CO-Horts Blog

Monday, June 18, 2018

Growing Strawberries. Vertically!

Adapted from “Vertical Gardening with Strawberries” by Al Myers and Andy Hough
By: Andie Wommack, Douglas County Extension

Vertical gardening greatly increases the amount of plants you can grow in a small space. In a research project done at the Hidden Mesa Research & Demonstration Orchard, they were able to plant 1,500 strawberries in 25 vertical tubes. This took up approximately 13.3% or less of the space that would’ve been needed to plant them in the ground. The methods discussed here can be scaled up or down depending on your production goals! 

When growing strawberries, regardless of method, you need to consider which type of strawberry you want. The three types considered for this project were:
·      June Bearing: produces a major crop but only in spring, usually in June
·      Everbearing: produces a major crop in June and another in late summer
·      Day Neutral: produces a large flush of fruit in June, slows production for approximately six weeks and then produces a more consistent harvest throughout the remainder of the growing season
It’s important to know what your goals are for growing any plant. Knowing when you want, and potentially how much fruit you want, can help you choose which type of plant you want to grow. “Day Neutral” varieties were planted for this project because they produce throughout most of the growing season.

Two different methods were tried, and both have pros and cons. PVC tubes held more plants, hold their shape, and require less potting soil than the fabric tubes. However, the initial cost is higher if using PVC. Also, because they hold less potting soil, the plants run out of fertilizer much quicker. Fabric tubes cost less and can be watered through the sides if needed. These tubs need significantly more potting soil and tended to lose their shape as the soil settled toward the bottom.

If you want to grow strawberries in vertical tubes, the number of plants you will be able to plant depends on the diameter and height of the tube. A 6” diameter, 5’ tall PVC pipe was predrilled to hold up to 100 plants. Spacing for holes in the PVC pipe is 2.5” between each vertical row and 4” between holes in a row. The holes drilled in the PVC pipe were 1.5” in diameter. In the fabric tubes, there is 4” between each vertical row and 8” between the holes in the row. A 2” horizontal slit was cut in the fabric for each hole. A 12” diameter, 5’ tall tube held about 72-75 plants.

Signs of insufficient
nutrient levels
You will need to provide support for your tubes regardless of the type of tube you use. The fabric tubes used in this project were reinforced at the top and bottom of the tubes with high-tensile fence wire then secured to an overhead support structure with bailing wire. The PVC pipes were also attached to the overhead support structure in a similar manner. These were all in a greenhouse, so if you have your tubes outside in an unprotected area, support may have to be stronger to hold up to wind.

Since potting mix is used in these tubes, they should be treated like a house plant container. This means they should be watered frequently and adequately. A micro-sprinkler was installed above each tube and place on an automatic timer so water percolated down through the tube. Fertilizing is also critical and was done on a weekly basis for the fabric tubes because of the high volume of plants and limited soil quantity. Liquid, foliar, or time-release fertilizers can be used and may alter the fertilizing frequency. You will have plants that die for a variety of reasons, however strawberries produce runners that can be used to replace plants lost. If you are growing your strawberries in a climate-controlled environment you can keep them from year to year if you make sure they are watered throughout the winter and don’t freeze. There are other season-extending methods you can use to try and keep your plants from year to year as well, like a mini hoop house or Agribon row cover cloth to hold in heat and moisture.

Initial costs can be high when purchasing the tubes, plants, and planting media, but once this type of system is set up, it requires a very low amount of maintenance. Weeds will be virtually nonexistent, harvest is easy, and since the strawberries are up off of the ground, there is less cleaning and fungal growth on the fruit which can happen if the fruit gets wet. To reduce costs every season, try to overwinter your plants or collect runners that you can plant and grow during winter to plant again in the spring.

The Hidden Mesa Research & Demonstration Orchard in Franktown, CO planted over 500 varieties of fruits and nuts, along with dozens of types of lavender, herbs, and annual vegetables. Their goal is to explore what food crops can be grown in the Front Range Climate and what cultural methods can be used to overcome the extreme climate challenges here. They also provide options for scalable agriculture, edible landscapes, gardening, and community gardens and orchards.

To learn more about the work being done at Hidden Mesa, please visit:

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