8 Secrets to Huge, Juicy Garden Strawberries

Why don’t your garden strawberries look as huge and juicy as the ones at the store? Former organic farmer Logan Hailey shares 8 industry secrets to better strawberry production in your backyard.

A white bucket filled with plump strawberries, set against a backdrop of lush green leaves, evoking a fresh harvest from a vibrant garden, promising sweetness and natural abundance.

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Homegrown organic strawberries can be just as huge and juicy as commercially grown ones! But there is no need to dump on the fertilizer; instead, full sunlight, quality cultivars, sufficient pollination, and consistent watering can dramatically improve the quality of your berries.

If you’re wondering why your garden strawberries aren’t as giant and sweet as the ones at the farmer’s market, try these 8 industry secrets to amazing berry production in your backyard.

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How Do You Grow Huge, Juicy Strawberries?

Close-up of female hands holding a handful of fresh strawberries in a sunny garden. Strawberry fruits are characterized by their heart-shaped silhouette and glossy, red exterior with juicy texture. Each fruit is studded with tiny, edible seeds that adorn the surface. The woman is wearing a pink checkered shirt.
Ensure strawberries receive 6-8 hours of direct sunlight for optimal growth.

Plant strawberries in full sun with 8-12 inches of space between plants. Strawberries need compost-rich soil, six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day, consistent moisture, and proper flower pollination.

If you plant a large-fruited variety like ‘Quinault’ or ‘Albion’ and regularly prune runners, your plants will yield larger berries. The soil should be consistently irrigated but never soggy. A slow-release organic fertilizer fuels growth, but be careful not to supply too much nitrogen, as this can cause an overgrowth of leaves at the expense of fruit. 

8 Secrets to Amazing Garden Strawberries

Small berries can be quite disappointing after a spring of diligently tending your strawberry patch. Fertility issues, improper watering, poor variety selection, or a lack of pollination are common reasons for measly fruit production. Although strawberries are fairly easy to grow, it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeves to ensure the best quality yields possible.

Choose the Right Variety

Two strawberries, one fully red and ripe, the other green and unripe, rest on a white netting, positioned above a brown pot, showcasing the stages of growth and ripeness.
Day-neutral varieties produce consistent yields of berries all summer long.

Cultivar selection can make or break your fruit production. If a variety is not adapted to your climate, soil, and culinary preferences, it may fail to yield or satisfy your berry cravings. Giant strawberry fruits begin with quality genetics. Like all living beings, different cultivars of crops have their own DNA that determines the potential for their leaves, flowers, and fruits. Fortunately, there are over 600 varieties of strawberries available, and most are widely adapted to USDA zones 4-12.

The largest-fruiting strawberry varieties on the market include:

  • ‘Quinault’
  • ‘Albion’
  • ‘Tristar’
  • ‘Sequoia’
  • ‘Albion’
  • ‘Seascape’

Avoid small-fruited varieties like alpine berries or wild strawberries. These wild species naturally produce tiny berries that are very flavorful but incapable of growing as large as their commercial counterparts. I love the flavor of alpine berries, but they are not ideal for gardeners who want huge fruits.

If you want to enjoy fruits in the same year as planting, I always recommend day-neutral varieties. Day-neutrals can flower and fruit regardless of day length. They provide consistent yields of berries all summer long, beginning just three months after planting. In contrast, June-bearing and everbearing types produce their fruits in one or two concentrated flushes. These varieties don’t yield to their fullest potential until one year after planting.

In my experience on commercial organic strawberry farms, ‘Albion’ is one of the best cultivars available. It reliably produces big, juicy berries all summer until the first fall frost. The plants are vigorous, quick-maturing, and compact, perfect for small raised beds, containers, and hanging baskets.

Interplant With Flowers to Improve Pollination

A bee delicately lands on a bunch of white yarrows, absorbing the nectar, against a backdrop of lush green leaves, symbolizing nature's intricate dance between pollinator and flower.
Bee-pollinated strawberries yield larger and tastier fruits compared to those not visited by bees.

More beautiful flowers mean more buzzing bees! More bees mean more huge, juicy strawberries! Lack of pollination is a common reason for small, deformed berries. Fortunately, this issue is easily solved by luring pollinators into your garden with enticing blossoms.

Science shows that bee-pollinated strawberries have the highest yields and best fruits. Though some flowers can be pollinated by wind, bees are the secret to success. Experimenters in Germany covered berry plants with mesh bags that blocked bees from visiting a block of plants. Other plants were left exposed to pollinators. The study demonstrated that bee-pollinated berries were larger, more flavorful, sweeter, and stored longer.

Strawberries are technically aggregate fruits. This means each little achene (yellow oval) is its own seed requiring its own pollination. Small, hard berries with weird green parts often come from flowers that were not sufficiently pollinated. An estimated 6-15 bee visits per flower are necessary to fully pollinate a strawberry. Since the blooms are not as attractive as the flowers of weeds and herbs, interplanting is important to magnetize more bees to the area.

White Alyssum

A detailed close-up captures the delicate beauty of white 'Tiny Tim' Sweet Alyssum flowers, showcasing their intricate petals and soft hues. Below the blossoms, the blurred leaves create a subtle backdrop.
These flowers emit a honey-scented fragrance, attracting pollinators and beneficial insects.

Sweet white alyssum is my number one choice for interplanting with berries. This low-growing beautiful flower is a pollinator-magnet. It grows about the same height as strawberries and perfectly complements their blossoms. Bees will be drawn to the smell of alyssum and then offer the favor of pollinating your berry flowers, too. 

The alyssum gradually spreads without overtaking your berry plants. Plant one alyssum between every few strawberry plants or line the four corners of a raised bed with alyssum. Ensure at least six to eight inches of space between alyssum plants and their neighbors.

Another great benefit of white alyssum is its ability to attract beneficial insects like lacewings. These voracious pest-eaters will help keep aphids at bay while ensuring your berries can yield in abundance.

Yarrow

Pink yarrow blooms, bathed in sunlight, contrast against lush green foliage, creating a vibrant scene of nature's harmony under the radiant sun's glow.
Plant this on the north side of berry patches to avoid shading strawberries.

Another gorgeous white flower, wild yarrow plants are bee-magnets. Yarrow is a perfect companion for strawberries because it attracts bees, ladybugs, hoverflies, and predatory wasps. This means that yarrow companions can boost fruit quality while simultaneously preventing pests.

Yarrow plants can grow quite large, so it’s best to keep them on the margins of your strawberry beds so they don’t shade or overtake the crop. If growing in a raised bed, plant a yarrow on the ground next to it. Alternatively, keep yarrow on the north side of in-ground berry patches to ensure its height doesn’t cast a shadow on sun-loving strawberries.

Creeping Thyme

Vivid sunlight bathes a dense mat of purple creeping thyme blossoms, casting intricate shadows on the lush green leaves below, creating a vibrant tapestry of color and light.
Grow creeping thyme around your strawberry patch for pollination.

The fragrance and aesthetic of ground cover thyme is unmatched. Even better? This herb produces prolific flowers that draw in bees from near and far. Simultaneously, it suppresses weeds and keeps your berries clean and elevated off the soil surface! 

You can plant low-growing creeping thyme to ramble around the base of your strawberry patch. This triple threat acts as a pollinator flower, living mulch, and weed suppression. Creeping thyme is one of the best strawberry companions because it doesn’t compete with the crop, and it complements its growth habit. It has a delightful fragrance and creates a beautiful evergreen ground cover to protect the soil. 

As a bonus, creeping thyme prevents rain splash on your berries. No more muddy fruits! The berries are less likely to rot or fall victim to slugs when they develop on the fluffy blanket of thyme leaves. 

Other Companions

Yellow nasturtium blossoms stand out, their delicate petals catching sunlight, against a backdrop of lush, blurred foliage, adding depth and contrast to the floral scene.
Provide ample spacing between strawberry plants and their companion flowers.

You can never have too many flowers in a pollinator garden. My favorite way to grow strawberries is in a pretty short raised bed bordered by colorful in-ground flower beds.

Other great companion plant options for strawberries include:

  • Borage
  • Phacelia
  • Tulsi (holy basil)
  • Clover
  • Nasturtiums
  • Dill
  • Mint

As always, ensure that your plants have sufficient space between them. Companion flowers should never overcrowd your crop. 

Prune Off Runners

Hands with blue gloves carefully trim strawberry shoots, fostering healthy growth in a garden setting, showcasing attentive plant care and precision in gardening tasks.
Removing runners redirects plant energy toward fruit production.

Runner removal is not crucial for every strawberry patch, but it makes a huge difference for gardeners who dream of giant berries. These vigorous plants will grow and fruit regardless of pruning. However, regular pruning is a key secret used by commercial growers to maintain consistently huge, juicy strawberries.

Runners are also called stolons or suckers. These long stems come from the center of a mother plant and ramble out in every direction to try to produce new baby plants. Runners are evolutionarily advantageous for plants trying to spread over the ground in the wild. But in our gardens, they suck away energy from fruit production. Removing them is like a signal to the plant saying, “Hey! Please focus your attention on growing berries!”

Pruning runners is as simple as snapping off the excess stems once every few days. It takes just five minutes or less and dramatically improves fruit production. Some varieties, particularly day-neutrals, produce more runners than others. Cutting them off will funnel energy toward flowers and fruits. At the same time, it keeps your garden properly spaced to prevent overcrowding and disease. If every runner is left to grow into a new plant, the patch quickly becomes a tangled mess.

Use pruners to cut runners off of younger plants. This will prevent them from yanking out of the ground. Once plants are firmly rooted, you can snap the suckers off from the base. During harvest season, I snap runners off every time I pick berries. The result is big, bushy individual strawberry plants that are loaded with fruit. 

Enrich the Soil With Compost

A close-up displaying rich, dark compost soil, teeming with organic matter and nutrients, perfect for nurturing plant life and promoting healthy growth in garden beds and potted plants.
Using compost improves soil conditions for optimal growth without waterlogging.

Strawberries love loamy, rich soil. Amending your beds with compost can dramatically improve nutrient availability, microbial activity, water retention, and drainage. Remember that strawberry plants are fairly shallow-rooted. They are not particularly drought-tolerant and often struggle in dry conditions. A lack of water is a common reason for small, shriveled berries. 

It makes sense that juicy fruits require a lot of moisture. But, at the same time, too much water can cause waterlogging and oversaturated soil. Compost is the best amendment because it offers the best of both worlds. This rich organic matter improves drainage while boosting moisture retention. Compost ensures that the soil stays wet, but not too wet. It helps keep water in place long enough for roots to absorb it, but not so long that it causes rot or other fungal issues. 

Add several shovels full of compost to strawberry beds before planting. Use a broad fork or digging fork to sift the compost into the soil. Add another few inches every year to accommodate for settling

Use Slow-Release Balanced Fertilizer

Black granules of slow-release fertilizer filling a stark white sack, ready for dispersal across the waiting soil, promising nourishment for budding plants and vibrant growth in the garden.
High-nitrogen and synthetic fertilizers can hinder fruit production.

A sufficient supply of nutrients is essential to grow giant fruits. Strawberries benefit from a once or twice-seasonal application of organic, slow-release fertilizer. It is important to use a balanced fertilizer that nurtures leaf, root, and fruit production. Balanced fertilizers have numbers that are close together, such as 3-4-4. Espoma Organic Garden Tone Plant Food is an easy granulated blend to apply at the time of planting.

Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, as these can promote an excessive amount of leafy growth at the expense of fruit. The plant will concentrate its efforts on foliage production and fail to produce large, juicy berries. 

It’s also best to avoid synthetic, quick-release fertilizers because of the risk of overfertilization and nutrient burn. Synthetic fertilizers add a rapidly-available mega-dose of nutrients that can be detrimental to plant health. In contrast, slow-release organic fertilizers provide nutrients throughout the season. As the organic materials are decomposed by microorganisms, the minerals become available to plants in gradual quantities.

Mulch Generously

A lush strawberry plant with vibrant red fruits nestled on a bed of golden hay mulch, soaking up the warm rays of sunlight, promising sweet, juicy rewards for eager hands to pluck.
Maintaining consistent moisture levels in garden beds promotes healthier plants and better fruit yields.

Strawberries have the word “straw” in them for a reason. These plants were traditionally grown with straw because the mulch keeps the berries lifted off the ground. This means cleaner, dryer berries. More importantly, the straw mulch conserves soil moisture below. As we discussed above, these plants have shallow roots that are susceptible to drying out on hot summer days. Mulch keeps the soil covered, cool, and moist to ensure consistent moisture availability.

Most garden crops dislike huge fluctuations from bone-dry to soggy-wet. This big swing in moisture availability causes water stress in the plants. Stressed plants are less likely to yield huge, juicy strawberries because they struggle to maintain their foliage and roots. 

To prevent water stress, always mulch your beds! You can also use dried deciduous leaves, shredded straw, or compost as mulch. Spread in a layer one to three inches thick and leave a small ring of space around the base crown of each plant. You don’t want the mulch to suffocate the crown. If using drip irrigation or soaker hoses, run the water lines underneath the mulch so that water is delivered straight to the root zone. 

In areas with cold, wet springs, avoid mulching until early summer. Excess mulch in spring can slow soil warming and create a habitat for slugs.

Provide Consistent Moisture

Water cascades over rows of young strawberry plants nestled in nutrient-rich dark soil, nurturing their growth with a refreshing shower, promising a bountiful harvest in the near future.
Root-targeted systems like drip lines or soaker hoses avoid foliar diseases.

Speaking of moisture, don’t skimp on irrigation for this crop. Agricultural research finds that these plants need at least one inch of water per week during the rooting phase. Increase to two inches weekly while flowering and fruiting. 

If there isn’t enough rainfall, you will need to supplement with irrigation. Drip lines, soaker hoses, and ollas are ideal because they water the plants right at their roots. Overhead irrigation is not recommended because it can lead to foliar diseases like powdery mildew. 

Ultimately, the amount of water needed for this crop depends on soil type, rainfall, humidity, temperature, and mulching. It is best to stick your finger in the soil and check the moisture every few days. If your skin comes out dirty or mucky, the soil needs to dry out. If your skin comes out clean or lightly dusty, the soil is likely too dry. In ideal moisture circumstances, the soil should feel about the wetness of a wrung-out sponge.

Hanging baskets, planters, and container-grown strawberries need more water than those growing in raised beds or in the ground. The smaller volume of soil dries out much more quickly. Check small pots every day or every other day. Plan to irrigate raised bed berry plants 2-3 times per week.

Grow in Full Sun

Vibrant strawberry plants basking in golden sunlight, their luscious green leaves soaking up the warmth, a promise of juicy red berries ripening under the nurturing rays of the sun.
The plants produce larger berries due to enhanced photosynthesis.

Shade-grown strawberries usually lack fruit. For giant, sweet berries, always plant in the brightest south-facing area possible. Prune back any tall shrubs growing nearby and avoid planting berries in areas shadowed by structures or trees. At least six to eight hours of direct sunlight is essential for abundant yields. If your plants aren’t getting enough sunlight, they may have pale leaves and little to no flowers or fruit. 

You may notice that commercial strawberry fields are always out in the wide-open sky without nearby shrubs or trees. In contrast, the tiny alpine strawberries we see in the wild usually grow in the dappled shady understory of forests. Larger berries grow from plants receiving more sunlight because the leaves can photosynthesize more efficiently. More photosynthesis means more sweet sugars to send to the fruits.

The only exception to this rule is in the Deep South where strawberry plants can get scorched or dried out from excessive sunlight. If you live in zone 9 or warmer, consider growing strawberries in the fall through spring months. Most varieties won’t reliably fruit in temperatures above 90°F (32°C). Shade cloth or partially shaded plantings may help keep localized temperatures cooler and allow for summer production in some areas.

Final Thoughts 

Small strawberries are inconvenient to pick and less desirable to prepare. They often result from wrong varietal selection, poor pollination, improper sunlight, and inconsistent moisture. If you want giant, juicy strawberries like the ones at the grocery store (but with way more flavor), remember to:

  • Choose a large-fruited day-neutral variety like ‘Albion’
  • Interplant with flowers like white alyssum, yarrow, and creeping thyme to ensure pollination
  • Prune off runners whenever you see them
  • Amend the soil with compost
  • Add a slow-release balanced organic fertilizer
  • Mulch with straw or leaves
  • Supply consistent moisture with drip irrigation or soaker hoses
  • Grow strawberries in full sunlight

Don’t forget to harvest your berries regularly! Regular picking promotes more flowers and more fruit!

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