How Much Water do Strawberries Need?

Strawberries are fairly thirsty plants with shallow roots, so you must water regularly to ensure an abundance of juicy, sweet berries. But how much water do these fruits need, and how do you avoid overwatering? Former organic strawberry farmer Logan Hailey has the answers.

A close-up of a cluster of fresh ripe organic red strawberry fruits, nestled together, glistening with dew, promising sweet juiciness with every bite.

Contents

Juicy berries require moist soil, but many strawberry growers struggle to determine exactly how much water their strawberry plants need. Underwatering is a common reason for low-yielding strawberries, but overwatering can be equally problematic. Strawberries have shallow roots that dry out quickly in sandy soils and hot weather. However, the roots and crowns can also succumb to fungal rot when left in soggy clay without drainage.

Whether you grow strawberries in containers, hanging baskets, raised beds, or the ground, this guide has everything you need to know about properly watering your plants. Let’s get started!

The Short Answer

Strawberries need consistent moisture to thrive, especially when they are fruiting. You should check the soil moisture every other day and water your strawberries one to three times a week, depending on rainfall and soil type. It’s best to stick your finger in the soil to check soil moisture before irrigating. Agricultural research shows that strawberry plants require about one inch of water weekly during establishment and one to two inches weekly during flower and fruit production. However, a plant’s irrigation needs directly depend on the soil type, rainfall, humidity, temperature, mulch, and growing method.

The Long Answer

A close-up of strawberry plants with white flowers, vibrant green leaves reaching skyward, capturing sunlight for growth, while a green watering can gently nourish the plants, fostering their journey from bud to fruit.
Ensure consistent soil moisture for fruiting strawberry plants.

Every garden and climate is different, so it is difficult to make exact recommendations for strawberry watering without first examining your soil, climate, and growing method. For example, plants in pots or hanging baskets typically require more frequent watering because containers dry out quickly. In contrast, plants growing in rich, loamy raised beds may have plenty of moisture to last several days or a week without irrigation

Strawberries also require different moisture levels during different phases of production. Newly planted bare-root crowns will need plenty of water to establish their roots, and dry soil can be detrimental to young plants. Similarly, fruiting strawberry plants require consistently moist soil to pump out loads of berries throughout the summer.

Let’s explore more details about strawberry watering, including how to assess whether your plants need water, how often to check soil moisture, the best irrigation systems, and how to conserve water in garden beds.

How Do I Know If My Strawberry Plant Needs Water?

A close-up of curled, dry strawberry plant leaves; nestled in brown soil, they exhibit curling, parched texture, hinting at dehydration under sunlight.
Assess soil moisture by texture.

Strawberry leaves will quickly wilt and turn crusty or dry if they are under drought stress. The plant will look droopy, sad, and dry and stop producing flowers or fruit. The dry soil may crack or pull away from the edges of a container or bed. Fortunately, you can catch the plants before they fully wilt by checking the soil. If the soil feels physically dry, your strawberries likely need water.

Stick your finger at least one to two inches deep near the base of the plant and use these qualities to assess the moisture level:

  • If the texture is rough and no dirt sticks to your skin, water immediately.
  • If the dirt feels moist like a wrung-out sponge, and a few particles stick to your finger, the moisture level is perfect.
  • If the soil is soggy like brownie butter and your skin comes out muddy, the soil is oversaturated and needs to dry out.

Strawberry roots are typically fairly shallow and must uptake their water within the top few inches of soil. A tangible assessment of the soil is the quickest and easiest way to determine whether or not you need to water your strawberry plant. 

Symptoms of Drought Stress

Small fruiting berry plants have very shallow roots, making them highly susceptible to stress from prolonged drought and dryness. Research shows that up to 80% of strawberry yields can be lost from water-stressed plants! It’s important to know the signs of water stress before it’s too late.

Strawberries under moderate to severe drought stress may display these symptoms:

  • Wilting or drooping
  • Pale, yellow, or brown foliage
  • Brittle, dry, easily breakable leaves
  • Leaves with brown dying tips
  • Little to no flowers or fruit
  • Slow growth
  • More susceptibility to diseases
  • More susceptibility to pests
  • Dry, crusted soil

However, overwatering can cause many similar symptoms. Overwatered strawberries may wilt, droop, and turn yellow, but the root may have a noticeable rotten smell that distinguishes them from their brittle, underwatered counterparts. You must stick your finger in the soil near the root zone to properly assess what is going on. If the plants appear droopy and the soil feels soggy or waterlogged, overwatering is likely the cause.

You should also be aware of diseases like Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, and crown rot that can cause wilting or sick-looking plants. These pathogens may cause similar symptoms to underwatering. The easiest way to distinguish water stress from disease is to look for brownish or blackish streaks and blotches on the plant foliage. You may also notice leaves with reddish-brown borders. These are signs of a fungal pathogen that do not appear on underwatered plants.

How Often Do You Water Strawberries in Pots?

A close-up of a vibrant strawberry seedling, adorned with lush green leaves and a ripe red fruit; nurtured in brown soil within a pot on a windowsill, receiving hydration from a yellow watering can.
Container plants need more water due to less soil mass.

Potted strawberries typically need water twice or three times per week, depending on the weather and soil. Smaller containers may need water every day or every other day. Instead of subscribing to a set watering schedule, it’s best to regularly check the soil moisture with your finger. Every time you walk by the plants, stick your finger in the soil near the root zone and water if it feels dry. 

Most strawberry plants need at least one to two inches of rainfall per week. If there is no rainfall, you will need to irrigate from the base of the plant. Pour water until it flows out from the bottom drainage holes, then stop to avoid overwatering. 

Plants growing in pots, planters, containers, and hanging baskets need more water overall than those growing in raised beds or in the ground. Potted plants have less soil mass and dry out much more quickly. A soil blend rich in compost can help retain moisture. A layer of straw or leaf mulch on top prevents the soil from drying out as quickly and provides a nice dry place for the berries to rest while they ripen.

Watering Based on Soil Type

A close-up of vibrant strawberry plants with lush green leaves and delicate white flowers being watered by a man with a yellow watering can, nestled in nutrient-rich soil, with a sizable bamboo stake for support.
Amend with compost for moisture retention.

Soil type affects watering more than any other factor. Sandy soils need to be watered more frequently than loams, and clay soils are highly susceptible to overwatering. Checking the moisture level and adjusting your irrigation is paramount for happy plants.

If you have sandy soil, your strawberry roots will dry out very quickly. Water moves rapidly through sand particles and can dry out in just a day. It’s very important to amend sandy soils with generous amounts of compost and mulch to ensure moisture retention, especially in hot climates.

On the flip side, if you have heavy clay soil, water will drain very slowly. Strawberries growing in heavy clay are more prone to root rot because the clay is easily saturated. If the roots are sitting in soggy soil, the surrounding area becomes hypoxic (lacking oxygen), creating a welcoming space for anaerobic pathogens like root rot fungi to take hold. 

Clay particles can be beneficial for retaining moisture, but you don’t want your plants to wallow in oversaturated clay beds. You can improve the drainage of clay soils by adding perlite, horticultural sand, compost, and peat moss. Loosen the ground with a broad fork or digging fork before planting strawberries. If the clay is too hard or dense, consider growing the berries in a shallow raised bed, grow bag, or large pot.

Best Irrigation System for Strawberries

A close-up of strawberry bushes emerging from black plastic covering, showcasing lush green leaves on delicate branches, with drip irrigation visible in the background.
Drip lines under mulch ensure efficient water delivery to roots.

Strawberry plants need water frequently, so it is wise to grow them in beds with easy-to-use irrigation systems. Drip irrigation and soaker hoses are the top choices for these berry plants. Overhead irrigation with sprinklers is not recommended because the water droplets settle on plant leaves, making them more prone to foliar disease issues. Moreover, overhead watering is highly inefficient and causes a lot of water waste due to evaporation. 

In my five years as an organic farmer, strawberry irrigation was a major part of my daily work. High-producing varieties like ‘Albion’ or ‘Seascape’ are consistently pumping out new flowers and fruits all summer long, which means we have to check their moisture levels nearly every day, especially in hot weather.

On mid-scale commercial organic strawberry farms, we always use drip irrigation on these shallow-rooted fruits. The drip lines are run underneath mulch or landscape fabric to ensure efficient delivery straight to the root zone with minimal risk of evaporation. Drip lines have different hole spacing emitters to determine how much water is released at a certain area. Closer-spaced emitters are ideal for strawberries grown in closer spacing in a garden.

With proper watering, your plants will also produce tons of runners. Don’t forget to prune off the runners so the strawberries channel their energy into growing more tasty berries! 

How to Conserve Soil Moisture

As summer droughts become more intense and long, water conservation is a major issue in most areas. Conserving soil moisture is surprisingly cheap and easy, yet so few gardeners and farmers take the time to do it. With these simple steps, you can dramatically improve your strawberry yields, reduce maintenance, and save water!

Always Mulch Strawberries

A close-up of a vibrant young strawberry plant, adorned with delicate white flowers and lush green leaves, thriving within a bed of straw mulch in an outdoor setting.
Avoid crown rot by keeping mulch away from plant bases.

They are called strawberries for a reason! These plants are traditionally grown with a layer of straw mulch to protect the berries from rot. Never skimp on mulch! Soil is like nature’s fragile skin, and she doesn’t like having it exposed to direct sunlight. Bare soil is a recipe for disaster because it dries out quickly and leaves open space for weeds to take hold. Mulching solves both issues in one.

Shredded straw or dried deciduous leaves are my favorite mulches for strawberries. They both conserve soil moisture by limiting the amount of UV rays that hit the soil so your plants won’t dry out as quickly. Less drying means less time and effort spent watering.

Be sure to run your soaker hoses and drip lines underneath mulch for maximum watering efficiency. When spreading mulch, apply it two to three inches thick, leaving a small ring around the base of each plant. You don’t want the mulch right up against the crown of the strawberry, as this can cause too much moisture to accumulate at the base, potentially leading to crown rot. Instead, imagine a two inch circular ring around the plant base. Keep your mulch beyond this ring.

Clean fruit is another notable benefit of mulching low-growing berry plants. You don’t want your precious strawberries sitting on the soil surface exposed to dirt. Dry mulch ensures that the fruit is protected from rot and slimy slugs. It also makes it easier to find fruit when harvest time comes around. 

Some growers prefer landscape fabric (synthetic mulch) instead of biodegradable mulch. While it offers similar benefits, landscape fabric is still made of plastic and will not enrich the soil over time. Straw or leaves can decompose and add organic matter, enhancing the soil’s water retention for future seasons. The decision is yours, but beware of thin, cheap landscape fabrics that can rip apart and leave microplastics in your soil.

Add Organic Matter

A close-up of a woman, donning green gloves, carefully tending to a weak young strawberry seedling, using gardening tools to enrich the brown soil with organic matter for fertilization.
Compost-rich soil retains moisture, fostering plant growth.

Sometimes called humus, organic matter is the secret sauce to rich, healthy soil. Strawberries love loamy soil texture, and compost is the ticket to achieving it. Amending the soil with compost improves drainage and water retention at the same time. This is because decomposed organic materials have a unique biochemistry that properly filters and conserves water in the root zone. 

Soils with high organic matter hold onto water longer without risking waterlogging. The compost creates nice soil aggregates with a diversity of pore spaces. These pores are like little pockets of moisture, microbes, and nutrients that are stored for your plants. Even on the hottest, driest days, compost-rich soil can hold onto enough water to keep strawberries happy and thriving.

Moreover, compost is loaded with beneficial microorganisms that can help your strawberries uptake mineral nutrients and protect them from disease-causing pathogens. You can mulch compost straight over the soil surface, layer it underneath the mulch, or lightly blend it into the upper few inches of soil.

Avoid Overhead Irrigation 

A close-up of sprinklers in a strawberry field, water misting over vibrant green plants, with lush trees adorned in yellow foliage in the backdrop.
Regularly wet strawberry leaves promote diseases.

Sprinklers and overhead watering are not ideal for strawberries (or most other vegetables and fruits in your garden). Overhead irrigation wastes a lot of water because the droplets are exposed to drying UV rays before the soil has a chance to absorb them. This means that the soil may not get evenly moistened, and some plants may struggle to access water in the following days.

To make matters worse, regularly wetting strawberry leaves can cause issues with foliar diseases like blight and powdery mildew. While you cannot control rainfall, you can minimize leaf moisture by watering from below the soil surface. This will also save on your water bill and minimize the amount of weeds in your garden beds and pathways.

Final Thoughts

Like most garden plants, strawberries do not perform well with a strict watering schedule. Instead, you must check the soil every few days to properly assess the conditions. The temperature, sun exposure, and humidity levels are constantly changing, so the soil moisture can vary widely throughout the season. Sticking your finger a few inches deep in the soil is the best way to know if you need water.

Strawberries require consistent water to fruit in abundance and are prone to drought stress due to their shallow roots. For the best results, amend your soil with compost, apply a generous mulch, and water from the base of the plant using soaker hoses or drip lines. 

SHARE THIS POST
remove strawberry runners. Close-up of female hands adorned with orange gloves, delicately pruning strawberry runners in a sunlit garden bed.

Fruits

7 Benefits of Removing Strawberry Runners

If you want to eat loads of berries this summer, you may need to do some pruning. Strawberry runners suck a lot of energy away from your plants, but former organic farmer Logan Hailey has expert info on why and how you can remove them for higher yields.

tastiest fig varieties. Bottom view of ripe fig fruits hanging from tree branches against a blurred background of green foliage. Fig fruits are pear-shaped with a slightly flattened bottom. They are dark purple in color.

Fruits

13 Tastiest Fig Varieties for Home Gardens

Fig flavors can be defined as sweet, complex, honey-like, berry-like, custardy, and more. Regardless of how you describe the flavor, they are all delicious! In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen shares 13 favorite fig varieties that you can grow in your home garden.

Close-up of a wicker basket full of strawberry varieties in a garden against the backdrop of beds with growing strawberry plants. Strawberries present a charming appearance with their low-growing habit and lush, dark green foliage. Their trifoliate leaves are glossy and serrated, forming a dense carpet that provides a verdant backdrop for the ripe, juicy berries. The berries themselves, ranging in color from deep red to pinkish hues, are nestled among the foliage and adorned with tiny seeds that glisten in the sunlight.

Fruits

17 Best Strawberry Varieties For Growing at Home

Are you imagining a summer garden bursting at the seams with fresh, juicy strawberries? Now’s the time to consider the different types you can grow and select varieties well-suited to your garden and needs. Join organic farmer Jenna Rich for a list of the 17 best strawberry varieties for growing at home.

Strawberry thinning process. Close-up of a sanitary worker's hands in bright orange gloves using black pruning shears to trim young strawberry runners in a strawberry bed. The strawberry plant is characterized by its low-growing habit, with lush green leaves forming a dense rosette at ground level. The leaves are trifoliate, each with serrated edges and a vibrant green hue.

Fruits

How and When to Thin a Strawberry Bed

Are you dealing with an overgrown and out-of-control strawberry bed? Well, proper pruning can help you get it back on track. Gardener Briana Yablonski will share how and when to prune strawberries for optimal growth.