11 Tips For Growing Strawberries in Raised Beds
Thinking of growing strawberries in your raised garden beds this season, but aren't quite sure where to start? Are raised beds even good for growing strawberries? In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey walks through her top tips for growing your strawberries in raised garden beds this season.
It’s difficult to imagine a summer garden without plump, sweet strawberries dangling from your garden beds. Once you taste the rich fragrant flavors of homegrown strawberries, you’ll never want to go back to their grocery store counterparts.
Thanks to their fast-growing vigor and adaptability to different climates, strawberries are among the easiest fruits to grow. However, these compact bushes really thrive when they have excellent drainage, low weed competition, and an area where they won’t overgrow neighboring plants. Raised beds check all the boxes!
Though they can flourish in the ground or in containers, these vibrant small fruits are especially eager to proliferate in raised beds of many types. Whether you already have a raised bed garden or you want to establish a new strawberry patch, here’s our top 11 tips for growing an abundance of strawberries in raised garden beds.
Why Grow in Raised Beds?
Strawberries are small herbaceous perennials that love loamy, well-drained soil. These members of the Rosaceae (rose family) are native to North America. They can be grown throughout the United States in zones 4-12.
Strawberries are surprisingly beginner-friendly crops that can be planted in pots, containers, hanging baskets, and even used as a perennial ground cover. But the best strawberries arguably come from raised garden beds.
Planting strawberries in raised garden beds or garden boxes has many advantages:
- Better drainage and water infiltration.
- You can fill beds with loamy soil without worrying about the native soil.
- Less weed competition.
- Easier to contain the fast-spreading plants.
- Easier to control pests and rodents.
- Raised bed soil warms faster in the spring.
- Easier to cover and insulate in the winter.
- Aesthetically pleasing landscaping.
While you can plant strawberries in just about any sunny, well-drained part of the garden, raised garden beds tend to yield the healthiest plants with the greatest abundance of high-quality berries. Now, let’s look at our top tips for growing strawberries in raised garden beds!
Tips For Growing in Raised Beds
Now that you understand the benefits of growing your Strawberries in raised garden beds this season, let’s take a look at some of my favorite tips that will be able to help set your harvest apart from previous seasons!
Start With a Quality Raised Bed
A raised bed is essentially an elevated garden box that is filled with soil. There is a massive diversity of raised beds available to construct or purchase and most all of them will work for strawberries.
When you’re selecting your raised bed, keep in mind that most strawberries require about 1 square foot of space per plant and prefer a root zone that is at least 10-12” deep. You also want to be sure that your materials are safe to use (non-toxic), long-lasting, and aesthetically-pleasing for your landscape.
Some of the best options include:
- Untreated wood
- Elevated wooden planters on a deck
- Brick or rock-lined beds
- Soil mounds with geo-textile fabric
- Hugelkultur (layered “lasagna style”) beds
- Watering troughs (galvanized metal garden beds)
Other materials and styles are not ideal for strawberries because they may leach toxins into the soil or simply not allow enough growing space for the plants to proliferate. If you want to grow wholesome organic strawberries, pay close attention to the safety of your garden beds because your plants will uptake whatever is in the soil and water of the bed.
Avoid these types of raised garden beds:
- Railroad ties
- Pressure-treated wood
- Painted wood
- Concrete blocks
- Old tires
- Shallow beds
The last thing to take into consideration when designing your beds is the size of each garden box. You don’t want a strawberry bed to be any wider than 3-4 feet, or it may be difficult to reach the center to harvest, weed, and prune. Beds can be 4-12 feet long or more depending on your yard space and materials. Most importantly, make sure the bed is a minimum of 1 foot deep so you can reap all the benefits of raised bed gardening.
It is often easiest to keep standardized beds to make for easier spacing, irrigation, and crop rotations. Whether you grow strawberries as annuals or perennials, you may want to rotate them throughout your garden over time and maintain the same cultivation tactics.
Place Your Bed in Full Sunlight
Strawberries need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight every day. It’s important to build your beds in an area of the garden that won’t get shaded out by your house, trees, or nearby structures.
Google Earth satellite imagery can be a great way to examine the solar aspect of your yard and determine where your strawberries should be planted. Remember that the strawberries are not permanent (they are only short-lived perennials), but the beds will be there for a long time. Raised garden beds are best oriented from north to south to allow full sunlight for a range of different crops.
Avoid planting strawberries in the same bed as taller growing crops like corn, tomatoes, or pole beans. These crops can shade them out and lead to low vigor and smaller yields.
Fill With Loamy, Well Drained Soil
One of the best things about raised garden beds is that you have complete control over what type of soil goes into it. If you are starting with a heavy clay soil or compacted yard, raised garden beds allow you to give your plants the best possible growing medium without having to worry about the native soil. Over time, microbes and earthworms may just dig down and fix it for you!
To decide what soil is best for your beds, keep in mind what soil attributes that strawberries like the most:
- Superb drainage
- Loamy, fluffy texture
- High organic matter (lots of compost, rotted manure, or decomposed plant matter)
- Mild acidity (pH between 5.5 and 6.8)
- Rich in microorganisms and nutrients
To give your strawberries the best soil possible, purchase potting mix or garden soil that includes 2 or more of these main ingredients:
- Sandy loam potting mix
- Quality compost
- Peat moss
- Earthworm castings
- Decomposed manure
- Forest humus
- Chipped dry leaves
- Coco coir
- Chipped bark
- Bat guano
Whether you choose to buy bags of organic potting soil or amend your existing garden soil, remember that strawberries love good drainage and lots of organic matter.
Choose The Right Variety
Selecting the right variety for your garden beds is another place where beginner gardeners sometimes go wrong.
Strawberries come in dozens of different varieties that are specially adapted to certain climates and growing preferences. Each variety fits in one of three categories: June-Bearing, Ever-Bearing, or Day-Neutral.
These varieties are popular with canners and preserves because they typically yield just 1 or 2 big flushes of berries all at once. They are great for fall plantings in southern climates that can be harvested the following spring. But in northern climates, they don’t usually fruit within the first year. They also produce lots of runners. Honestly, June-bearers aren’t our favorite.
Everbearing: If you have more compact garden beds with less space, everbearing varieties don’t produce as many runners. They produce fruit in the same year as planting and provide 2-4 large flushes of berries throughout the season.
Our favorite everbearing varieties for raised strawberry beds include:
- ‘Ozark Beauty’: large berries, high yields in early crop and fall crop, moderate flavor
- ‘Fort Laramie’: extra large fruits with scarlet exterior and dark pink interior, very cold hardy, exceptional aroma, firm honey-flavored flesh
- ‘Quinault’: adapted to Pacific Northwest, great for containers, produces late spring through fall, deliciously soft large fruits for fresh eating or preserves
Day-Neutral: Arguably the best varieties for raised beds, day-neutrals provide a continuous supply of luscious berries for snacking on all summer long. They fruit in the same year as they’re planted and have the highest yields in variety trials. Although they require regular pruning of their runners, they can
Our favorite day neutral varieties for raised garden beds include:
- ‘Albion’: the best of the best, these berries have the highest yields, most flavorful sweet fruits, and best disease resistance; they grow extremely fast and thrive in most climates
- ‘Seascape’: standard flavor, firm texture, medium-sized berries, consistent yields, most productive day-neutral variety
- ‘Portola’: lighter colored fruit, great performance in warmer climates, good flavor, early ripening
If you want to spice things up a bit, read our latest article on novelty and specialty-colored strawberry varieties.
Pinch The First Flowers in Spring
Sometimes you have to sacrifice instant gratification for the sake of bigger harvests down the line. When you’re growing strawberries in a raised bed, they are often eager to take off flowering almost right after you plant them.
Though you want super early berries, it’s best to pinch off the early flowers to encourage the plant to channel its energy into establishing its roots. After about 2-3 weeks of vigorous plant growth and flower pinching (typically in early May), it’s finally time to let those strawberries flourish and begin fruiting.
Prune Off All Runners
Strawberries have a tendency to grow into a matted mess when left unintended. While this can be great for groundcover, it’s not great for maximizing your harvests from a raised bed. If you put in a little extra effort to prune off strawberry runners, you’ll be rewarded with more juicy berries.
Properly pruned strawberries have a number of benefits:
- Higher berry yields
- More energy put into fruit production
- Better looking beds
- Easier to weed
- Less overcrowding
Runners or “suckers” are the long stolons that strawberries send off to try to grow new baby plants. You will notice these stems crisscrossing through your beds almost as soon as they are planted. This is how strawberry plants clone and spread very quickly in the wild. But in your garden, we’d rather have them channel that energy into growing fruit.
Once every week or so, check your raised bed for runners and use scissors or your finger to snap them off at the base of the plant. Toss those runners in the compost pile and you’re good to go! If you stay on top of removing runner plants, your beds will stay nice and clean so each individual strawberry plant can grow into its full glory: bushy and loaded with fruit.
Don’t Overcrowd Your Beds
Overcrowding is another common mistake beginner gardeners make when planting raised beds. Though bare root strawberry crowns or strawberry plugs look small when you’re planting them, they need to have plenty of space to grow and flourish.
Most strawberry cultivars call for 8-10” of space between each plant. I like to take it one step farther and provide about 1 square foot of space per strawberry plant.
This allows each plant to grow into a big, luscious bush that can yield up to 1 pound of berries over the summer season without competing too much with their neighbors.
If you accidentally miss some runners and notice them rooting, be sure to go through and thin out your strawberry bed. While it may seem like more small plants would yield more fruit, it’s actually the most robust plants with plenty of space that tend to fruit with the greatest abundance.
Use Companion Plants
Companion planting is a common organic gardening practice that helps incorporate more biodiversity into your raised beds. Certain plants work in symbiosis with strawberries to enhance their growth, attract pollinators, and repel pests. Our favorite strawberry companions include:
Attracts pollinators as well as beneficial predatory insects to keep pests at bay
This low-growing fragrant herb acts as a great “pillow” for berries to rest on. It attracts syrphid flies (beneficial insects that eat aphids and thrips) and also deters worms with its strong aroma. It can act as a “living mulch” to out-compete weeds.
This large, but highly beneficial plant can be added to the corners of your strawberry raised beds to help strengthen strawberry’s resistance to disease, attract beneficial insects, and possibly even make your strawberries taste sweeter (according to old gardeners’ tales).
A perfect low-growing companion, lettuce won’t shade out or compete with strawberries as long as you leave 6-8” of space between the plants. The leafy plants can also help hide attractive red berries from birds who may want to snatch them up.
Not only do marigolds and strawberries make a gorgeous ornamental display, but these flowers also repel root knot nematodes.
When planting companions for strawberries, it’s usually best to place them on the outer corners of the raised bed.
Keep Garden Beds Weed-Free
One of the major benefits of a raised bed is that grass and other weeds can’t creep in as easily. But that doesn’t mean weed seeds won’t make it up off the ground into your strawberry patch.
It’s essential to keep strawberries well-weeded so they plants don’t have too much competition for water and nutrients. Low-growing weeds may create more spaces for slugs, worms, and voles to hide. Tall weeds, on the other hand, can shade out strawberries and create more stagnant airflow that could breed disease problems.
As you weed, remember that strawberries are shallow-rooted and you need to be careful not to disturb their roots. I prefer a hori knife to dig up weeds or a sharp scuffle hoe to chop the weeds at their base.
Keep Your Berries Off The Soil
In an ideal world, strawberries would cascade off the sides of our raised beds like elegant hanging flowers. But oftentimes you will notice berries laying on the soil surface. Sometimes this can lead to rotten berries or damage from slugs and other pesky bugs.
To prevent these issues, use a dry chopped straw mulch around your strawberry plants. This has some awesome benefits:
- Weed suppression
- Keeps the berries dry and clean of dirt
- Makes it easier to find and harvest berries
- Conserves moisture in upper layer of soil
- Keeps the strawberry root zones cool on hot days
- Insulates strawberries during cold nights
Mulching is a fantastic step for helping ensure that your plants grow quickly, and healthy when planting in raised beds.
Don’t Use Overhead Sprinklers
Last but not least, this tip will save you a whole lot of trouble. Avoid overhead sprinklers on raised beds at all costs. This is important for four main reasons:
- Overhead irrigation accumulates on strawberry leaf surfaces and can cause disease problems.
- Sprinklers encourage more weed growth.
- Sprinklers can soak the sides of your beds and cause them to rot more quickly.
- Overhead irrigation is a waste of water and can lead to the soil drying out faster.
Soaker hoses or drip irrigation lines are far better options for strawberry beds. I like tucking them beneath a straw mulch to ensure that the soil doesn’t ever dry out. They also save water and reduce the instances of fungal disease problems because water is not being sprayed on the leaf surface.
Once you grow strawberries in raised beds, you’ll probably never go back to growing them straight in the ground. These delicious vivid red berries thrive in the loamy soil and superior drainage of a lifted growing space. Again, just to recap, here’s our tips:
- Start with raised beds that are non-toxic and at least 10-12” deep
- Grow strawberries in full sunlight
- Fill raised beds with loamy, rich soil
- Choose everbearing or day-neutral varieties
- Pinch of the first flowers in spring
- Prune off all runners
- Give strawberries 1 square foot of space per plant
- Use companion plants to boost growth
- Keep raised beds well-weeded
- Mulch with straw
- Avoid overhead irrigation
Now that you know how to plant grow strawberries in raised beds this season, all that’s left is to start planting! If you’ve run out of space in your raised beds, you can always grow your strawberries in pots or containers this year!