect as long as the plants get sun and plenty of moisture and nutrients. Depending on the tower height and configuration, you can have dozens of plants in less than one square foot making them ideal for the patio or deck or as a piece of “art” in the flower garden.

Growing strawberries in tower containers is different than growing in a garden so you’ll want to keep the following tips in mind. (For additional information, check out Growing Strawberries in Containers.)

  1. Ever-bearing strawberry varieties are best for containers.  They bear some fruit in mid-June and occasionally through the summer; they give a good harvest late summer and into the fall right up to frost if the plants are carefully cared for.
  2. Potting soil is a must to provide good drainage and nutrient distribution.
  3. Purchase new plants and potting soil each season to avoid disease from the previous crop.
  4. Add a good vegetable and flower fertilizer to each container before planting. Fertilize frequently throughout the season to keep the plants healthy and productive.
  5. Trim the runners off when they start to appear. However, if you have a missing plant in your containers, you can lay a close runner on the missing area and let it take root.  Trimming the runners promotes growth and more berries in the fall.
  6. Keep the fruit picked off as the berries mature. This is definitely not hard to do!!

I find that the fruit quality is better when grown in containers.   Strawberries that sit on damp ground start to rot or seem to bring the potential for rot with them even after harvest so their shelf life is really short.  By keeping them up in the air, they dry quickly and are not in contact with diseases and funguses in the soil that cause rot.  Nearly every berry is perfect when plucked from the plant and have a longer shelf life in the refrig.  I store them unwashed in an open container in the refrigerator fruit drawer.  When I get too many to eat fresh, I wash, stem, place them on a cookie sheet, and pop them into the freezer for a couple of hours before I bag and return them to the freezer to use for smoothies, jams and other recipes throughout the winter months.

So if you enjoy red, ripe, juicy, sweet strawberries (high in vitamins and antioxidants, too) from the garden but detest the effort it takes to grow or pick them in a bed, consider going “up with strawberries!” I think you’ll be glad you did!

PS – Vertical gardens are good for some vegetables and herbs, too.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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