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Dreams of endless home-grown strawberries....versus reality...
Member Name: worst_trip
Advantages: It's very easy to grow and propagate strawberries as foliage plants, at least
Disadvantages: Actual garden-grown strawberry return may not meet expectations...
Strawberry plants are quite fun to have as a novelty in the garden, but they take up relatively much space and grown outdoors, have a fairly short fruiting season, so although they might grow enough strawberries to have several helpings through the summer, it's unlikely that a person would end up being 'self-sufficient' in home-grown fruit.
Strawberry plants are low-growing and leafy, each plant standing less than a foot high. The foliage is quite dark green, with toothed leaves bearing deep grooves on the surface that are surprisingly rough to the touch. While strawberries aren't the type of plant that produces irritant hairs that stick to your skin, although there are people who are allergic to eating strawberries, and I suspect that if such sensitized people came into contact with the leaves they would also suffer an adverse reaction. The plants stop growing in winter, and there is some die-back of the leaves, but in general they seem to be frost-tolerant. The plants readily self-propagating by means of long, arching runners that grow out from the parent plants, which means that once established, a single strawberry will set about establishing itself at the centre of a ever-spreading-outwards strawberry bed, for at the end of each runner is a miniature strawberry plant complete with embryonic root system, just waiting to come into contact with moist soil to begin rooting as a new plant that will, eventually detach from the original and grow alongside.
Strawberries, being members of the rose family produce distinctive five-petalled 'rose-family' type flowers, white petalled with a yellow cone-shaped centre shaped like a miniature strawberry. In cultivated strawberries the flowers are fairly abundant and though attractive, especially against the green of the foliage, they are short-lived and the plant doesn't tend to be grow as an ornamental. From the centre of the flower arises the so-called berry - actually what's known as a 'drupe' in botanical terms, as the fleshy strawberry part everyone likes to eat isn't, technically a fruit. Cultivated strawberries at least are slightly unusual in that flowers continue to be produced while earlier fruits grow larger and ripen, which means that on any given plant in summer, there will flowers, green fruit and red ripe strawberries all at the same time.
The plants can be grown directly in fertile ground or, notionally, in upright ceramic 'strawberry planters' - although it has to be said that these planters tend to be more useful aesthetically than in terms of the fruit they produce. Strawberries need to be grown in moist, heavy soil for the fruit to develop well (it it's too dry, the leaves will grow happily but there will be little return of fruit) and in these terracotta 'strawberry towers' it's difficult to water the plants properly.
While the foliage part of the plant tends to be generally trouble-free, slugs, snails, garden birds and other wildlife, including hedgehogs, badgers and even foxes all like to eat the fruit. And of course, if they come into contact with bare soil, the extremely juicy, soft fruit are in danger of beginning to decay: in large strawberry-growing operations it's usually to spread dry straw round the base of the plants to prevent this (hence the plant's common name). Commercial strawberry growers are increasingly moving towards cultivating the fruit in grow-bag type arrangements, often elevated up to human waist-height and with drip-feed irrigation pipes, to make harvesting more easy; picking strawberries grown in the ground requires a lot of hunkering down to soil-level which can do peoples' backs in....
The earliest outdoor-grown strawberries in Britain tend to be ready around midsummer in a good year; if the weather's been too wet or there hasn't been enough sun, the berries often don't ripen till after the end of June. July and August are good strawberry-picking months, though by mid to the end of August the fruit supply is generally in decline. (Of course, at pick-your-own places, the management have all sorts of techniques for artificially extending the fruiting season).
Strawberries are easy to grow, individual potted plants are inexpensive (perhaps one or two quid from a garden centre) and it's fun to have some in the garden. You might even get a few ripe strawberries to eat as an added bonus, too!
Summary: Fun soft fruit to have in the garden
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