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Do it Yourself: We will provide you the information to grow strawberries at home

You have seen chillies, beans and tomatoes on potted plants? There’s nothing new about that. The interest in kitchen gardens has spiked among urban residents during the lockdown. A lot of urban gardeners in India grow these kitchen vegetables on their balconies or terraces — but how about strawberries? If you think they are too exotic or too tough to grow at home, think again!

Strawberries are rich in vitamin C and also packed with flavonoids, anti-oxidants and phytonutrients that offer a wealth of health benefits. Furthermore,homegrown strawberries grown organically, taste far better than store-bought ones and also you can minimize the expenditure on buying it at supermarket.

Here’s a simple step-by-step guide that’ll help you successfully grow strawberries at home.

1. Decide where you’ll grow your strawberries

Strawberries can be grown in a container on your balcony, terrace or window box. If your horizontal space is limited, consider growing strawberries in a hanging basket or stacked planter, this will allow you to take advantage of vertical growing space.

Strawberries prefer sunny condition, though you can get a slightly lower harvest with less than a half day of direct sunlight. Avoid windy sites which will prevent pollinating insects from reaching the flowers.

2. Reuse and recycle while choosing containers

There is no need to invest in fancy containers or earthen pots. You can even make use of 2-litre plastic bottles, wooden crates and re-purposed buckets to grow strawberries. However, whether you choose a container made of clay, plastic, wood, or other material, make sure it has a soil depth of at least 12-14 inches to give the plants’ root systems space to grow.

How many plants you can fit in will depend upon the width of the container, since you should space plants about 10-12 inches apart to allow them to spread horizontally. Place water below container to avoid ant attack.

3. Get pot-grown plants or ‘runners’ of the right variety

If you feel difficult to produce seedlings from seed, you can go for use of runners. ‘Runners’ (stems with buds that develop into new plants) of strawberry can be purchased directly from nurseries. Strawberry plants can be either June-bearing (June bearing), everbearing (ever-bearing), or day-neutral (day neutral).

Do note that there are many varieties available in nurseries. Choose good ones which thrives well in your area.

Tip: It is best to buy the runners just before you intend to plant them into the ground or container. Leaving them for too long in their store-bought pots can cause them to become root-bound and unhealthy, preventing them from growing well when replanted.

4. Prepare a soil that will make your strawberries happy

Strawberries thrives well in rich, loamy soil that drains well. Start with what you have and add plenty of organic matter (such as compost, shredded bark or peat moss) as well as some sand or grit. Ensure that the container has drainage holes in the bottom.

Tip: If growing in a hanging basket, line the basket with sphagnum moss before putting soil to retain moisture for the plants. Sphagnum moss will also allow for the plant to grow out the sides of the pot, which looks nice.

5. Plant it right

Set plants into the soil, ensuring that each crown (where the leaves emerge) sits just above the surface and spaced 10-12 inches apart – this is closer than they would be in the ground and will make it easier to water them. Mulch after planting (with dry leaves) to reduce a loss of water due to evaporation and provide food for beneficial soil microbes.

6. Super simple maintenance

Minimal watering is fine compared to flooding, the shallow roots need water in hot weather but don’t like being soggy. Soon you’ll see tiny green strawberries, which shows that the fruit has ‘set’! Strawberries flower and fruit in the cool months, around October to February. It is important that you take good care of your plants during summer.

Do note that strawberry plants continue to be productive for at least 2-3 years but will need to be replaced thereafter. To renovate June-bearing plants for next year, trim off their old leaves, making sure not to damage the centre stalk (crown) of the plant. Ever-bearers do not need this trimming.

7. Harvesting Happiness

Picking prematurely halts the development of the natural sugars, nutrients, and vitamins and will result in harder, tart or sour berries. So, harvest at correct stage. Pick strawberries when they are bright red all over, ideally during the warmest part of the day because this is when they are at their tastiest. Fruits are perishable in nature so eat them as soon as possible or preserve in refrigerator.

Also, after fruiting, cut back the foliage to leave just the central, young leaves intact. Runners should be removed (unless you want to propagate new plants) to ensure plants bulk out again — the more runners a single mother plant has, the more resource/nutrition will drain off from the mother plant.

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