Harvesting strawberries year round – Orange County Register

Julie Bawden-Davis has been Orange County’s strawberry expert for more years than we can remember.

Her first book, “The Strawberry Story: How To Grow Great Berries in Southern California,” was published in 1993.

Updated and out again, the second edition guides us through a sometimes confusing process of growing these delicious ground-covering plants, every year.

Just think: We can have organic, vine-ripened strawberries in our cereal 12 months out of the year, as Bawden-Davis has made it her mission to figure out how to achieve this for us.

“It’s way easier than you think,” she said.

As you know, Southern California has the perfect conditions for growing strawberries. Mild winters and sandy soils in some places make strawberries the No. 2 cash crop in the county, according to the California Farm Bureau.

But you can’t pluck any old strawberry plant in the ground and expect a year of fruit. Growing a combination of strawberry plants, and using a few tricks of the trade, will give you year-round results.

Types of strawberries

You’ll find four basic types of strawberries in nurseries: June-bearing, everbearers, day-neutral and alpine.

June-bearing: These are also called short-day berries since they begin the flower bud stage the previous summer and fall and bear all at once in May and June. Types to look for are Camarosa, Chandler, Gaviota, Palomar and Sequoia.

Everbearers: These berries provide fruit twice a year, in spring and fall. Types to look for are Beach/Sand, Pink Panda and Quinault.

Day-neutral: As the name implies, these berries are not affected by day length and produce a steady supply of berries all year long. Types to look for are Albion, Aromas, Monterey, Seascape and Sweet Ann.

Alpines: These high-mountain berries native to Italy provide the sweetest berry of all, although small. Often grown as decorative ground covers that can attract flocks of cedar waxwings. Good size for your cereal.

Choosing healthy plants

It’s a little tricky finding bare-root plants that are dormant in the winter, but potted strawberry plants are readily available in the spring.

Bawden-Davis suggests that if you’re after an organic experience, and if the plants aren’t labeled as such, be sure to rinse the soil for a few minutes to remove chemical fertilizers before you plant them in the garden.

Check the bottom of the pot to be sure the plants are not root-bound before you buy.

Picking the right place

Now plants that fruit or flowers want all the sunshine they can get. But strawberries can get fried in long, hot Southern California summers.

Growing strawberries in pots works because you can move the container to a cool part of the yard during the summer months.

In the ground, plan on providing some sort of half-day shade. Strawberries grown in an east-facing position, for example, can get afternoon shade from a wall or tree in the hottest part of a summer afternoon.


Strawberries prefer a slightly acidic soil, and our native soils lean towards alkaline. Whether in pots or in the ground, a heaping helping of compost and aged manure helps loosen clay soils and bind sandy ones, and also offers a more acidic environment for these plants.

Try mixing in a bag of azalea and camellia mix into the ground before you plant. Look for Laguna Hills Nursery acidic container mix at M & M Nursery and Plant Depot.


Strawberries are heavy feeders. Bawden-Davis recommends a well-balanced organic fertilizer with mycorrhizae and humic acids applied in spring and again in summer.

Care and maintenance

Strawberries love mulch. Davis recommends pine needles in particular because they acidify the soil and discourage slugs and snails. Don’t overwater. Drench the plants only when the top inch of the soil is dry.

Each type of berry you grow needs a different kind of care as the plants mature.

June-bearing: Pinch runners during the fruiting season, but let the runners grow and grab onto the soil in the fall for new plants next year.

Everbearers: Everbearing strawberries set their fruit buds the previous season. If your plants are full of immature fruits in the fall, pinch the runners to prevent spreading while the plant is trying to develop fruit.

Day-neutral: Since sending out runners is hard work for a strawberry plant, you must decide whether you want them to spread at any point in the growing season or bear fruit. Now strawberry plants won’t do both well.

Alpines: If the birds don’t eat all of these deliciously sweet berries, pick as many as you can. The more you pick, the more fruit you’ll get. Alpines spread easily, covering a swath of ground in a season or two.

Julie Bawden-Davis showed us how to make an easy and fast strawberry tower. This is good for growing fruit in small spaces.

You will need:

Three pots in graduated sizes from large to small

A sandy potting mix: one-half potting soil to one-half cactus mix

15-20 strawberry plants

Coffee filter

Build your strawberry tower in a place that it can remain.

Begin by covering the drainage holes with coffee filters so soil won’t wash out of the pot. Fill the largest pot with potting soil to about 4 inches below the rim.

Don’t be shy about stuffing strawberry plants tightly around the rim of the pot. Use as many as will fit. Fill the remaining center space with potting soil, then stack your second pot on top of the first.

Repeat. Fill the second pot to about 4 inches below the rim. Angle strawberry plants to drape over the rim. Pack them tight. Fill the remaining center space with potting soil. Stack a third pot on top of the second pot.

Fill the top pot half-full with potting soil. Fill the pot with upright facing strawberry plants. Fill any remaining holes with potting soil.

Contact the writer: cmcnatt@ocregister.com