Strawberries On Your Patio

Whether in a shortcake, topping a bowl of cereal, or straight off the plant, there are few things in life as good as fresh strawberries. Strawberries are fairly easy to grow, and harvesting fresh berries out of the garden is a fun, easy way to pass hot summer days. Have you ever thought of growing them in old-fashioned patio pots made just for strawberries?

Strawberry pots are those terra cotta or plastic pots you see at garden centers with the urn shape and the holes up and down the sides in odd places. They look like the dirt or water might just fall out of them. Surprisingly, these pots are one of the easiest and most convenient ways to grow and harvest strawberries. Either plastic or terra cotta will work fine, but each has features to keep in mind. The plastic pot may blow over with a lightweight potting mix, and the terra cotta may need extra water in the hottest part of the year.

Start by choosing a pot that will hold a reasonable number of plants, and be sure that the pot has good drainage. Holes in the bottom of the pot are necessary to keep the roots from staying too wet and possibly rotting. When choosing the plants you will use, count on one plant per side opening, and three or four for the top. A good and reliable strawberry cultivar that will bear fruit the first year is Ozark Beauty. This everbearing plant has firm, sweet fruits good for home use. About 20 to 25 plants should provide enough berries for an average family. You should be able to find the pots, the strawberry plants, and the potting media easily at your local nursery or retail garden center. Use a prefertilized, soilless, bagged media, and consider amending it with a good compost or plant food. A slow-release balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 works well.

Begin by filling the bottom of the pot. Check to see if the drainage holes need to be covered loosely with broken terra cotta or pea gravel. This will provide drainage without allowing potting mix to fall out. As you reach the holes in the sides of the pot, tuck plants one by one through the outside of the holes, patting them in with potting mix from the inside to stabilize them. Some people put a paper towel tube filled with gravel down through the center of the pot as they fill it with dirt, using it to help distribute the water throughout the media. The weight of the gravel would also help to keep a plastic pot from blowing over, an advantage when using a plastic pot.

When the urn is full, top it off with three or four plants and then water the media thoroughly through the holes and from the top. Set the plants on your patio in full sun to part shade. It is vital to make sure that the plants get watered daily or as needed in the summer. Remember that plants in a well-drained pot will need more water than plants in the ground. Keep the soilless mix moist, and the plants will keep you in berries for weeks.

SOURCE: Melissa Miles, Extension Graduate Assistant, and Mary Beth Musgrove, Extension Associate-Horticulture, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, (334) 844-5481