Growing Florida Strawberries in Containers: The Pro Edition

Growing Florida Strawberries in Containers: The Pro Edition
By Marissa

We know that when it comes to gardening in Florida, so many people are gardening in very small spaces, like balconies, patios, or tiny yards. We like to call this urban farming!

Container gardening makes growing food easier in so many ways, but in other aspects growing in containers presents its own challenges. In my opinion, the challenges are easy to overcome, and the benefits far outweigh the extra little things you have to plan for to be successful at growing food in containers. If you know how to approach it right, containers can make some things possible to grow at home that you haven’t before.

Growing these tasty berries can be possible wherever you have space and 8 hours of sunshine! Actually, many of these tips can be used to grow any food or edible plants in containers too. We talked with Rob Clemons from Bob’s Berries in Riverview for some extra great info from an all-natural organic berry farmer so that you have the best foot forward to get your own berries at home.

A Little About Strawberries

In our previous strawberry article, we talked about how to prep and plant delicious strawberries in the Florida climate – complete with a few extra tips and tricks from our own gardens. Much of what we have to talk about here is the same, but tweaked for container life.

Strawberries are hardy little plants. The plant itself is an herb, and the berries are fruit, of course. Strawberries are the only fruit that have seeds on the outside of the skin!

Why Plant in Fall?

As you know, temperatures during the Spring and Summer in Florida are REALLY warm. Strawberry plants are prone to heat intolerance – they just don’t handle the stifling 90+ degree days that we have during that time very well. They wilt from the water evaporation out of the soil, and the leaves burn from the sun. That’s no way to treat a friend, right?

Fall is the answer. The weather is still warm for the planting phase when roots and leaves are developing. Declining temperatures as the Fall season cools off keep them from burning, and pests are less active. It’s the perfect time of year for your plants to treat you with delicious fruit..

Why Plant in Containers?

Container growing has several advantages to make homegrown strawberries and fruits possible:

  • Less weeds to pull – plus you can easily cover the soil to keep weeds out.
  • Less pests to deal with.
  • You can monitor their sun exposure and easily move them if they get too much, or too little. It’s so much simpler to pick up and move a pot than your whole garden!
  • You completely control their root ecosystem: soil, water and food – all the things that they require to live and thrive.
  • You can move the plants when a freeze is predicted to protect them from freeze damage, too. There is a blog article in our archives about protecting from a freeze here.
  • Native soils can carry diseases and/or organisms that cause damage to the plants, so containers with new soil protect them from these problems.

On the other hand, there can also be challenges to overcome:

  • Containers tend to drain faster than the ground, so you may need to water more often.
  • Containers cannot dissipate heat as well as the ground, so the roots get hotter than plants in the ground, especially if the container attracts and holds heat (like concrete). The same goes for cold temperatures, too.
  • In general, container plants need more food than plants in the ground, so ensuring that they keep producing will require a little more maintenance than ground beds.
  • Native soils can carry beneficial microbes that help the plant take in nutrients more efficiently, which the soil in containers won’t have (unless you add them!).

To container plant or not to container plant? Really, it’s up to you. What’s that old saying? You don’t know until you try it.

What could be a container for a strawberry plant?

There are LOTS of kinds of containers out there, for sure. There are so many varieties I’ve seen work just fine, so it comes up to your choice:

Much of your decision on container type depends on what you want to do with your plants. Consider things like how many plants you are growing, where they will be growing, and if you know you need to move them, how big they can be to be able to lift them when they are filled with wet dirt.

Of course, some containers, like the “gutter growers” shown are meant to be set up like long racks of plants and left in place. The berries cascade over the sides, making growing virtually weed-free and picking really easy. This is how Rob Clemons of Bob’s Berries does his U-Pick strawberry area, and he has great success with the system that he has built – all chemical and pesticide free! It’s so exciting to see his farm, I highly recommend a visit for strawberry or blueberry picking! His strawberries are so delicious we were hungry for all his tips and hints for growing the best fruit, including and beyond container tips.

How many should I plant in my container?

You will want to make sure you don’t overcrowd your strawberries. In an Earthbox, for example, it is recommended to grow only 6 plants in that space so that the root balls can extend enough to get all the nutrition they need to grow flowers and eventually fruit. I would recommend that if you have a 1 gallon pot, for example, you only grow a maximum of 1 plant in that pot, maybe 2 if you feed them enough. An Earthbox holds close to 2.5 cubic feet of soil, which is more than plenty for 6 plants.

Strawberry jars with gaps on the sides make it easy – plant one plant per gap in the side and two in the top.

If you have questions about how many to plant in a pot you already have, reach out to us, we’ll be happy to answer your questions so that you’re set up for strawberry success.

What kind of soil should I use in my containers?

We asked Rob from Bob’s Berries a few questions about how he plants his strawberries:

“Drainage is the most important factor in strawberry growing in general. It is important that they are well watered and that water doesn’t sit around at the root zone. They are very susceptible to root rot.”

When I inspected his growing medium I saw that pine bark made up a lot of it, so I think that’s a good tip too! Pine bark provides good drainage, and it breaks down fast to provide a growing medium to anchor roots to as well.

How do I feed and water my strawberries in containers?

Because most containers are watered from the top, and the water flows down and out of the drainage holes, fertilizer in the soil tends to deplete quickly. You have several options for fertilizing your strawberries. These tips are based on a 1 gallon pot, so adjust the amounts for larger containers:

  • Mix some in the soil at planting time – I recommend a small handful or trowel-full of slow-release fertilizer for mixing into the soil, so that your plants have some sustained food available through most of the initial growth and development stage.
  • Mix a palmful into the top inch or two of soil when the plant starts to flower.
  • Mix a palmful into the top inch or two of soil when the plant starts to fruit.

Your plant will probably go through several cycles of flowering and fruiting, make sure they are fed well during these times like the above steps for great sweet strawberries throughout the season.

Rob shared the following tips about feeding as well:

“Initially it is important to feed plenty of nitrogen and phosphorus to help it grow nice green foliage and strong roots” (Tiger Bloom from FoxFarm has this high phosphorus NPK profile and can be really helpful!). Then you want to go to a fertilizer with high potassium like a liquid kelp to aid in flower and fruit production. Many growers stray away from nitrogen during fruit production because it makes the berries soft and not well suited for packing and shipping but if you’re not doing anything like that, it’s totally fine to continue feeding low doses of nitrogen throughout. Micro nutrients are also very important and will increase mineral density and thus make the fruit sweeter.”

If you are working with the Earthbox, it has its own planting guide. It’s a sub-irrigation grower, which means it’s watered from the bottom and has its own set of rules. We recommend Shell’s Strawberry Fertilizer for Earthbox planting. We love Earthboxes, and if you ever want to know anything about them, just ask. And keep a look out for the Earthbox class we’ll have in the Spring and the Fall (the one for this year already happened – and it was great fun!).

How do I keep pests away?

We asked Rob for his regimen, since his berry garden is all-natural. He advised:

“Aphids, army worms, and crown borers are voracious and detrimental to the health of young plants. For that reason it’s a good idea to use a broad spectrum pesticide on a regular basis until they are well established. We like to alternate neem oil and BT to keep these issues at bay throughout the first month of planting.”

If you’re wanting to see more from Bob’s Berries, check out their website. He wanted our readers to know:

“We are an all chemical and pesticide free farm using only natural products and organic fertilizers. We hope to begin harvesting strawberries around January and through the use of shade cloth, continue harvesting until end of April. At that point blueberry season will be upon us which will last until end of May.”

Any extra tips?

Sure, there’s lots. Definitely more than we can print here. But we’re always happy to answer questions if you have them.

We have a Strawberry growers guide available at the store, and for those of you who ordered your plug plants from us you’ll get a guide when you pick up your order. If you didn’t order from us, well, I’m sure we can still find one for you.

Also, I think you should know that most of the time, your very first berries from your new plants will be a bit deformed. That is totally normal. They’re called “monkey-face” berries because often they look like little chimpanzee faces. Not always of course. You might see a totally different animal…or maybe your sibling…when you look at your berries. They’re still tasty, though, so enjoy them despite their looks!

 

Have fun with gardening – the rewards are so very sweet!

Thanks,

Marissa

Marissa – Writer for Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply

I’m an over-educated, passionate, gardening and pet enthusiast, and I have found the perfect job! My writing is based on my studies in Biology and Health, and my experiences from gardening with my family as a child. 

The great thing about gardening is that it is a life-long learning process. The many blunders and successes of my own gardening projects over the years have been invaluable to me.  The late, great, J.C. Raulston once said, “If you’re not killing plants, you’re not stretching yourself as a gardener.” Learn by doing, gain knowledge from the failures, but more importantly, relish the successes, (because they’re delicious!)  Thanks for reading!

Special thank you to Abby’s Farms, where the photo on the left was taken. Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply sponsors the chickens and chicken coops there. Visit their website here.

 

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