Strawberries are one of the easiest plants to grow in the garden. They are native in North America, which makes them very comfortable our climate. Strawberries are also perennial, meaning they can produce for many years in a single location.
Many gardeners consider strawberry season the best time of the year. Every local farm is selling ripe red berries full of flavor. But, how do you know when to pick strawberries?
In this article, I’ll share everything to know about picking strawberries. You’ll learn how to know they are ready for harvest, the different types of strawberries, as well as some harvesting tips. Let’s get into it!
When To Pick Strawberries (By Type)
Simple answer: Strawberries are ready to pick when they have fully changed to a red color. Some specific varieties are best in flavor when allowed to reach a very deep red before picking. While early June is considered peak strawberry season, this varies based on the region and the type of plants being grown.
There are 2 main groups of strawberry plants: June bearing, and day-neutral. The type of plant being grown changes the harvest window dramatically.
June bearing strawberries are the most popular for traditional farms. They bear fruit just once per year, typically in the month June. The timing can vary based on region (see more below), but expect to pick the berries in late spring.
There are many benefits of growing June-bearing plants. First, you get one big harvest, all at once, making it possible to preserve your harvests in one batch. This is great if your plan is to make strawberry jam or preserves, especially since ripe strawberries don’t have a great shelf life once picked.
Another benefit of June-bearing strawberries is that they tend to produce large berries. So, if you’re looking for big, juicy strawberries, you’ll probably want to grow these!
The other category of strawberries are day neutral varieties (also called everbearing strawberries). These plants will produce harvests all season long, starting in late spring and lasting until fall.
The main benefit of growing day-neutral berries is that you can harvest fresh strawberries all season long! However, there are a couple of main drawbacks.
First, each harvest of day-neutral strawberries will be smaller (just a handful of berries at a time), meaning they’re not ideal for preserving. Also, the berries tend to be much smaller than June-bearing varieties.
I like to grow day-neutral strawberries in containers to have a few berries to snack on during the summer and fall months. For our strawberry patch, we plant June-bearing varieties for a big spring yield.
Picking The Tastiest Strawberries
With timing aside, there are a few things you can do to pick the most delicious fresh strawberries. There are also some things to avoid doing to ensure a perfect harvest.
- Allow strawberries to fully ripen. One of the main benefits of homegrown strawberries is flavor. Store-bought berries are usually picked before fully ripening, and allowed to ripen during the shipping process. The result is a worse flavor. Let your berries turn fully red while still on the plant, and you’ll be rewarded with amazing flavor and sweetness.
- Pick carefully. It is easy to damage a fully ripe strawberry. So, you can use pruning shears, or just be careful to pick from the stem, not the berry itself.
- Choose the right strawberry variety. Not all strawberries are created equal. We talked about June-bearing and day-neutral types, but there are many varieties within these categories. Each has its own set of traits, from sweetness to size and yield. Choose a strawberry that has great genetics to get a harvest you will be happy with!
Factors That Affect Harvest Window
Aside from the type of strawberry that is being grown, there are a few other factors that can change when you’ll harvest. It mostly comes down to the weather conditions or your location.
- Growing region. Depending on how far North you live, your strawberry harvesting window will change. For example, Maine’s peak season is between mid-June and early July. In Georgia, peak season starts in late April and ends in mid June. In general, the warmer your climate, the earlier in the year you will harvest strawberries.
- Temperature. One of the most variable factors that can affect your strawberry harvest time is temperature. Each year, this can fluctuate greatly. If the winter lasts longer than usual, your strawberry plants will “wake up” a bit later, too. This will push your harvest window later in the season. For ever-bearing strawberries, early summer and early fall are the most productive times of year.
- Length of the day. Strawberries won’t begin producing flowers and fruits until the day-length exceeds 12 hours. Thankfully, this happens very early in the season, so the only time this may affect growers is if you are growing in a heated greenhouse or indoors. Fun fact: Most plants will simply not grow without at least 10 hours of light per day.
Strawberry Harvesting Tips
When you’re ready to pick, here are some tips to make sure you get the best strawberries from your plants:
- Harvest often. When growing your own strawberries, it is important to harvest berries often. In other words, when a berry is ready to be picked, pick it! Leaving fruits unpicked leads to overripe berries
- Be careful to avoid damage. Strawberries are delicate fruits, meaning they can easily be damaged in the harvesting process. Avoid squeezing the berries while you’re picking. Pick from the stem that each berry is attached to, and it’s a good idea to keep the green tops attached when harvesting.
- Prune strawberry runners. This is an important step for newly planted strawberry beds, potted plants, or day-neutral varieties. During the life cycle, each plant will send out long shoots called runners. these will re-root in any surrounding soil in an attempt to expand. Re-focusing the plants energy on the main plant helps get better harvests from day-neutral types, and can help a new garden establish more quickly. Note: If you want your strawberry garden to fill in, you can leave some of the runners to root in any empty spots.
- Avoid picking green berries. Green strawberries have a poor flavor and are not yet ready to be picked. If you notice damage to one of the green berries, then it is okay to pick them off to help the plant focus on the other fruits.
- Store in the refrigerator. If you aren’t using your strawberries right away, they are best stored in the fridge. Ripe fruit will quickly spoil at room temperature, especially if you wash the berries. Plus, the most delicious berries are those that were just picked.
- Find a local strawberry festival. If you don’t grow your own strawberries, look for a local you-pick farm around June. Again, the peak season for fresh berries will vary based on your region!
Want to learn how to grow strawberries yourself? The first step is to germinate the seeds in late winter. Or, you can transplant store-bought bareroot plants into the garden. Either way, you won’t regret it!
Since strawberries come back every year, you’ll be picking your own fruits for years to come. Strawberry picking season is an amazing time of year for gardeners and pick-your-own goers alike. I hope you feel more confident about when to pick strawberries, and that you enjoy your harvests!