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.

 

Back to School Fall Project: Simple Container Planting

Back to School Fall Project: Simple Container Planting
By Marissa

It’s back-to-school time, so that means it’s back to the crazy school schedule. Finding a little time to give your patio or front door area a little curb appeal might be a little tough with all of the demands that school season has on our time. I wanted to give you some easy ideas to get you excited about some great combinations that can have a dual purpose – making your containers less of a chore, more useful, and more fun! 

Container Crash-Course

Constructing containers has evolved from a place to stuff a bunch of flowers to an art form in only a few decades. You don’t need to be an artist to make great containers – most of them follow a similar pattern! Most containers have a few different shapes in them: an upright, a broad, and a trailing plant. Upright shape is a plant that grows mainly vertical, like ornamental grasses. A broad shape is something that grows upwards a little but then grows outward as well. Trailing shapes are, you guessed it, plants that spill over the sides of a container like a waterfall. Most containers can be made by mixing and matching plants to fill each of these elements, though of course you don’t have to, either.

All of this sounds dreadfully technical and specific, but I promise it’s not that hard. It’s actually easy to make a container that is pretty as well as functional! Read on to see what I mean.

Fall Container Idea #1: Insect-repelling Container

Your pretty planters in your hangout space can be more than just a pop of color – they can earn their keep by helping to keep pesky biting insects away too. Three great container plants you can use to give you color and insect protection are Lavender (upright shape), Geraniums (broad shape, but some varieties do trail a bit), and Marigolds (also broad).

Each of these flowers grow well in the milder fall (and spring) weather here in Florida, and the coming days of cooler temperatures really help them last a long time – keep them dead-headed and they’ll bloom past Thanksgiving! Plus, you can use the lavender as potpourri in the house or to make crafts like soaps and teas.

The color palette for these containers really speak of fall – mix and match geraniums in red, scarlet, or orange to compliment the red, orange, or yellow of the marigolds. The Lavender will have the silvery stems and foliage to really pop in the middle of that arrangement and the purple flower heads compliment the other flowers as well.

Fall Container Idea #2: Garnish Garden

Some of my favorite container gardens are full of herbs. Among my favorites, some of the best fall flavors in the herb family are Rosemary, Mint, and Parsley. They have so many uses and taste amazing – and these herbs work overtime as garnishes to give that touch of finesse to any of your holiday party dishes.

Rosemary is an evergreen that has an upright habit, so it would be planted in the middle. Parsley can also grow quite tall, but it also tends to spread out – and if you’re using it in comfort foods like soups, stews, or even just your morning eggs, you’ll be snipping it back pretty regularly so it won’t get so “leggy”. There are many varieties of mint, but most of them will trail out and down the sides (and will root in the ground and spread if you’re not careful, so use up that mint as it grows!)

The contrast of the pine-like rosemary foliage with the fan-leaf or crinkle-leaf parsley is super eye-catching. Add the light greens and soft texture of the mint family and you can really make this all-green arrangement shine. The container can be as simple or fun as you want by mixing in however many different flavors, colors, and textures of the leafy herbs as you’d like.

I like to take some fun whimsical things, like fairies or gnomes, and place them in and amongst the greenery…they stare at me until I trim their garden and use it in my cooking!

Fall Container Idea #3: Cabbage Kingdom

Cabbages are so much more versatile than most people give them credit for – usually coleslaw is the first thing that comes to mind, or the traditional Irish corned beef & cabbage. But did you know that there is such thing as ornamental cabbages? Yep, they come in all kinds of colors, and they are really hardy, often lasting through Winter until the Florida weather gets too hot.

Of course, edible Cabbages are beautiful too – they have greenish-silver leaves, or bright purple leaves, which works really well for fall. Combine with another plant in the same family as Cabbage, Kale, and you can really make a great textural planter with lots of color. If you don’t like Kale, that’s ok, there are nearly endless leafy options to suit your taste. Maybe you can use the smaller plant like Spinach, or Bok Choi to give you a nice green broad shape and rich color. For your tall plant that also can have a trailing habit, and also has LOTS of color, throw one or two complimentary types of coleus in there.

You can get super creative here – my Plant-o-gram will get you started with the basics, but you’ll likely want to experiment to see what’s perfect for you.

You Have Permission to Play

The most important thing to know about container gardening is this: If something isn’t working, or it doesn’t look right to you – YOU CAN CHANGE IT. You can move plants to another container, or remove them altogether. Containers are miniature gardens that we get to play in to find what works for us. I’m happy to start you off with some plant-o-grams but encourage you to explore beyond them to find the perfect combinations for you and your family.

They Will Need Nutrients

Container plants have much less soil to pull from than your traditional garden, so you have to feed them fertilizer a little more than you would a tree or a bush in the ground. Follow instructions on the fertilizer you choose, and we hope you choose the Shell’s-branded formulations, because we worked really hard to make those to work best specifically for Florida gardens and conditions…even container gardens. Call us or stop in for more information!

I personally love container gardening (it’s most of the gardening I do), and when I’m not working I’m usually out on the porch playing with my plants. They’re the best way to play with what you love and want more of at home, and are a fun way to make a pretty statement that helps out around the house, too.

Thanks for reading!

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.

 

Easy Eating: Top Container Garden Recipes

Top Container Garden Recipes

By Marissa

Container gardens can be an amazing substitute for not having lots of property to farm. Many folks who live in apartments or those who don’t necessarily want to till the soil in their yard or build a large raised bed can still eat garden fresh food from a container garden.

All of the containers below have a few things in common:
1. They need about 8 hours a day of sunshine.
2. They will need daily watering, good drainage, and a tray reservoir underneath the container to hold extra water for the plant to drink in the heat of the day. The soil community you are building is dynamic and deeply intertwined, and water powers all of it!
3. They require LARGE containers. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers have pretty extensive root systems, and thus need more soil to keep them upright and also properly nourished.
4. The plants will require a support system to keep the climbing plants upright. Use cages for tomatoes, stakes for peppers, trellis for cucumbers.

Salsa Garden

Let’s start with one of my favorites, the Salsa Garden. In one container you can grow almost all of the ingredients you’ll need for a great salsa. In Florida, we don’t get to grow garlic because it’s too hot (I don’t know about you, but I like garlic in my salsa), and onions really grow best when planted in our Winter growing season, when the other main salsa ingredients don’t grow very well. Sad, but true. However, you could try to grow green onions for that garlicky/oniony flavor in a separate protected area and see if they’re a replacement that works for you.

As you can see in the Plant-o-gram, the tomato plant is kind of isolated on one side of the container. This is because the tomato has the largest root system, so giving it some space is important. The shade of the tomato and peppers will help the cilantro and parsley cope with the heat of the Florida summer. This will help keep it from bolting so quickly. The key will be to harvest as much of these herbs as you can before they bolt, and either dry them or find another way to store them until you use them in your salsa and other cooking.

Side note: If you decide to do a Salsa Verde garden, you’ll need 2 tomatillo plants. Eliminate the tomato and red bell pepper and replace with tomatillos so that they will pollinate properly and give you fruit.

The 3 Sisters

This plant-o-gram was begun by our ancient Native American cultures. They found that these three plants when planted together were all mutually beneficial to each other. 1) Corn supports the bean vines as they grow towards the sun; 2) beans pull nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil for use by all three sisters, and also hold the garden together as they intertwine; and 3) the squash’s leaves provide a natural mulch, shading the ground and helping to prevent weeds, and also keeping the raccoons at bay with their prickly bristles. The 3 Sisters container is the only one that doesn’t need to have any additional support structures added, and with the relationship of the three plants, they will all support each other physically and nutritionally. Give it a try!

Please Note: Your corn, in order to produce ears, will need to be hand-pollinated. Here is a great guide to hand-pollinating corn. If the pollination doesn’t occur this way, most likely you will not get any corn from your plant, but you will still have a nice corn-stalk support for your beans and a pretty plant to look at.

Salad Mix

This Salad Mix is as utilitarian as it is delicious. The sun-loving cucumbers, which would need to be grown on a hoop trellis or a teepee structure, help shade the lettuce growing underneath it (lettuce is a cool weather crop). I recommend leaf lettuces for this container, or small head lettuce like buttercrunch because larger iceberg and romaine won’t have enough room to grow in a container like this. Radishes, which produce an odor which discourages pests, are very quick to produce their tasty roots, so you can plant and harvest multiple radish crops, while the cucumbers are still flowering and producing fruit. Leaf lettuce can be harvested from the outside leaves in towards the center (crown), just don’t cut off too many leaves at once or the plant won’t be able to generate enough energy to continue growing (I leave at least the first 3 rows of leaves from the center on at all times, or leave 6 fully developed leaves total minimum). Of course, if you’re growing head lettuce, it should be harvested all at once.

Here’s a couple of additional tips:

• Containers don’t have the benefit of an entire open soil base ecosystem to grow in, so you will have to supplement the plants with more nutrients than if they were growing in the ground. You can do this with a slow-release fertilizer so you don’t have to apply as often, or if using organic methods, apply organic fertilizer at planting, when the plants start flowering, and again when they start to produce fruit. Also, a compost tea applied when watering is a great supplement to organic soil amendments placed when planting.
• Monitor your containers for pests on a constant basis, so if there is a problem you can catch it early before it spreads to the rest of the container.

Other Growing and Container Options

If where you live just doesn’t have the right conditions to grow these containers, fear not: you can easily get involved in a community garden (we have several here in Tampa!) and grow a plot there with the same plans…maybe even expand them a bit! Here are some of them for your reference – we LOVE community gardens!

Abby’s Organic Community Farm – Shell’s Feed has been a sponsor of Abby’s farm project for several years, including providing chickens and chicken supplies
Temple Terrace Community Garden – with several garden plot locations now, this community is thriving and growing (pun intended!)
Seminole Heights Community Garden – a long-standing garden in the awesome community of Seminole Heights
Tampa Heights Community Garden – a great community project
University Area Harvest Hope Center – this project is just getting started! See how you can help.
VISTA Gardens – this is a joint venture between Carrollwood residents and Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation
Sustainable Living Project – Not exactly a community garden, but this is a project in conjunction with Tampa Bay Harvest that utilizes community volunteerism to grow good fresh food for people in need. It is a great place to LEARN about gardening and sustainability while donating time and effort to a good cause.

Did I miss a local community garden? Leave a comment or message us on Facebook!
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.

 

Container Prep for Fall Planting & Infographic

It’s nearly fall, and in Florida that means it’s about time for the bonus round – an extra growing season that our northern neighbors don’t get.  With few exceptions, we really can grow food year-round!  And many of us grow container crops.   So many things grow really well in containers that in a limited-space urban setting like Tampa, planting this way just makes sense for many gardeners.

Here’s a helpful infographic I put together today to prep for Fall Container Gardening.

As always, if you need help, advice on what to plant, or supplies for this project, feel free to stop in, ask a question in the comments below, and/or contact us.

Container Gardening Preparation

container gardening preparation

Let me know what you think about the infographic – is it helpful? Would you like another one for something else? I’m all ears!  And, they’re kinda fun to make.  🙂

Thanks,

Marissa, Director of Communications

Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply, Inc.