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Jessica Walliser

Plan now for spring strawberry project

Jessica Walliser
| Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, 8:21 p.m.
Strawberries can be grown in small spaces, including hanging baskets.
Jessica Walliser
Strawberries can be grown in small spaces, including hanging baskets.

While many gardeners enjoy browsing seed catalogs and planning the vegetable garden throughout the winter, there's another project you can begin to plan now. Doing so will mean that when spring arrives, you'll be ready to get planting as soon as the weather warms.

What's the project, you ask? Growing strawberries!

Strawberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow, and thankfully, you don't need a lot of space to do it.

Here are three great ideas for growing strawberries in small spaces.

The easiest way to grow strawberries with limited space is in a hanging basket. These small fruits bear plenty of berries, even in the confines of a hanging basket. Typically, three to five strawberry plants are placed in each 14-inch-wide basket in the early spring.

You can choose plastic, paper pulp or coconut fiber hanging baskets for this task; just be sure to fill them with a high-quality potting soil that contains a slow-release, organic fertilizer. Starter strawberry plants can be purchased from many local nurseries or online. Choosing an ever-bearing type results in a handful of berries every few days all season long, versus a June-bearing type which only produces berries in early summer.

Once the berries are planted, they'll soon come into flower. The ripening berries and any new runners the plant forms will cascade over the edge of the pot. The runners eventually can be clipped off the mother plant and planted in another container for the next year's crop.

Another great way to grow strawberries in small spaces is to plant them in a fabric pot. These lightweight containers can be easily moved but give you a larger area in which to grow your berries. For strawberries, I like to use a 2- to 3-foot-wide, 12- to 15-inch-high fabric pot (available at SmartPots.com). Strawberries do quite well in these wide, shallow containers. Depending on the size of the pot, you can fill it with several dozen ever-bearing plants — spaced 4 to 6 inches apart — and it will provide many berries all summer.

One final way to grow strawberries in small spaces is to build an herb spiral. If you happen to have some old bricks, large rocks or blocks lying around, build a spiral by stacking a single layer of bricks into a loose spiral shape on the ground. Your spiral can be anywhere from 3 feet to 8 feet across. Continue layering bricks on top of each other, but with each new layer, skip the very first brick.

When you reach 10 or 12 bricks high, stop. The center of the spiral should be several feet taller than the outer circle (i.e. the bricks spiral upward toward the center). Fill the spiral with a mixture of garden soil and compost, then plant it with strawberry plants.

No matter which technique you use, you'll need to place the berries where they'll receive at least six to eight hours of full sun per day, and they'll need to be watered several times a week when the weather is warm — daily if it's very hot and dry.

When fall arrives, your strawberry's roots will need extra protection from freezing temperatures. If you grow them in an herb spiral, put a 2-inch-thick layer of straw around the base of the plants. This will be enough to protect the roots.

If your strawberries were growing in a hanging basket, you'll need to “sink” the whole basket, up to its rim, somewhere in the garden or compost pile. This simple practice is enough to insulate the roots. For strawberries grown in a large fabric pot, surround the pot with a few bales of hay for insulation, or drag it to a sheltered site and pile autumn leaves around the base.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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