Growing strawberries hydroponically is a great way to get fresh fruit all year round. It's easy to start, and it doesn't require any significant investment in terms of money or time.
In this blog post, we will explain everything you need to know about growing hydroponic strawberries. This includes the pros and cons of growing hydroponic strawberries, which system can be used for that, and how they compare with soil-grown ones.
Finally, we will take you through the entire process of producing your strawberries with how they are harvested and how to care for strawberry plants - pollination, pruning, and fruit rot.
Why Growing Strawberries Hydroponically?
Hydroponically grown strawberries are a novel way to get your daily dose of fresh strawberries. They grow with fresh water (a readily available element), and when ready, you can harvest straight from the plant and eat.
What's more, different plants may be grown in one system - for example, you can grow strawberries alongside herbs and lettuce. This way, it can become an asset in the household as it eliminates the time spent on grocery shopping.
So, what do we have:
- Low Maintenance: strawberries grown hydroponically require minimal maintenance, especially when compared to traditional soil-grown plants.
- Time-Saving: The harvesting process is easier and quicker than traditional farming methods. It doesn't involve digging or weed removal (especially if you grow on a rooftop or balcony)
- No Weeds: weeds are not an issue, as the soil is sterile and sterilized before planting.
- Can be stacked vertically: If you are limited when it comes to horizontal space, strawberries also lend themselves very well to vertical growing, so long as you have a hydroponic system that can adapt to this.
Do hydroponic strawberries taste different?
The answer to that question is a big "maybe".
Many people notice differences in taste, texture, and sweetness when they eat fruits or vegetables grown hydroponically. This has to do with the nutrient solution, which often differs from one hydroponic system to another, resulting in different tastes.
Another element is the smaller surface area of strawberries than soil-grown plants meaning less airflow (oxygen) gets through them. That also enhances their sweetness.
One thing is for sure: even if you do not notice any change in taste or chemical composition, hydroponic growing will introduce you to healthier habits and new ways of enjoying your favorite fruit.
Which hydroponic system should I use?
In terms of choosing a
Deep Water Culture System:
You can grow strawberries hydroponically using a deep water culture system. It's probably the best hydroponic system to use for beginners.
The plants are grown in a particular type of container with no lid and filled with water. They float on top of the surface, so you don't need to worry about drowning them or keeping them wet like soil-grown plants have to be (this can lead to root rot).
This system requires simple tools like a few buckets, an air pump, and air stones. You can also get a ready-made kit if you don't want to go through the trouble of DIYing it yourself.
It takes up less space than other systems, which can be a bonus if you're trying to grow strawberries hydroponically on your balcony or backyard.
The downside: Strawberry plants will never grow as tall as they do when grown in traditional soil growing. But this may not be an issue if you're growing hydroponic strawberries for fresh fruit production only.
Ebb and flow:
This system is the most popular among hydroponic strawberry growers. It involves using a timer to regulate how often water gets pumped into the growing tray or container filled with nutrient solution and your plants. it can be every few minutes, hours, or even days.
The pump cycles on and off, allowing for maximum absorption of nutrients by the strawberry roots while minimizing standing water in the troughs where your strawberries are planted.
The downside: This type of system requires more work. You have to monitor and control when this happens (by adjusting timers accordingly). You'll also need pumps which will cost some money upfront but then pay for themselves over time thanks to their low maintenance requirements.
It doesn't require any tools because all you do is fill the container with water and nutrient solution (and strawberries, of course). But that means you'll need to check on them often for any leak.
Hydroponic drip system:
This system is also fairly easy to set up but does require some upfront investment. You're going to need a timer and pump, which you can order online or buy from your local hydroponics supplier.
The basics of this type of strawberry growing kit are that it's basically an assembly-required drip irrigation system. Plants won't be sitting in water. They'll just be suspended above the surface (which also means less chance for rot).
The downside: There's more work involved when setting up this kind of hydroponic strawberries growing system and maintaining it regularly. So make sure you don't get tempted by cheaper kits!
This system is perfect if you're looking for a low-cost way to grow hydroponically in your backyard or balcony. Because it doesn't require expensive equipment as other systems do. But there's more work involved here as well - just not upfront costs.
NFT stands for Nutrient Film Technique, which has plants growing in a container filled with nutrient solution. The plants are at the top of the tank. There is always some water running through it to provide continuous availability of nutrients.
To make sure this does its job correctly, you have to manually pump the liquid up onto the film at regular intervals so that it can drip back down again and keep
The downside: It takes up more growing space than other systems because you'll need containers or troughs for growing your strawberries and water. Plus, you'll need a pump to keep the liquid flowing correctly. It's worth mentioning that because of its high initial setup cost, NFT is recommended for commercial-level growers only.
Hydroponic Nutrients For Strawberry Plants
Hydroponic systems is one where plants are grown without traditional soil. Plants grow in air or water that has been enriched with nutrients to help them thrive (and produce delicious fruit).
Soil-grown plants need nutrient-rich soil from which they draw their food - but this doesn't apply to hydroponics! You'll have to find a fertilizer to ensure your strawberry plant gets all of its necessary nutrients.
And there are a few choices to make when picking the proper hydroponic nutrients for strawberries - whether you're looking for something that's organic or one with added vitamins and minerals.
Plus, you'll need to pick between liquid (slow-release) or dry pellets (fast release). Liquid fertilizer can be added directly into the water, where it will dissolve over time. Dry pellets should be evenly distributed throughout the growing tray, so they don't touch any roots. They would taste bitter if consumed by them during digestion. It is better to use liquid fertilizer as a dry one tends to get clogged in the system.
The two main categories of key nutrients are:
- Macronutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium
- Trace elements (Micronutrients): those act as secondary nutrients - Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulphur
The system you choose to grow with will depend on your own preferences. But the important thing is that you find nutrients for strawberries tailored to what type of environment they're going to be grown in!
There are many hydroponic nutrition formulas out there for different plants, but the most popular one is
How often do you need to feed?
The amount of time you need to feed strawberries will depend on the type of system they're in. In a hydroponic garden, it's best not to overfeed your plants. This can lead to an excess buildup of salts, turning into toxic substances and eventually killing them. The general recommendation is to feed your growing strawberry plants twice a week.
What type of growing medium should I use?
One aspect of growing a strawberry plant hydroponically that is important to understand is the type of growing medium. Strawberries need good aeration, so they should be grown on a substrate with 15% porosity.
The growing medium is used as a base where the plant's roots grow through and help anchor its position, providing stability while absorbing nutrients from the solution above. Some of the common ones are growstones, clay pebbles, coconut coir, or Rockwool. There are many other forms of growing media available, too!
Based on this understanding, the University of Arizona conducted a small trial in 2008, examining different substrates and substrate mix:
- granulated Rockwool
- 100% coconut coir
- 50% coconut coir + 50% perlite
- 70% coco nut coir + 30% perlite
The growth and yield of strawberry plants were restricted when 100% coconut coir was used as the growing medium. Better results were achieved when using Rockwool, and the best results were achieved when perlite was used, supporting their hypothesis of the importance of oxygen availability.
The current growing medium the University of Arizona uses in their greenhouse is a mix of 50% perlite, 25% coconut coir, and 25% peat. The addition of peat is for better pH management as their source water has high pH.
What about humidity?
Maintaining the proper humidity level is critical for growing strawberries. Low humidity affects calcium uptake, which in turn affects photosynthesis and fruit quality. You need to maintain at least 60-75% relative air humidity--a higher nighttime humidity benefits nutrient movement during the day.
What's the best way to water, and what should be its temperature?
Ensure the nutrient solution in your water has been appropriately diluted and that you're not watering too often or infrequently.
Strawberries are the fruit of winter. They thrive in cool conditions, and they prefer an ideal temperature range of 15-27 degrees Celsius during their growing season.
The agricultural cultivation in Arizona noticed that in the winter night, at a temperature of 10-20 degrees Celsius, the yield of the strawberry fruit has been increased.
How much light do hydroponics strawberries need?
Hydroponic strawberries need at least 8 - 12 hours of direct sunlight each day. If you live somewhere, that doesn't get a lot of sun during the winter months.
It's best to invest in some type of artificial light such as LED or HID lights.
What should be the PH level?
Hydroponic systems generally prefer an optimal pH range of 5.5 to 6.5, ideal for strawberry plants. For best results, aim for a pH of between 5.8 and 6.2 when cultivating strawberries with a basic pH meter to keep your levels consistent.
The easiest way to check for pH is to use test strips that are relatively inexpensive and have a high success rate! Alternatively, you can buy a pH meter that is more precise and gives readings on an actual scale that goes from one to fourteen instead of just "high/low".
How to Grow Hydroponic Strawberries - step by step guide
Now you know the type of hydroponic systems your strawberries will be in, how often to feed them, and pH levels and water temperature. It's time for a step-by-step guide on how to set up your hydroponic strawberries indoor garden.
Step 1: Decide what you want to grow
Before breaking ground, you need to decide whether to start your strawberry garden by growing from seed or starting with seedlings. Seeds take much longer than seedlings before they are ready to plant and fruit, so this is not an option for you if you're in a hurry.
Read here for our guide on how to start seeds for hydroponics.
Step 2: Prepping the Hydroponic System
A hydroponic system should be set up before you even start planting anything - so take the time to put together your growing area, make sure that it looks neat and tidy, and try not to let too many roots touch the same surface as this could lead to rot.
Step 3: Planting Your Strawberries
This step is super easy. Fill the net pots halfway with your chosen growing media. Carefully insert your plant's root system (which you should have rinsed thoroughly), then fill to the top with water.
Step 4: Fertilizing Your Hydroponic Strawberries
The thing about strawberries is that they need many nutrients to grow and produce fruit, so make sure you never forget this step!
It's best to feed your plants about every two weeks with either liquid or powdered fertilizer. Using hydroponic systems where the roots are submerged in water, use liquid fertilizers as they have more nutrients and can be easily distributed through this type of setup.
Step 5: Harvesting Your Hydroponic Strawberries
Berries are ready to be picked when at least three-quarters of the fruit's surface has changed from green to red. The berries will also feel soft and have a little give when lightly squeezed.
Taking Care of a Hydroponic Strawberry Plant
A hydroponic strawberry, being a fruit, still requires some care! There are a few different ways to do this, but pollination, pruning, and fruit rot are the most common.
A strawberry plant can be pollinated by an insect or another type of animal. This is how nature does it, so you should try to mimic this for the best results! Pollination encourages cross-pollination and increases fruit production in plants.
You can pollinate hydroponics strawberries using a small paintbrush or cotton swab to move pollen from the male plant's stamen (where it can easily be seen) and transfer it onto the female parts of another strawberry.
Pruning is necessary because plants need space to grow. If your berry bush has grown too large with many weak branches, don't worry - just follow these simple steps: Cut through a few stems at their base (don't clip them).
You'll want to trim off about 25% of leaves per stem that was cut. Although pruning doesn't affect yield significantly, it will keep your entire garden tidy. It can help prevent fungus from forming on old berries, which reduces quality.
Fruit rot is defined as any kind of decay on the outside and/or inside layer of your strawberry. This is usually caused by overwatering them or having too much fertilizer close to their roots. This makes your strawberries taste bitter when eaten.
Fortunately, these fruit rot diseases can be avoided by picking your strawberries as soon as they ripen. If you end up with a fruit rot disease, an application of neem oil can help eradicate it.
Answering some of your questions
Which Variety Of Strawberry Plant Should I Use?
There are about 1500 different strawberry varieties, divided into four main types: June bearers, Everbearing, Day Tripper, and Alpine.
June bearing varieties have a long season of strawberry production in the spring and summer when they produce a single crop of large berries in June. Then they usually have a small second crop in the fall. They produce more than one crop per year, but you only get one big harvest most years.
Everbearing Strawberries are also known as "day-neutral varieties" or "all-season". These plants produce strawberries all year round. Most of the time, these plants will produce fruit from May to October. Still, some strawberry varieties will continue growing even into December or January!
Day Trippers will grow during the day and stop growing at night. These plants will produce a single crop of berries from April to June, but then the plant dies off for the rest of the year.
Alpine strawberries only grows in mild climates where they can fruit during winter months when other types are dormant. Alpine varieties typically have smaller berries with more flavor than most other strawberry types because they need to be eaten soon after being picked. Their sugars haven't had time to turn into starch!
If you live somewhere warm enough for all four seasons (or if your climate is too variable), it's best to choose Everbearing or Day Tripper. These should give you plenty of fresh strawberries throughout the entire season!
How Often Should The Nutrient Solution Be Changed?
You should change the nutrient solution every 2 to 3 weeks or every 5 to 6 days if there are many plants in there.
You mustn't pour off too much fertilizer at once, or else your soil can become depleted and suppress new growth. To avoid this, add just a little bit of water with the diluted liquid fertilizer to the outside edges of your soil. Soak it up from there (this will ensure that nutrients are going down as far as they need). Finally, take any other possible steps mentioned by your manufacturer!
Are Hydroponic Strawberries Organic?
This is a controversial subject... Some people will argue that because hydroponic strawberries don't have any dirt, they're not "organic" by definition. But others might say that since the soil is replaced with nutrient-rich water and no pesticides or fertilizers are being used - it's just as organic if not more so!
How Long Does It Take To Grow Strawberries Hydroponically?
It takes anywhere from 90 to 120 days for strawberry plants to produce fruit. If you're using the right type of hydroponic growing system and it's working well, it should take about 100-120 days!
What should I do with my strawberries when they have a disease? How does it spread, and how can I stop it from spreading more?
There are many ways a plant can get infected with diseases, and one way is by being too close to other plants that have the same disease. Make sure you give your strawberry plants plenty of room so it doesn't spread more! You should also make sure you don't overwater or over-fertilize them - this will cause your strawberries to taste bitter when eaten.
Strawberries are not susceptible to viral infections, but they could be affected by bacteria like Xanthomonas campestris PV. Fragariae (CXF), which causes valley fever, Phytophthora cactorum, which causes root rot. And crown gall caused by Agrobacterium tumefaciens, among others... To keep away these diseases, make sure you use a good quality clean potting mix or soil each time.
We hope you found this post helpful in understanding how to grow hydroponic strawberries. It will help you turn your own garden into a more successful venture. If the pros of growing a new strawberry plant hydroponically still seem too overwhelming, don't forget that plenty of other strawberry plants varieties can be grown successfully with traditional gardening methods! Happy planting!