Growing White Strawberries
Familiar and Yet a Little Different
I have a fondness for growing things that aren't the usual color that people expect, and that's one of the things that led me to grow white strawberries. They tend to be much smaller than regular, red strawberries but pack as much delicious flavor and a stunning amount of yummy aroma into the teeny berries.
This type of strawberry also has the benefit of being non-invasive. It doesn't reproduce by putting out runners, and instead propagates from seeds on berries that drop off the larger plants. This means I don't have berries anywhere except where I planted them, and they stay put. That's great because we already are battling the blackberry canes that are trying to invade our yard by coming under and through the fence to our neighbors.
The third thing I liked about these white strawberries is that they are ever-bearing, which means they produce fruit all summer, going until the first frost hits in the fall. They don't ever put out a ton of fruit, but you do get little snack amounts regularly all through the growing season. Now that I have been growing these for several years, I am more skilled and can maintain more plants at larger sizes, which also makes more berries.
Strawberries Weren't Always Red
Just like how carrots weren't originally orange until humans cultivated them to be that way, strawberries in the wild weren't red in color. Again, it took human farmers to breed them to be the bright, cherry red fruits most people are now familiar with. They also tend to be commercially grown to make them as large as possible.
However, red color and large size aren't necessary for a delicious strawberry. One benefit of the white berries is that backyard critters (birds and squirrels) for the most part do not recognize when the fruit has become ripe, as they are conditioned to fruits that change color. You do get a bit of a color shift with white strawberries when they ripen, though: the fruit goes from a light green shade with green seeds all over it to a more yellow or cream-colored shade with brown seeds on it.
A Berry PatchClick thumbnail to view full-size
One of the drawbacks of growing white strawberries is that since they are ever-bearing, it's hard to get a significant quantity saved up to eat or make something from them. One of the best ways to get around this is to freeze the strawberries. This allows you to pick them as they ripen, but preserve them so that you get enough for a dessert course, or to make a small amount of jam.
To do this, start by washing and draining the freshly picked strawberries. These berries tend to leave behind their top leaves, so you don't have to hull them like red strawberries. They can then be chilled for about an hour in the refrigerator (which makes them freeze faster) and then popped into the freezer.
Or you can do what is called a "dry pack," where you sprinkle them lightly with sugar and then freeze them. The sugaring will help them keep their color and protect them against freezer burn.
Freeze them on a small plate or in a dish. Once frozen, transfer them to a plastic freezer bag or container that can be sealed tightly. Keep doing this as you harvest all summer, and in the fall you'll have a whole crop of white strawberries ready for eating, cooking, or making jam.
In the Ground or in Pots?
It's easy to grow white strawberries both in the ground (after all, they don't take over) or, more traditionally, in pots. These plants do like it sunny. So that is a good consideration to take into account when you decide how you want to grow them.
If you grow them in the ground, you have to make sure they will get adequate water, but drain well enough to not be soggy. If planted in a bed with other plants, you have to be mindful of companion planting, as there are some things like brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale) that will hurt your berry production if they are grown next to strawberries.
In pots, you need to make sure they are large enough to accommodate the plants as they grow during the season. If you start with baby plants, they can be five or six times larger by the end of the season.
Overwintering Your Berry Plants
Strawberries can stay in the ground over the winter, but to survive, they do much better if you give them a little help. Part of the reason they have the name "strawberry" is due to the fact that the plants really benefit from being mulched (buried in) straw for the winter months.
Once you get your first fall frost, your white strawberries are going to stop producing fruit. If any fruit is left on the plant at that time, it tends to be either really underdeveloped or it gets frost damage. I pick those fruits off the bushes and bury them in the ground nearby. These often seed new plants in the spring, so make sure to leave some room for development.
To mulch your berry plants, get some nice clean hay (straw), or a good pile of leaves from your trees and bury the plants well. You want a nice heap that won't wash away in rain and which will keep off the snow. Come springtime, you uncover the plants (and put the mulch in the compost pile), and they'll start putting out new leaves again.