Michigan farmers produce over 45,000 tons of strawberries on over 750 acres of land each year, offering ample opportunity to take advantage of the berry’s deliciously high vitamin C, potassium, and fiber content. These perennial powerhouses pack flavor and nutrition into fast-growing, high-yielding plants that acclimate to any size growing space, including raised beds, indoor hydroponic systems, or container gardens.
Looking to move your annual strawberry u-pick adventures a little closer to home? You’re in luck! Strawberries are perfectly aligned with our Michigan climate and most gardeners consider strawberries the easiest fruit plants to grow. No matter the size, shape, or layout of your berry bed, you too can celebrate with fresh fruit grown from your own homestead!
Growing Strawberries: The Basics
Start with Seeds or Plants?
Starting strawberries from seed is possible, but germination rates vary wildly and the sprouting process is extremely delicate and time-consuming. We recommend investing in live strawberry plant starts to make the most of your time and money. Once established, you can easily expand your patch by propagating from runners! Click here to head over to our Instagram page and pull up our highlighted story for a list of our community’s favorite strawberry plant producers.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Strawberries love light. They need at least 8 hours of sunlight each day to reach their full production potential, making them picture-perfect candidates for your sunniest growing spaces. Pay attention to sunlight patterns throughout the day and watch how the sun’s path changes over time to ensure your berries aren’t shaded out on accident (especially if you’re growing everbearing varieties)!
Water, Water, Everywhere
Strawberry plants crave consistent moisture. They require at least an inch of water a day and up to two inches of water a day when fruit blossoms appear and fruit starts to form. Late-season watering helps fruit bud formation for the following year and is a great way to lower cold-snap stress as your plants move into dormancy. Resist the temptation to start your patch in the wettest part of your garden; despite being water-loving plants, strawberry plants cannot tolerate standing water or boggy, soaked root conditions. Mulching is a great way to retain water at the surface of your soil, where strawberry roots like to grow and spread out. The best, most widely-used mulch for strawberries is – you guessed it – straw!
Great Lake State Soil
Proper soil conditions are critical to maintaining the perfect balance between well-watered and too wet. Strawberries need extremely well-drained soil filled with rich organic matter. Sandy loam soil with a slightly acidic pH (between 5.5-6.5) is ideal. For those who wish to plant directly in the ground, Michigan is known for having sandy soil in the northern and western parts of the state and clay/loam soil in the southern parts of the state. Unsure what your soil composition looks like? Try a homemade soil test – chances are you have a few types of soil spread throughout your homestead!
Helpers and Hinderers
Good companion plants for strawberries include asparagus, legumes (beans and peas), and rhubarb. Avoid planting strawberries near members of the nightshade family, including tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants, as they’re known for spreading fungal diseases to your patch. You also want to avoid planting your strawberry patch alongside members of the cucurbit family (melons), brassica family (cauliflower, broccoli), and plants like okra or mint.
When to Plant
You can put strawberry plants in the ground whenever the soil can be worked. Try planting in the fall to jumpstart early spring harvest possibilities or stick with a spring planting schedule to allow plants to develop a strong root system all year long. Avoid planting in the heat of the summer, when new plants are more likely to wilt and succumb to heavy weed and drought pressure.
Choosing the Right Strawberries to Grow in Michigan
Strawberries come in hundreds of varieties and each variety maintains slight variations in temperature, soil, water, and light preferences. Choosing the proper strawberry variety for your Michigan homestead depends entirely on your micro-climate, but a good rule of thumb is to stick with varieties known for good northern production.
Strawberry varieties are usually broken into two main types:
- June bearing – plants flower in May and produce one large harvest by mid-summer
- Everbearing – plants produce multiple harvests through the course of the growing season
Which strawberry type is best for your homestead? The answer depends entirely on your strawberry goals.
June bearing strawberries tend to be larger in size and while they do only produce one harvest a year, it’s a massive, super-sized harvest! You normally need to wait until plants are 2 years old before capitalizing on big-harvest potential, but the big, beautiful berries you’ll receive are well worth the wait. If you see frozen berries, June-based fruit sales, or jam-making in your future, June-bearing varieties might be the best type for you.
Everbearing strawberries give the gift of multiple harvests in bite-sized segments. The berries are typically smaller, but you can begin harvesting right away during the plant’s first year. Everbearing strawberry varieties usually offer up to 3 harvests in their first year alone. While you may end up with fewer total berries over the course of the growing season than you would with one big June bearing strawberry harvest, everbearing varieties allow you to spread your harvests out into manageable segments of time throughout the growing season. If you’re looking for a constant supply of fresh berries with zero preservation pressure, everbearing strawberry varieties are the perfect fit for your homestead.
Once you’ve decided which harvest type (or types!) of strawberries you’d like to try, it’s time to hone in on the specific varieties you’d like to grow. We’ll list a few of our favorite varieties here, but don’t be afraid to experiment and try whichever varieties speak to your homesteading needs.
June Bearing Strawberry Varieties
- Allstar – Hardy, generous harvests of big, orange-red, very sweet berries
- Old North Sea – Rare, low-growing, mid-sized bright red berries originally found growing in an ancient Viking village *author favorite – grown exclusively on our farm in SW Michigan!
- Honeoye – Vigorous, reliable berry plants that produce the perfect wine or jam berries
- Jewel – Disease resistant, very sweet, great for freezing – a top producer
- Earliglow – Most popular, abundant dark red berries, used extensively at u-pick operations
Everbearing Strawberry Varieties
- Tribute – Medium-large dark red berries that bear on unrooted runners – perfect for container gardens
- Ozark Beauty – Sweet, scarlet-red berries, doubles as protective ground cover
- Tristar – A chef favorite, with incredibly sweet berries set against attractive notched leaves – great for hanging growing systems and baskets
- Eversweet – Ideal for container gardens, long, cone-shaped berries in the first year, heat-hardy
- White Pineberry – Small white strawberries with red seed flecks, tastes similar to pineapple
Do you have a picture-perfect strawberry harvest, favorite growing tip, delicious strawberry recipe, or preferred strawberry variety not listed here? Share your strawberry successes, tricks, sweet treats, and variety preferences with us over on the Homesteaders of Michigan Instagram page. Don’t forget to tag @homesteadersofmichigan and use the hashtag #homesteadersofmichigan for your chance to be featured in one of our posts!
About the Author
Jen Buck owns Dancing Feathers Farm in Bloomingdale, Michigan. Her first-generation family farmstead produces cut flowers, heirloom veggies, dairy goats, handmade salves, and coconut oil soaps. Jen’s favorite activities include riding horses, dancing, and learning new things.