What is the best compost for strawberries? Do you need to fertilize strawberries if using compost? We will examine the best compost for strawberry plants, how to apply compost correctly, how much to apply, and when to apply it.
Strawberries are heavy feeders that need plenty of nitrogen and other essential nutrients to produce the best strawberries with the largest, sweetest, healthiest fruits.
What is the best compost for strawberries? For best results, you want a mixed variety. The best compost will have nitrogen from various sources that will be made available to the plant at different times. Strawberries need plenty of other nutrients and minerals too, making a mixture of composts a safe bet.
This article will discuss the things you need to consider before choosing and applying compost, and then show you an example schedule and how that might change depending on your circumstances and what you have available to you.
One of the best surprises when we moved onto our homestead was the thriving strawberry bed the previous owner had left behind. We had so many strawberries that June that we couldn't eat them fast enough.
But that good fortune did not persist.
I found myself struggling with strawberry plants that simply did not thrive or produce great fruit. So I dug into the science and research of organic strawberry growing and how to best use compost for fertilizer to grow the healthiest plants.
Like many organic and no dig gardeners focused on building the best soil, I do not want to rely on outside inputs, like commercial fertilizers, when I have access to healthy compost.
But what compost is best for strawberries? And do you still need to apply fertilizer?
The Nutrients & Soil That Strawberries Need
All strawberry plants need NPK — nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
And they need other nutrients and minerals as well for healthy vegetative growth and fruit production.
But no compost can be used optimally by your strawberries without first considering the soil they're planting in.
When is the last time you had a soil test?
Do you know the pH of your soil?
Strawberries grow best in well-drained soil.
They also need slightly acidic soil (pH 5.3 to 6.5). And if the pH needs adjusting, it actually takes up to an entire year for the amendments you apply to change the pH to the optimal level.
Soil pH is crucial because it means that your strawberry roots will be in optimal health and condition and be able to uptake the nutrients available in your compost.
Generally speaking, adding lime will raise the pH, whereas adding elemental sulfur will lower it.
But get the soil test done first. You may be able to call your county/municipality/city and get your soil tested for cheap or free.
Some people will choose to mulch their strawberry beds with dried pine needles to increase the acidity, but it only does so a little bit.
The Best Compost For Strawberries
The goal of every home gardener should be to increase soil organic matter, the biological activity within the soil, and the nutrient availability.
Strawberries need fertile soil and do not do well in clay soil.
Composting is one of the most important things you can do along with applying the proper mulch to your strawberry beds.
As strawberries are heavy feeders, you cannot go wrong with applying composted manure.
However, the nitrogen in composted manure will not all be available to the strawberries during the first year. And not all manure is the same.
This means that other sources of nitrogen will be required.
High nitrogen compost sources include things like grass clippings, plant cuttings, and fruit and vegetable scraps.
These are things you can easily compost at home.
If you keep chickens or other poultry, and use the deep litter method for coop management, the resulting compost will be very rich in nitrogen, and also potassium, phosphorus and calcium compared to other animal manures.
If this compost mixture is not enough, you may need to add fertilizers to your strawberry bed.
A compost mixture of equal parts chicken manure, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and some other animal manure might be the ideal and best compost for strawberry plants.
For new plants in the first year, test your soil prior to planting if possible, and amend the soil as per the suggestions of the test. Young plants are more sensitive than established ones.
Phosphorus and potassium are important macronutrients that are best added to your soil at this point,
Compost made primarily from kitchen scraps like banana peels are excellent source of potassium.
You can also some wood ash from your stove or fireplace, but only very lightly, as too much wood ash can burn your plants.
For both potassium and phosphorus, horse manure is a smart and readily available choice. It has approximately four times more phosphorus than nitrogen and is also high in potassium.
Aged cow manure has a good balance.
Add a high nitrogen source of compost too, like grass clippings and chicken manure.
In August, during runner plant production, add more nitrogen.
Should You Fertilize Strawberry Beds & Use Compost?
That depends on your compost and on the soil your strawberries are growing in.
Because we grow directly in compost (more on that below) we do not add any outside fertilizer sources, just more compost.
You may want to err on the side of caution the first year and add an organic fertilizer twice during the growing year.
The Right Fertilizer & Compost Combo
Use a balanced fertilizer in the spring and then a nitrogen-only fertilizer after harvest.
The above is an example as you have choices depending on what is available to you.
If you're overwhelmed by the fertilizer choices and don't want to be — try this liquid fertilizer 'Liqui-Dirt, it's a great all-around choice and can be used spring and fall.
Apply your compost to your strawberry beds first and then the fertilizer about a month after in late spring.
High-nitrogen fertilizer, is best applied after all your strawberries have been harvested for the season as you get your strawberry bed ready for winter.
Nitrogen promotes vegetative (leaf and runner) growth and it can actually reduce the fruit quality of strawberry plants if it is applied before or during harvest.
Too much nitrogen can also reduce your fruit yield but cause excessive late-season plant growth. Your strawberry plants may not have adequate time to harden off for winter.
How Much Compost To Apply To Strawberry Beds
In poor soil, and before your strawberry plants are planted, you may apply as much as 4-6 inches of compost from mixed sources.
Afterwards, an inch or two is fine, or even less in established beds.
When To Apply Compost To Strawberry Beds
Apply compost in the early spring and again in the fall before putting the bed to rest for the winter.
Early Spring: mixed compost of horse manure, kitchen food byproducts. Can mulch with chopped straw, grass clippings, hay, leaves, or as you desire.
Autumn: chicken manure, grass clippings followed by a heavy mulch of straw for the winter months.
The above is one example. If you don't have varieties of compost — apply what you have. We add mushroom compost for example.
Watch your strawberries through the growing season as you can learn a lot of about they need from observation.
Can You Plant Strawberries Directly In Compost?
Yes! It is a disproven MYTH that you can't or shouldn't.
You can plant everything directly in compost if you're following no-dig gardening principles (we do) and all of it will thrive (with the exception of potatoes).
Our new annual garden raised beds are 50% compost and 50% triple mix which includes a high amount of compost too and leaf mold (an alternative to peat moss) for moisture retention and good drainage.
Each year in the spring and fall we will add more compost from various sources to the top without digging or tilling it in, and then mulch the beds to protect them even further.
We will not fertilize beyond that, but may need to this first year as the soil is getting established.
We will be carefully watching our strawberry patch through the early summer and late summer to see how it performs and whether we need to add anything.
Strawberry Composting Schedule Examples
Spring: pull back mulch and add a layer of compost to the soil surface before covering the garden beds again with mulch. An inch of compost is fine.
Watch the plants, are the leaves starting to yellow? Add a balanced fertilizer as discussed above. This may be necessary in the first year or not.
Fall/After Harvest: after all the fruit is harvested, pull back the mulch again and add more compost. A high nitrogen source like chicken manure is a great option right now. If you can, mulch with grass clippings underneath whichever mulch you use to ready the beds for winter.
Continue readying the beds for winter.
You can also apply your compost around the base of the plant or add extra in that area to be safe or to conserve compost. Young plants might benefit from this.
If you have strawberry planters, strawberry towers, or grow in a hanging basket, you can still apply compost in much the same way and will need even less of it.
The best compost for strawberries is a mixture of compost sources, but if you only have your kitchen scrap pile of greens and food byproducts — that will suffice. Simply watch your plants, especially in a newly planted strawberry bed, and look for signs of weakness. Are the leaves yellow? Add fertilizer. High nitrogen sources like chicken manure, grass clippings, and similar are fantastic composts for strawberries.
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