11 Strawberry-Growing Mistakes to Avoid This Year

If you crave sweet homegrown berries but your strawberry plants have underperformed in the past, a few tweaks to your growing methods could tremendously improve yields. Strawberry expert and former organic farmer Logan Hailey explains the most common strawberry-growing mistakes and how to avoid them this season.

A close-up of strawberry plants on a farm, featuring vibrant green leaves and branches, shows a mix of ripe red strawberries ready for picking and smaller unripe green strawberries still growing.


Lack of sunlight, poor pollination, improper watering, and wrong varietal selection are just a few of the avoidable strawberry mistakes gardeners make. Fortunately, a few shifts to your methods can transform a disappointing berry patch into a bed of overflowing abundance.

Strawberry plants are vigorous, beginner-friendly plants that can yield fruit all summer long when grown under the right conditions. These iconic, juicy red fruits grow from stout herbaceous plants with shallow roots. They need sufficient light, moisture, fertility, and pollination to ensure strong yields of berries. Once established, they are resilient and easygoing crops. 

Let’s dig into the most common strawberry-growing mistakes and how to avoid them this year.

11 Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Strawberries

If past seasons have yielded small, misshapen, pest-damaged fruits, don’t give up on growing strawberries just yet! These fruits are amazing for beginner and advanced gardeners alike, and often, just a small shift can make a huge difference in plant health and yields. Gardening is all about failing, learning, and then trying again! It’s helpful to examine past mistakes so you can grow more abundantly every season. 

Homegrown strawberries are resilient and eager to please, and their flavor almost always surpasses that of store-bought berries. If you avoid these mistakes, your plants are sure to grow better this year than ever before!

Choosing the Wrong Variety

A close-up of strawberry fruits highlights a fully ripe, bright red strawberry alongside several small, unripe green berries, all surrounded by lush green leaves.
Unhappy plants yield poorly when the wrong variety is planted.

Successful gardening begins before you ever plant anything in the ground. You must choose a variety that is suitable to your climate, culinary preferences, and garden style. There are over 600 varieties of strawberries grown today, but you may only need one or two to get the best out of a backyard berry patch. 

If you plant the wrong variety, you could end up with disappointing yields and sad plants. For example, wild alpine strawberries make beautiful ground cover but would be a bad selection for gardeners hoping for large, juicy berries. Alpine berries are very flavorful but tiny. In contrast, a large-fruited variety like ‘Albion’ or ‘Sequoia’ has the genetics to produce giant fruits. 

Similarly, if you plant a cold-weather cultivar like ‘Cavendish’ in the north, your plants may withstand the winters and return in the spring. But a variety like ‘Sweet Charlie’ or ‘Chandler’ is better suited to hot, southern climates.

Strawberries (Fragaria spp.) come in three main types:

  • Day-Neutral: Best for beginners, these plants yield in the first year, can be grown as annuals, and continuously produce berries throughout the frost-free season.
  • June-Bearing: Best for canning, these plants yield in one prolific mid-summer harvest but take at least one year to mature.
  • Everbearing: Best for perennial plantings, these plants produce 2-3 big flushes throughout the season.

As a former commercial organic strawberry grower, I am partial to day-neutral varieties because they mature quickly and have the highest yields. Day-neutrals are the gift that keeps on giving because they fruit continuously throughout the season. They flower and fruit regardless of day length and can be planted as annuals in a vegetable garden rotation because they fruit within the first year.

If you love to snack on berries all summer long, choose a day-neutral variety. But if you want a large flush of berries for canning or preserving, grow June-bearing or everbearing types.

Once you determine the best category of berry for you, it’s crucial to consider regional adaptations. Consider your USDA growing zone, average humidity levels, and weather patterns. Here are a few common varieties and their regional recommendations:

Variety Zones Climate Preferences
‘Albion’ 4-7 West Coast, Pacific Northwest, Northeast
‘Seascape’ 4-8 Northwest, Northeast
‘Chandler’ 5-8 South, Florida, Southern California
‘Sweet Charlie’ 5-8 South, Florida
‘Quinault’ 4-8 Northwest, Midwest
‘Sequoia’ 4-8 Southern California
‘Ozark’ 4-8 Higher elevation South
‘Annapolis’ 3-8 Midwest

When in doubt, check your local agricultural extension website for region-specific recommendations used by professional growers in your area.

Planting in the Shade

A strawberry farm is shown with branches laden with vibrant green leaves and tiny strawberries just beginning to form, hinting at their future ripeness amidst the lush foliage.
Strawberries transplant easily and adapt well to new spots.

Wild strawberries naturally grow in the dappled shade under tree canopies. However, modern large-fruited strawberries require full sun to thrive. It is a common mistake to plant strawberries in a shady location. This often results in little to no fruit.

If your plants have failed to flower and grow luscious berries in the past, examine the sun exposure of the area. Were trees, shrubs, or larger crops overshadowing the stout strawberries?

Ideally, choose a south-facing garden bed with at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. In hot climates, you can get away with planting in an area that receives afternoon shade, such as an east-facing bed. If you practice companion planting, ensure that taller plants like tomatoes or corn are on the north end of the garden. Their large stems can cast shadows over low-growing plants.

The key symptoms of strawberries with insufficient light include:

  • Pale leaves, sometimes turning yellow
  • Stunted, slow growth
  • Lack of flowers
  • No fruit
  • Few leaves
  • Small plants

If you’ve already planted your strawberries, don’t fret! The plants are easy to move, and they don’t mind transplanting. Use a hand trowel or shovel to dig a hole a few inches around the base of each plant. Gently lift them from the ground and transplant them to a sunnier spot. Provide plenty of moisture while they adapt to the new spot. 

Optionally, use a layer of thin row fabric to prevent sun-scorch from the dramatic change in light conditions. Be patient, as it could take one to two weeks for them to recover to their full dark-leaved, fast-growing glory.

Neglecting Pollinators

A close-up of strawberries reveals their bright red fruits dotted with seeds, surrounded by green leaves, showcasing the detailed texture and freshness of the berries.
Insufficient pollination leads to small or misshapen strawberries.

We all know pollinators are important for local ecosystems, but they are also the crux of strawberry production. Many growers forget to plant pollinator-friendly companion species next to their berries. 

Strawberries are aggregate fruits, which means that each achene (yellowish seed) must be pollinated in order to fill a whole berry. Tiny or misshapen fruit typically occurs because of insufficient pollination. 

Although strawberries are sometimes pollinated by wind, bees are much more efficient and effective at pollination. Research shows that bee-pollinated berries are sweeter, larger, and have a longer storage time. On average, each flower needs 6-15 bee visits to grow a fully pollinated berry. If the white blossoms don’t receive enough love from our bee friends, they won’t develop large, sweet fruits.

The problem is that strawberry blossoms aren’t always the most attractive flowers in the garden. Bees often prefer more nectar-rich, aromatic blooms like yarrow, white alyssum, flowering basil, borage, phacelia, and blooming thyme. Interplanting flowers ensures that you lure more bees to your berry patch. In turn, you’ll see higher yields and larger fruits. 

However, be aware of the spacing between strawberries and their companion neighbors. At least 8-12 inches of space between plants is ideal. You don’t want vigorous companions like borage or yarrow to overgrow the strawberries. Plant taller flowers on the northern side or surrounding borders outside of the bed. Low-growing companions like white alyssum and creeping thyme can grow inside the strawberry bed as long as the plants are pruned and spaced properly.

Planting Too Deep or Too Shallow

A close-up of a newly planted strawberry garden reveals small strawberry seedlings in raised beds covered with black plastic, surrounded by rich brown soil, which helps retain moisture and control weeds for optimal growth.
Planting nursery-grown plugs simplifies strawberry growth.

Strawberries grow from crowns. The crown is the center tannish-brown structure from which the roots and shoots grow. Many beginners accidentally plant the crown too deep or too shallow, resulting in major issues later in the season. 

If you want a simple solution, start your strawberries from nursery-grown plugs that are already planted at the proper depth. The plugs can be transplanted just like vegetable seedlings. However, if you are willing to learn a bit about strawberry anatomy, you can save money and future problems by growing these fruits from bare root crowns.

Hold up a dormant or established strawberry plant and look at its shape. The crown resembles a queen’s crown, with stems sticking up from the top and leafy growth. The top one-third of the crown should always be exposed above the ground. The bottom two-thirds and all of the roots should be planted below the soil. It’s important to “tuck” the crowns in when planting. Give the soil a nice squish to ensure the roots stay down and do not float upward in the soil profile.

Crown rot and fungal diseases are quite common in strawberries. Most often, they are linked to planting too deeply. If the crown of the plant is buried under soil or smothered by moist mulch, it is more susceptible to fungal infections. Keep mulch at least two to three inches away from the base of each plant.

Overfertilizing With Nitrogen

A close-up of fresh organic small red strawberries hanging delicately from thin branches at the edge of a garden container, showcasing their vibrant color and healthy appearance against the background of lush green foliage.
Opt for slow-release organic blends to avoid nitrogen burn.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for all plant growth, particularly during the leafy vegetative phase. However, overfertilizing is an easily avoidable mistake that can wreak havoc on strawberry growth. Too much nitrogen causes an overgrowth of foliage at the expense of flowers and fruits. Nitrogen-rich fertilizer should only be applied early in the season, around the time of planting. Do not fertilize with nitrogen later in the season. 

Better yet, avoid nitrogen-heavy fertilizers altogether. Synthetic quick-release fertilizers are not recommended for gardeners because they do not meet organic standards, and they are easy to overapply. Nitrogen burn or fertilizer overdose may cause abnormally shiny color, slow growth, weak stems, and yellow or cupped leaves.

A slow-release organic all-purpose blend is much more suitable for fruit production. Balanced fertilizers have numbers that are close together, such as 3-4-4. High nitrogen fertilizers have a very high ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus and potassium, such as 10-0-0, which can lead to few or no berries.

Forgetting to Prune

A close-up of garden strawberry bushes planted in rich brown soil, displaying their lush green leaves, with a hand using pruning shears to carefully trim the plants, ensuring healthy growth and abundant fruit production.
Efficient pruning enhances strawberry yields.

It’s a common mistake to avoid pruning. Some gardeners fear they will cut off too much of the plant. Others are overwhelmed by the task and think it will take a long time. Fortunately, strawberry pruning is quick and easy because the herbaceous plants naturally grow as medium-sized clumps. If you cut away the excess branches spanning across the bed, each plant can remain its own individual clump rather than growing a tangled mess of leaves and stems.

Runners, also called suckers or stolons, are long stems that ramble out from the center of mature plants. Each runner can grow into a new baby plant, sucking the nutrients away from the mother plant. If you leave runners in place, they detract energy away from fruit production. As they root and grow into new strawberries, runners also cause tangled, overcrowded beds.

Runner pruning makes a huge difference in productivity. If you want strong yields of big berries, it’s best to remove as many strawberry runners as possible. You can use scissors or your hands to snap the runners off at the base. Repeat this process every few days, especially in the spring. Some varieties, particularly day-neutrals, send out more runners than others. Take five minutes to snap them off any time you walk by the bed. If the plants are young, use one hand to hold the crown in place so you don’t accidentally uproot it.

Cutting back pruners signals to the plant that it should focus its energy on fruiting and flowering. At the same time, it prevents your strawberry bed from becoming matted and ugly. Strawberries naturally want to grow as a big carpet of groundcover, but for the highest production, it’s best to keep them as individualized leafy clumps.

Surprisingly, one well-pruned crown (with zero runners) will yield more strawberries than five runner-tangled plants. Imagine that every runner left in the bed is sucking away energy from fruits that the plant could’ve produced.


A close-up of the strawberry field shows ripe, red strawberries nestled among lush green leaves, with the raised garden beds covered in black plastic to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
Remove runners to maintain plant growth.

Most strawberries need 8-12 inches of space between them. Many growers mistakenly plant them too close together, which leads to competition and increased risk of disease. The roots become tangled together and struggle to get as much water and nutrients as they require. Moreover, the lack of airflow between foliage can often lead to powdery mildew, which infects leaves, stems, and berries.

It’s easy to make this mistake because strawberry crowns or plugs look so small when they’re young. As you plant, imagine them bushing out into rounded clumps that take up about one square foot of space each. If you are growing in hanging baskets or pots, ensure just one or two plants per container. Runner removal will also ensure that the plants don’t overgrow each other. 

Skipping the Mulch

A close-up of ripe, red strawberries highlights their vibrant color against green leaves, all set on a bed of mulched straw that helps retain moisture and prevent weed growth.
Enhance strawberry growth with proper mulching techniques.

Strawberries have the word “straw” in them for a reason. They grow best with a layer of mulch for the berries to rest on. This prevents fruit from sitting in the soil, where it gets dirty, pest-ridden, or infected by rot and mold.

Add a nice one to three inch-thick blanket of straw, dried shredded leaves, or a living mulch like creeping thyme under your berries. We love GardenStraw because it’s sterile, chemical-free, and weed-free. Keep a two to three-inch ring of space around each crown so the mulch doesn’t reduce airflow close to the plant’s base.

Mulch also retains moisture in the soil. When sunlight hits bare soil, it dries it out and 


A close-up of a small, red strawberry with tiny seeds on its surface, resting alone in rough, brown soil, showcasing its vibrant color against the earthy background.
Install drip irrigation for efficient watering.

Strawberries are shallow-rooted crops that require regular moisture to thrive. They are not very drought-tolerant and suffer from extreme dryness. A lack of water typically means a lack of fruit because the plant doesn’t have enough moisture or energy to produce juicy berries. You must ensure your plants are consistently moist by checking the soil and preventing it from drying out.

Strawberries need about one inch of water per week during establishment and up to two inches weekly once they’re flowering and fruiting. This crop needs irrigation in most climates. Unless your area receives regular weekly summer rains, you’ll need to install an irrigation system in your strawberry bed. 

You can hand water with a hose or watering can at the base of the plant several times a week. Because hand watering can be time-consuming, I highly recommend a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses. These irrigation lines run underneath the plants to deliver water right to the root zone. They can be automated or easily turned on from one area, and you can bury the lines in mulch. Irrigating from the base reduces the risk of foliar diseases like powdery mildew. It also saves water because there won’t be as much evaporation.

Growing in Compacted Soil

A close-up of strawberry plants featuring ripe red fruits and some unripe green ones, with lush green leaves, all growing in brown soil, illustrating the different stages of fruit development.
Easily amend poor soil with raised beds.

Like most garden crops, strawbs love loamy, well-drained soil. They don’t do well in hard, compacted clay. The roots cannot dig deep into the soil and may rot while sitting in water that won’t drain. If the plants appear stunted, wilted, or rotten, the soil may lack drainage and need to be amended. Soggy ground or puddled water are also major red flags of compaction

Breaking up compaction starts with aeration. A broad fork or digging fork works well for fluffing up the ground without tilling it. It’s important to amend with high-quality compost, topsoil, peat moss, or horticultural sand to keep the soil fluffy and loosened. If you till or loosen the soil without adding any organic materials, it will compact and harden again.

If your native soil is poor, I recommend growing strawberries in short raised beds, vertical planters, or containers. This makes it much easier to build soil because you can import quality compost and topsoil to your garden. Plus, the plants are compact and easy to fit in small spaces. 

There is no need to waste time toiling in hard dirt when you could instead plant in the fresh loam of a new bed. A standard compost-rich organic topsoil blend works well, especially if peat moss is a key ingredient. Strawberries enjoy well-drained soil with a slightly acidic pH.

Lack of Protection from Pests

A close-up of ripe, red strawberries with visible seeds, hanging from branches, highlighting their vibrant color and texture.
Protecting against pests is essential for a bountiful harvest.

Lots of critters and bugs love strawberries just as much as we do. In moist climates, slugs and snails can leave slime trails all over the berries and take big chomps out of the fruit. If you overfertilize with nitrogen, the leaves may be susceptible to aphid infestations. In gardens with lots of rodents or birds, you may notice large chunks or entire berries stolen from your plants.

Protecting from pests is crucial to ensure you can enjoy a large harvest. Here are the easiest solutions for common strawberry pests:

  • Slugs and Snails: Organic slug-bait, beer traps, or diatomaceous earth (in dry weather)
  • Aphids: Diluted neem oil
  • Rodents: Traps or growing in raised beds
  • Birds: Bird netting or moving scarecrows
  • Deer: Tall fencing, coyote urine, or row fabric (must be removed during the day for pollination)

This video covers more details about pest protection:

YouTube video

Final Thoughts

You don’t need to be a professional gardener to grow heaps of delicious berries. However, you must avoid a few pitfalls that can sabotage your strawberry success. Pick a regionally recommended variety and plant it at the proper depth in full sun with regular moisture and mulch. Don’t forget to interplant with pollinator-friendly flowers and regularly remove runners to promote maximum fruit production. 

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