The Best Soil for Strawberries of 2021 – Picks from Bob Vila – Bob Vila

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BobVila.com and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Photo: depositphotos.comFew fruits are quite as delectable—and desirable—as strawberries. Fortunately, these summertime favorites are relatively straightforward to grow, whether planted in a garden bed, a strawberry tower, or a container. Still, some home gardeners can’t seem to produce flavorful fruits, or their plants yield only a handful of berries. The secret to a sweeter, more bountiful harvest often starts with optimal soil.Strawberries prefer soil that drains well yet retains a small amount of moisture to keep the roots from drying out. They also thrive in soil that’s rich in nutrients. Ahead, learn what to look for when choosing the best soil for strawberries, and find out why the following products will help ensure maximum production and the tastiest flavor.BEST OVERALL: Espoma AP16 16-Quart Organic Potting MixBEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Miracle-Gro Potting MixBEST HIGH-YIELD: FoxFarm Strawberry Fields Potting SoilBEST MOISTURE RETENTION: Miracle-Gro Expand ’n Gro Concentrated Planting MixBEST NUTRIENTS: Foxfarm pH Adjusted Happy Frog Potting SoilWhat to Consider When Choosing the Best Soil for StrawberriesThere are multiple ways to grow strawberries, but the most common method is to plant them in beds right in the garden. However, the plants won’t reach their potential if the soil doesn’t drain well. Raised beds, strawberry towers, and containers—all are well suited to growing strawberries because they provide better drainage. Plus, the containers can be kept on a porch or patio for quick picking and snacking.Types of StrawberriesWhen selecting strawberry plants to grow at home, the novice gardener may be confused by the wide variety available. These include both heirloom (old cultivars that haven’t been hybridized) and new, cross-pollinated varieties designed to produce intense flavor. Still, strawberries actually come in only three main types.June-bearing: As their name suggests, these strawberries bloom mainly in the month of June, possibly a week or two earlier in warm southern regions and a week or two later in cooler northern climes. June-bearing strawberries, which produce large fruits and abundant harvests, send out runners, so they’re better suited for garden beds and raised beds. Here, they have room to spread, unlike in a container where space is limited.Ever-bearing: Strawberries of the ever-bearing type have slightly smaller fruits than June-bearing plants, but they produce them twice during the growing season, in the late spring and again in fall. They don’t send out runners, making them a top option for container plantings.Day-neutral: A relative newcomer to the strawberry realm, day-neutral strawberries produce fruit all season long. However, they produce their most significant crops in late spring and fall. They, too, are suitable for containers because they don’t send out runners.Planting SiteWhether strawberries are planted in beds or containers, they should receive a minimum of 8 hours of direct sun per day. Without enough sun, fruit production can be sparse, and the strawberries themselves can be undersized and lack flavor.Developing strawberries are camouflaged under a layer of foliage, but as they ripen, nearby birds may spot them and descend on the bright red fruits. While keeping birds away from a strawberry patch can be challenging, growers can reduce the risk of a raid by locating strawberries away from other plants that attract birds, such as seed-producing sunflowers and marigolds. If birds do find the fruits, growers can cover the plants with lightweight netting that lets through light and water.pH LevelStrawberries do best in soil that’s slightly acidic—between 5.5 and 6.8 on the pH scale. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 considered neutral. Numbers below 7 are progressively more acidic, and numbers higher than 7 are progressively more alkaline.Soil that contains sufficient organic matter, such as dry leaves or vegetable-based compost, is more acidic, while clay soil tends to be more alkaline. Home gardeners should test their soil before adding any amendments—inexpensive pH testers are available online and from garden centers. If the soil is too acidic, ground limestone can be added to increase its pH, and if it’s too alkaline, peat moss can reduce the pH. The amount needed depends on the existing soil’s pH level, and many pH testers come with soil amendment recommendations.Fortunately, most commercial soil mixes fall within the optimal pH range for growing strawberries.DrainageThe roots of a strawberry plant don’t like standing water, so soggy soil won’t yield success. On the other hand, the roots don’t want to be completely dry either, so the soil should drain quickly while retaining some moisture. Ingredients in the soil mix such as coco coir and perlite encourage drainage, and they also absorb a measure of water and release it gradually, which prevents the roots from becoming too dry between waterings. When growing strawberries in containers, use only those containers that have drainage holes at the bottom.Organic MatterLike many garden plants, strawberries thrive in organic matter, such as dry leaves, bark, and compost. These natural components biodegrade—a process whereby they break down and add micronutrients to the soil. Many commercial soil mixes contain organic matter, such as peat moss, coco coir, bark, and composted forest humus, among others.Organic matter simply means “plant-based” matter and should not be confused with the label “organic,” which might appear on some soil mixes. When a soil mix is labeled organic, it meets USDA requirements for manufacturing without chemicals. It also has been certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) as containing only natural (no synthetic or chemical) ingredients.Photo: depositphotos.comOur Top PicksTo qualify as a top pick in our lineup, the following soil mixes had to contain ingredients that both drain well and retain moisture. They also had to include components that would keep the soil from compacting over time. These soil mixes are among the best options for growing strawberries in containers, and they also can be used to amend the soil in raised and garden beds to improve quality. Photo: amazon.com Strawberries love rich soil, and Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix provides an optimal blend of sphagnum peat moss, forest humus, and perlite. It also contains ground dolomitic limestone to help maintain a stable pH level.The mix is designed to drain well, so the strawberry roots won’t have to stand in water, while retaining moisture and providing aeration to the roots for healthy growth. In addition, Espoma adds Myco-tone, a proprietary blend of mycorrhizae (mushroom-based) nutrients that increases the micronutrient levels in the soil and reduces plant stress during drought-type situations.Product SpecsIngredients: Peat moss, humus, perliteOrganic: YesAdded nutrients: Myco-tone (beneficial, mushroom-related fungi), earthworm castings, limestoneProsOrganicDrains wellAmended with natural componentsConsSlightly pricey Photo: amazon.com To grow strawberries without breaking the bank, consider this quality potting mix from Miracle-Gro. It contains sphagnum peat moss, coco coir, and perlite to form a lightweight soil that won’t compress—even over time—so strawberry roots have room to grow.The mix also contains fertilizers designed to get newly transplanted strawberry seedlings off to a strong start and keep the plants fed for up to 6 months. The fertilizer combination helps produce multiple blossoms, which lead to more strawberries. This is a dehydrated mix, but because dry peat moss presents initial moistening challenges, Miracle-Gro adds a wetting agent. This makes the first watering go well, after which the potting mix can absorb moisture with ease.Product SpecsIngredients: Peat moss, coconut coir, perlite, wetting agentOrganic: NoAdded nutrients: FertilizerProsAffordableDrains wellRetains moistureWetting agent helps with initial moisteningConsFertilizer is synthetic Photo: amazon.com Producing more blossoms means harvesting more strawberries, and that’s what this potting mix is designed to accomplish. FoxFarm’s fruit-specific potting mix is a blend of sphagnum peat moss, coco coir, perlite, and aged forest products, which keep the soil light and draining well while providing optimal aeration and moisture retention.The mix has been amended with natural ingredients to boost blossom production and fruit size, including earthworm castings, bat guano, dolomite lime, and ground oyster shells. This specific FoxFarm blend contains a higher percentage of coco coir than competing mixes, which makes it among the best options for amending heavy garden or raised bed soil, in addition to making it a top choice for container gardening.Product SpecsIngredients: Peat moss, coco coir, perlite, aged forest productsOrganic: NoAdded nutrients: Earthworm castings, bat guano, oyster shells, dolomite limeProsLightweight—drains wellRetains moistureIncreases blossom productionConsPricey Photo: homedepot.com This specialty soil from Miracle-Gro offers enhanced moisture protection, making it optimal for growing strawberries in small containers where the soil tends to dry out quickly. Expand ’n Gro comes in a compressed form that expands to three times its mass when moistened. The mix absorbs and retains up to 50 percent more moisture than other mixes, but it won’t become soggy. Instead, the mix, which contains coco coir, drains well and offers maximum aeration so plant roots can develop.Like most Miracle-Gro mixes, Expand ’n Gro includes added fertilizers to boost plant growth and increase the number of blossoms. Use the product in containers or blend it with existing soil in garden beds to add aeration and increase moisture retention.Product SpecsIngredients: Compressed coco coirOrganic: NoAdded nutrients: FertilizerProsDrains exceptionally wellRetains maximum moistureFeeds plants for up to 6 monthsConsFertilizer is synthetic Photo: walmart.com Growing delicious strawberries just got easier with this pH-adjusted potting mix from FoxFarm. Happy Frog potting soil is a blend of peat moss, perlite, and forest humus that drains well and provides aeration. The combination also ensures that the soil retains moisture between waterings.This Happy Frog mix is amended with microbes and micronutrients, including earthworm castings, oyster shells, humic acid, and bat guano, to boost flower and fruit production. The soil also contains leonardite (a natural soil conditioner) that works with the oyster shells to produce a pH between 6.3 and 6.8, placing it in the optimal range for growing strawberries.Product SpecsIngredients: Peat moss, perlite, forest humus, soil conditionerOrganic: NoAdded nutrients: Microbes and micronutrients, including humic acid, bat guano, earthworm castings, oyster shellsProsHighly nutritiousDrains wellAdded natural nutrientsConsOn the pricey sideOur VerdictAny of the potting soil picks in this lineup are well suited for growing delicious strawberries, but the top pick, Espoma Organic Potting Mix, checks all the boxes, providing optimal drainage, aeration, and moisture retention. For those looking for a more affordable potting blend, it’s tough to beat Miracle-Gro Potting Mix, a lightweight, well-draining mix that includes added fertilizer.How We Chose the Best Soil for StrawberriesWe extensively researched dozens of potting soil blends to come up with the products for this lineup. To make the cut, a potting soil product had to drain well, since strawberries don’t like sitting in water, but it also had to retain a bit of moisture between waterings and resist compaction.In addition, we considered the manufacturer’s reputation. While Miracle-Gro, nationally known for producing high-quality gardening products, is highly regarded, we also included some smaller companies that create high-quality premium mixes. We eliminated soil mixes that retained too much or too little moisture. The result is a lineup of top-notch products that can grow flavorful strawberries.Tips to Prepare Soil for StrawberriesWhether planted in a garden, raised bed, or container, it pays to prepare the soil for growing strawberries in advance and make provisions for drainage.When growing strawberries in a container, place 1 or 2 inches of gravel at the bottom of the pot. Then fill the container with your chosen grow mix.Test the soil pH in a garden or raised bed to determine if it’s within the optimal range of 5.5 to 6.8 on the pH scale. If not, follow the amendment recommendations that come with the tester to improve the acid/alkaline balance.Add a balanced all-purpose fruit-and-vegetable fertilizer to the soil before planting if not using potting soil that contains nutrients or added fertilizers.FAQsIf bland strawberries just won’t cut it, be sure to start with quality soil—it goes a long way toward overall taste results. If you’re just learning how to grow strawberries or want to improve your existing strawberry beds, keep reading for answers to some of the most common questions about raising these flavorful fruits.Q. Is potting soil good for strawberries?Potting mix can be an excellent choice if it drains well, resists compaction, and contains nutrients.Q. How do I make soil more acidic for strawberries?Make soil more acidic by incorporating organic matter, such as dry leaves or vegetable-based compost. For the best results, add organic matter to the soil a month or more before it’s time to plant, so the amendments have time to become fully incorporated.Q. How deep should the soil be for strawberries?Strawberry plants send roots down about 6 inches, so prepare the soil by tilling and working in soil amendments to a depth of 6 inches. When planting in containers, make sure the pot can hold at least 6 inches of soil.Q. Which type of soil do strawberries prefer?Strawberry plants love rich soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8. They also prefer soil that drains well and does not compact.Q. What conditions do strawberries grow best in?Strawberries should have good soil and a lot of sunlight. The plants need to be in a location where they can receive a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight to develop flavorful fruits.
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