We recently bought some strawberry plants, but we noticed it’s taking some time for them to fruit. While there’s some information out there, I couldn’t find an answer. So, I did some more research. Here’s what I found.
Strawberry plants won’t fruit due to improper age, sunlight, watering, nutrients, pollination, or pests and diseases. For best results, allow 60-90 days for them to grow and only water when the soil is dry. Provide 6-8 hours of daily sunlight, compost or fertilizer, pollination, and monitor for pests and diseases.
So, while strawberry plants won’t fruit for several reasons, how can we tell which issue is causing it, and from there—how can we fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
Generally, it takes about 60-90 days for strawberry plants to start producing fruit after they have bloomed. However, this timeline can vary depending on the variety and age of your plants.
Most strawberry plants don’t produce a significant amount of fruit in their first year. They’re busy establishing their root systems and growing, so they’re focusing more on survival than fruiting. It’s during the second and third years that you’ll start seeing more fruiting.
The good news is some varieties of strawberries fruit more quickly than others. Here are a few of the fastest fruiting varieties I’ve come across:
- Ever-bearing strawberries: These strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season, usually starting around 3-4 months after planting. Some popular ever-bearing varieties include “Albion,” “Mara des Bois,” and “Seascape” (the variety I’m growing).
- Day-neutral strawberries: Similar to ever-bearing strawberries, day-neutral plants will also produce fruit throughout the growing season. The main difference is that day-neutral strawberries aren’t as influenced by day length, so they’ll continue to fruit even when daylight hours shorten. Some favorite day-neutral varieties include ‘Tribute,’ ‘Tristar,’ and ‘Fern.’
Tips to Speed Up Fruiting
If you’d like, I have a few tips that can help you speed up the fruiting process:
- Choose the right variety: As mentioned earlier, some strawberry varieties fruit more quickly than others. Make sure to choose an ever-bearing or day-neutral variety if you’re looking for faster fruiting.
- Plant in full sun: Strawberries need plenty of sunlight to produce fruit. Make sure to plant your strawberries in an area that gets at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Amend your soil: Strawberries love well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter. Before planting, make sure to amend your soil with compost or aged manure to give your plants a nutrient-rich environment to grow in.
- Pinch off the first flowers: I know it’s hard to remove those first blossoms, but trust me, it’s worth it. Pinching off the first flowers on your newly planted strawberries will encourage the plants to put more energy into root development, which will ultimately lead to more fruit production in the long run.
- Fertilize appropriately: Providing your strawberry plants with the right nutrients will encourage better fruit production. Use a balanced organic fertilizer, and follow the recommended application rates to avoid over-fertilizing.
In the rest of this post, we’ll cover more about these tips and how to use them to get more strawberries (and faster).
2. Lack of Sunlight
Strawberry plants love basking in the sun and need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day to produce fruit. This is because sunlight plays a crucial role in photosynthesis, which is how plants produce energy to grow and ultimately develop fruit.
Tips to Get More Sunlight
If you’re struggling to provide your strawberry plants with enough sunlight, try these tips to maximize their exposure:
- Plant facing south: In the Northern Hemisphere, planting your strawberries on a south-facing slope or against a south-facing wall can help maximize their sunlight exposure. This ensures that they get the most sunlight throughout the day, which is essential for fruit production.
- Space your plants properly: Overcrowding your strawberry plants can lead to competition for sunlight, water, and nutrients. Make sure to space your plants according to the recommendations for your specific variety (usually around 12-18 inches apart) to give them ample room to grow and catch those rays.
- Prune and thin out: If you have larger plants or trees casting shade on your strawberries, consider pruning or thinning them out to allow more sunlight to reach your berry plants. Just make sure not to overdo it, as some shade can be beneficial during hot summer days.
- Use reflective mulch: Reflective mulch can help bounce sunlight onto your strawberry plants, especially in areas where sunlight might be limited. Silver or white plastic mulch can be placed around your plants to increase the amount of light they receive.
- Grow in containers: If your garden area doesn’t provide enough sunlight, consider growing your strawberries in containers. This way, you can move them around to sunnier spots as needed or even bring them indoors during the colder months.
But what if your strawberry plants are getting 6-8 hours of daily sunlight? What could be the issue then?
3. Improper Watering
Watering is always a balance between not over-watering or under-watering. It’s honestly pretty tricky and can lead to a lack of fruit, but there are some tips to water just the right amount. Here are my best 2:
- Finger Test: The best way to water your strawberry plants is to water only when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry. I check this by pushing my finger into the soil. By doing so, you’re preventing both under and over-watering, which can be harmful to your plants.
- Apply compost and mulch: Applying compost and mulch under your strawberry plants’ canopy can work wonders for your soil and water retention. Compost significantly provides valuable nutrients, amends soil, and greatly retains water.
For best results, apply 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months and 4-12 inches of mulch every 3-6 months. Keep both materials at least 3 inches away from the plant to prevent moisture buildup and mold.
The goal is to have soil moisture similar to a wrung-out sponge.
It’s not common to think of soil when watering, but if you can make it soak up and retain water like a sponge, then your job is much, much easier.
For example, every 1% increase in the soil’s organic matter leads to an additional 20,000 gallons of water held per acre.
Combine this with mulch, and you’ve dramatically reduced evaporation, regulated soil temperature, and prevented soil erosion.
Some types of mulch you can use are leaves, wood chips, or straw. As permaculture guru Geoff Lawton says, “A forest grows on a fallen forest.”
Just like under-watering, over-watering your strawberry plants can lead to issues such as yellow leaves and a lack of fruit production. But, I have some tips to help you avoid over-watering and ensure your strawberries have the right amount of moisture they need to grow and fruit.
- Check the soil: Similar to under-watering, the best way to water your strawberry plants is to only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry. This will help prevent over-watering and ensure your plants receive the right amount of moisture.
- Monitor drainage: While over-watering is possible by watering too frequently, it is most often caused by poor drainage. The best way to tell if your soil is well-draining is by doing a percolation test.
To perform a percolation test, follow these steps:
- Dig a 12-inch by 12-inch hole.
- Place a yardstick in it and fill it with water.
- Measure the drainage over 1 hour.
Good soil drainage is around 2 inches of drainage per hour. Any more, and the soil is draining too fast; any less, and it’s draining poorly. Don’t worry if yours is way off—this is a guideline and not a rule. We have some areas with soil drainage of 5 inches per hour, and plants still grow well.
Improving Soil Drainage
- For soil draining too quickly (over 2 inches per hour): Increase its richness with compost and mulch. This encourages more organic matter and soil life (which holds more moisture). It also reduces the soil’s water content from evaporating.
- For soil draining too slowly (under 2 inches per hour): You’ll also want to increase its richness. This is because the organic matter in the soil not only retains water but breaks up the larger clumps of soil—allowing for ideal drainage. However, avoid mulching your strawberry plants, as it can trap moisture, preventing evaporation.
If you find that your soil is poorly draining, hold off on applying mulch. While mulch is incredibly helpful in the garden, it can make poorly draining soil worse by preventing evaporation.
4. Lack of Nutrients
|Nutrient Deficiency||Leaf Symptom|
|Nitrogen||Entire leaf is pale or yellow|
|Iron||Dark green veins, rest of the leaf is yellowing|
|Manganese||Broadly pale leaves, foliage color looks mottled or smeared|
While different deficiencies have different symptoms (shown in the table above), a balanced fertilizer or compost contains sufficient primary and secondary nutrients for strawberry plants.
Strawberry plants that have imbalanced nutrients often get deficiencies—which leads to issues in growth. These deficiencies are also often caused by outside factors such as poor soils, leaching, and other conditions such as improper pH.
For example, nutrient leaching occurs when the soil’s nutrients seep too far down, out of reach of the plant’s roots (beyond about 6-12 inches). This normally happens when soils have too much drainage or are over-watered. Sandy soils in particular are notorious for their excess drainage and leaching quality.
An easy way to prevent leaching is by using compost and mulch to retain the nutrients in the soil for longer.
But what happens if you need to use fertilizer to address your strawberry plant’s nutrient deficiencies?
The Best Way To Fertilize Strawberry Plants
(Pictured above – the fertilizer I use and recommend for strawberry plants).
The two main ways to fertilize your strawberry plants are with fertilizer or compost. If you choose a store-bought fertilizer, aim for a fairly balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). For compost, choose one with the highest quality and freshness if possible.
Keep in mind there’s a difference between organic fertilizer and chemical fertilizer. Organic fertilizers are typically made from animal or plant matter and are great for the soil.
On the other hand, while chemical fertilizers have nutrients in quantity, they typically don’t have quality nutrients.
Even though chemical fertilizers might be sufficient over the short term, over the long term they often short-circuit the nutrient exchange between the plant and its beneficial soil life (such as mycorrhizal fungi). This leads to dry and dead soil (AKA dirt) and overall decreased plant health.
Mycorrhizal fungi promote many aspects of plant life, in particular improved nutrition, better growth, stress tolerance, and disease resistance.Department of Biology, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Alternatively, compost provides more than sufficient nutrients, increases water retention, and promotes healthy soils. Many gardeners are even finding that compost is replacing their fertilizers. When selecting compost, choose one of quality and freshness as its beneficial soil life and bacteria will still be alive.
Either route you take—you can see my recommendations for both compost and fertilizer on my recommend fertilizer page.
While nutrients are important, they’re nearly useless if the soil does not have a proper pH. This is because a slightly acidic pH is necessary to dissolve the nutrient solids in the soil and make them accessible for the plant’s finer roots.
Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.Donald Bickelhaupt, Instructional Support Specialist, Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management
Strawberry plants prefer a soil pH of 5.3 to 6.5.
Two good ways to check your soil’s pH are either by using a pH strip or a pH meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re affordable and easy to use. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, check out my recommended tools page.
If you find that your strawberry plant’s soil is too alkaline (above 6.5) you can add acidic amendments such as coffee grounds, sand, and peat moss. On the other hand, if your strawberry plant’s soil is too acidic (below 5.3), add alkaline materials such as wood ash, charcoal, or lime.
Additionally, cold and/or wet soils are not good for nutrient uptake as the strawberry plant will either be dormant during the cold or too stressed in wet soils.
5. Improper Pollination
Strawberry plants are self-fertile, which means they have both male and female reproductive organs in the same flower.
However, they still rely on pollinators like bees, butterflies, and even the wind to transfer pollen from the male part (stamen) to the female part (pistil) of the flower. This transfer of pollen is essential for the fertilization process, which ultimately leads to the development of fruit.
Tips to Encourage Proper Pollination
If you suspect that your strawberry plants aren’t getting pollinated properly, try these tips to give them a helping hand:
- Attract pollinators: Planting a variety of flowering plants in your garden that bloom at different times can help attract a diverse range of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds. Choose native plants that are adapted to your local environment and provide food and shelter for pollinators.
- Avoid pesticides: Many chemical pesticides can be harmful to pollinators, so it’s best to avoid using them in your garden. Instead, opt for organic pest control methods like introducing beneficial insects or using natural repellents.
- Create a bee-friendly habitat: Providing a safe and welcoming environment for bees is crucial for pollination. Provide a water source for bees, such as a shallow dish with rocks for them to land on, and avoid using harmful chemicals in your garden.
- Hand-pollination: If you’re still having trouble with pollination, you can try hand-pollinating your strawberry plants. Using a small paintbrush or cotton swab, gently transfer pollen from the stamen of one flower to the pistil of another. Repeat this process for several flowers to increase the chances of successful pollination.
6. Pests and Diseases
Common Pests and Diseases in Strawberries
- Aphids: These tiny insects can cause damage by sucking sap from your strawberry plants, leading to curled and distorted leaves, as well as the transmission of viruses. Spraying, neem oil, or releasing ladybugs (a natural predator of aphids) are great deterrents. Water usually works for me.
- Spider mites: Similar to aphids, spider mites suck sap from your plants, causing leaves to become speckled and discolored. Use the same treatment methods as aphids.
- Slugs and snails: These slimy critters love to munch on your strawberry leaves and fruit, causing unsightly damage and reducing your harvest. To deter slugs and snails, plant companion plants such as sage and lavender.
- Verticillium wilt: This soil-borne fungal disease can cause wilting, yellowing, and eventual death of your strawberry plants. To manage and treat, avoid over-watering.
- Powdery mildew: This fungus appears as a white, powdery substance on the leaves and can lead to defoliation and reduced fruit production. Promote appropriate airflow and sunlight to deter and prevent mold buildup.
Tips for Preventing and Managing Pests and Diseases
- Practice good garden hygiene: Keep your garden free of debris and fallen leaves, which can harbor pests and diseases. Regularly inspect your plants for signs of infestation or illness and remove any affected plant material promptly.
- Encourage beneficial insects: Introduce natural predators like ladybugs and lacewings to your garden to help control pest populations. Planting a variety of flowering plants can also attract these helpful insects. Dill in particular works well.
- Use organic pest control methods: Opt for non-toxic pest control methods like diatomaceous earth, neem oil, or insecticidal soap to manage pest populations without harming beneficial insects.
- Rotate crops: Rotating your strawberry plants with other crops can help prevent the buildup of soil-borne diseases like verticillium wilt.
- Improve air circulation: Proper spacing of your strawberry plants and regular pruning can improve air circulation, reducing the risk of fungal diseases like powdery mildew.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. See your local services.
- 7 Easy Steps to Grow Fruit Trees (Free Guide): Need more fruit tree help from the ground up? See our free guide to make growing fruit trees a breeze.
- Ask the Free Community: Join The Couch to Homestead Community and connect with other members discussing gardening, homesteading, and permaculture.
- 30-Day Permaculture Food Forest Course: Learn how to turn your backyard into a thriving food forest in just 30 days with our online course.