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We’ve all been there. You’ve waited so patiently for your strawberries to flower and start making those mouthwatering red berries. You probably checked your plants almost every day, from the time you noticed the first small green berry developing. When you do finally see a fat, red berry you waste no time popping it into your mouth – but are immediately disappointed.
If your homegrown strawberries don’t taste sweet, consider how they were grown. Strawberries need fertile, slightly acidic soil and at least eight hours of sunlight to produce the sweetest fruits. Try to avoid overwatering strawberries, and be sure to prune your plants for the best-tasting berries.
Read on to learn how to grow the most delicious strawberries and some of our favorite flavorful varieties for growers in any hardiness zone!
5 essential factors to growing the sweetest strawberries
Strawberries aren’t difficult to grow, but these plants need ideal growing conditions to produce the sweetest berries. If your strawberries taste sour, bitter, or bland, you might need to check on the following factors.
Strawberries prefer slightly acidic soil, ranging in pH from 6 to 6.5. If you’re not sure what your soil pH is, use a soil tester to determine your soil pH levels. Better yet, this one from Vivosun tests soil moisture, light, and pH levels – all things that are crucial to the best strawberry development!
Along with many of our favorite fruits and vegetables, strawberries thrive in soil rich in organic matter. Amend your planting site with compost before you plant strawberries, thoroughly mixing the organic matter into the soil to improve soil texture and aeration.
Choose a planting site that drains well – avoid any low spots in the garden that hold water. Strawberries actually thrive on slightly sloping ground, and the plants’ roots have the added benefit of slowing erosion.
Strawberries are an excellent candidate for raised beds and pots – containers tend to drain better and warm the soil more quickly than in-ground beds, anyway. Wherever you grow strawberries, you might consider adding coarse sand to increase drainage. Before you do, check out this article for more information on using builder’s sand in the garden.
Like most fruiting plants, strawberries need full sun to flower and bear fruit. Full sun is typically defined as at least six hours of direct sunlight per day, but strawberry plants certainly benefit from more.
Aim to locate your strawberry patch in an area of your garden that gets eight hours of direct sunlight a day. Plants that see less sun will struggle to produce mature berries before the season’s end. The pale, immature berries taste sour and bitter.
Strawberries, like all plants, need water to grow and make fruit. But it’s a common misconception that the more you water strawberries, the better the fruit will taste. Overwatering the plants actually waters down the taste of the fruit, making for some bland berries.
Give strawberries at least one inch of water per week, but no more than two inches. If you’re not sure how much your outdoor-grown berries are getting, use a rain gauge. Mulch strawberries with woodchips or straw, or use landscape fabric, to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.
Try to avoid getting the foliage wet when you water strawberries – wet foliage can contribute to fungal and bacterial diseases. If you can, water strawberries with drip irrigation – the system saves water, time, and money by automatically applying water to the base of your plants when they need it. Plus, it’s easy to control exactly how much water your plants are getting.
Strawberries are heavy feeders that require a lot of nutrients and organic matter to grow to their full potential. Nitrogen-rich compost is essential to any strawberry planting, and fertilizer isn’t optional. Either incorporate a slow-release granular fertilizer at the time of planting or apply liquid fertilizer. Potassium-rich fertilizers often sold as tomato fertilizers for flowering are ideal for strawberry plants.
It’s counterintuitive, but the best way to increase strawberry sweetness is by pruning the plants harder. Traditional gardening knowledge holds that perennial strawberry varieties shouldn’t be allowed to flower in their first year. Annual strawberries, of course, are a different story.
Just as soon as you see first-year strawberries flowering, pinch the flowers off so that the plants will put more energy into root development and the growth of more runners. Keep an eye on the plants and continue pinching flowers all season. Second-year strawberries will be so much more prolific if they were pruned in their first year.
As berries develop, remove any foliage that obstructs the berry from sunlight. Berries will ripen more quickly and will develop a sweeter flavor with maximum sun exposure. Keep four or five runners for each strawberry plant, but remove any more to concentrate the plant sugars into fewer better-tasting fruits.
After a harvest of June-bearing strawberries, another pruning practice called renovation is recommended. Renovation is simply the removal of old foliage to promote new, disease-free growth, but gardeners approach the practice differently. According to the Illinois Extension,
To renovate either remove foliage by hand or mow it off one inch above the crowns. Discard trimmings in yard waste or burn it. It is not recommended to compost foliage because of the potential for disease. Narrow row width to 6-12 inches, remove runners, and apply fertilizer as mentioned above.
Strawberry plants typically are only in peak production for three or four years, so plan on replacing strawberries every few years. When transplanting new strawberries, be sure to leave a foot in between plants to provide ample room to breathe and send out runners.
Rotate your beds between first-year, second-year, and third-year plants for continuous harvests of sugary fruit. Plus, rotating strawberry beds with other crops has the added benefit of reducing the spread of potential diseases.
The 7 best-tasting strawberry varieties
All strawberries fall under one of three umbrella types – June-bearing, everbearing, and day-neutral. Most perennial strawberry types need to be planted in autumn and allowed to overwinter before producing berries the following summer.
June-bearing types fruit in late spring and early summer – right around the month of June in the northern hemisphere. June-bearing strawberries are a favorite in warm climates, as they are a little more tolerant of hot summers than other varieties.
Everbearing strawberries set fruit twice a year – once in spring and again in fall. Day-neutral varieties aren’t affected by the seasons – these plants constantly flower and produce berries throughout the season. It’s recommended to grow day-neutral strawberries as an annual crop.
- Alexandria Alpine
Also called woodland strawberries, Alpine is the closest strawberry you can get to the wild strawberries native to North America, Europe, and Asia. These day-neutral plants don’t have runners, but produce abundant harvests of tiny, sugary-sweet red berries all season long.
You can buy Alexandria Alpine Strawberry Seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
A very popular strawberry variety for commercial growers and home gardeners alike, Earliglo is prized as the earliest June-bearing variety, and also has superb disease resistance. These hardy plants are extremely productive, producing large, red berries with a very sweet flavor. Earliglow is an excellent choice for freezing or canning, and of course, eating fresh!
Johnny’s Selected Seeds sells live Earliglow Strawberry Plants, which is the most common way to purchase perennial strawberry plants.
- Ozark Beauty
Upheld by many as the best everbearing strawberry, Ozark Beauty produces larger, sweeter berries than any other everbearing variety. Expect Ozark to bear one large harvest in spring and a slightly smaller harvest in fall.
You can buy bare-root Ozark Beauty Strawberry Plants from Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Company, and in no time you’ll be growing your own strawberries!
A day-neutral variety that begins producing in spring and continuously sets fruit until early fall. Tristar produces medium-sized, sweet red berries and is known for growing vigorous runners!
Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Company carries Tristar Strawberry plants available as bare-root stock.
An heirloom strawberry variety best known for making jam. Sparkle produces medium-sized sugary sweet berries that mature later than most June-bearing varieties. Sparkle is extremely tolerant of colder climates and has good disease resistance.
You can purchase Sparkle Strawberry Plants from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
- Fort Laramie
Another everbearing strawberry but one especially suited to colder climates, Fort Laramie produces firm, juicy medium-sized berries perfect for eating fresh or canning. Fort Laramie has high disease tolerance, making it an excellent choice for any home garden.
Buy Fort Laramie Strawberry Plants from Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Company.
The most productive June-bearing strawberry, Honeoye is known for its firm, large berries that have excellent texture. Honeoye is a versatile berry that will make a home nearly anywhere.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds carries Honeoye Strawberry Plants as a bare-root plant.
Growing strawberries in your garden is easy, but for the sweetest berries, you’ll want to cultivate ideal growing conditions. Start with quality seeds or plants from your local nursery, and choose a well-draining planting site that receives full sun. Put in a little extra effort to amend strawberry beds with compost before planting, and you’re sure to have the best-tasting strawberries you’ve had yet!
Black, Bruce. “Summer is prime time for growing sweet strawberries.” Illinois Extension, 12 June 2020, https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/raise-grow-harvest-eat-repeat/2020-06-12-summer-prime-time-growing-sweet-strawberries