Growing Strawberries in Barrels

Gary H. Brinen, Extension Agent - Horticulture  (retired)

Would you like to grow your own strawberries, but you feel that you do not have enough available space? Then why not use the space-saving Barrel Method. Each year, about 50 pints of strawberries may be obtained from one 55 gallon barrel (drum) on which 40 to 50 plants may be grown.

Materials Needed to Get Started

  1. Barrels or drums - commonly found are 30 gallon and 55 gallon sizes, either metal or wood.
  2. Pipe section - about 30 inches of gutter or stove pipe (3/4" diameter) is needed for watering and feeding.
  3. Coarse gravel - enough small pebbles to cover the bottom of the barrel, up to 2 inches will be needed for good drainage.
  4. Hole puncher - some means of cutting holes or slits in the sides and bottom of the barrel will be required, such as an axe, chisel, or acetylene torch.
  5. Good garden soil - should be fumigated for best results. Do not use peat or muck, unless mixed well with sandy soil.
  6. Coarse sand - to fill watering pipe.
  7. Fertilizer - 4-8-8 or 6-8-8 is best.
  8. Plastic mulch - 1 1/2 mil black plastic mulch to cover the soil surface.
  9. Strawberry plants - Florida Ninety, Tioga and Florida Bell Varieties. The latter is a new variety, so plants may not be readily available.

What to Do

  1. Prepare barrel by cutting out top and thoroughly washing to remove any material that may injure plants. It is optional whether the bottom is cut out or left intact. If not removed, four or five holes should be made in the bottom for drainage.
  2. Cut holes or slits into the side of the barrel to receive the plants. Holes may be easily cut using an acetylene torch. If an axe or chisel is used, the holes are much easier to cut if the barrel is filled with soil. Holes or slits should be about 3 inches long; then the top of each slit should be pushed in to form a cup.

    Holes should be spaced 8 inches apart around the barrel, and 8 inches apart up and down the barrel. Each hole should be placed diagonally to those above and below it. Holes should be 8 inches from the bottom of the barrel and 5 inches or so from the top.
  3. Prepare the soil for use by thoroughly mixing one pound (2/3 quart) of 4-8-8 or 6-8-8 analysis fertilizer into 55 gallons of soil.
  4. Fill bottom two inches on the barrel with coarse gravel.
  5. Punch holes (nail size) in the sides of the pipe; distribute them over the entire surface of the pipe to allow even watering throughout the barrel. Place the section of the pipe into the center of the barrel; it should be standing upright with one end resting on the gravel. Fill the pipe with coarse sand.
  6. Shovel in garden soil onto the coarse gravel and around the pipe, until the level of the first (lower) row of the holes has been reached. Firm the soil.
  7. Set the strawberry plants into the bottom row of holes. Spread the roots in a fan-shape fashion onto the soil and cover to hold in place. Be careful not to cover the crown (bud). Then shovel in soil up to the next row of holes. At this point it might be desirable to lightly sprinkle the soil with water. Set plants and repeat the soil-filling, watering, and plant-setting until the top row of holes are set. Then add soil to within 1 inch of the barrel top and place plastic mulch over the slits and set plants on top about 8 inches apart around the pipe. It is best to set plants during a cloudy day or late afternoon so that plants have time to become established before being place in the hot sun. For maximum production, strawberries should be planted (set) from mid-September to late October in North Florida and from October through November in South Florida. These planting dates should be observed since our strawberry varieties require cool temperatures and short days for fruiting. Fruit production becomes quite reduced as soon as temperatures rise to around 80 F. in early summer in Florida.
  8. The barrel should be placed so that plants will get full sunlight. Water will probably be needed about twice weekly and should be added by pouring into the pipe. Monthly applications of additional fertilizer is needed: 1/2 cup of the same fertilizer can be dissolved in a gallon of water to distribute the fertilizer.
  9. To insure best results, each year the barrel should be emptied, fresh soil added, and new plants set into the barrel.
  10. Disease control - To control leaf spots and fruit rots, use a captan spray or dust. Mix 4 ounces of 50 percent captan in 5 gallons of water and spray the plants once a week. Or, you may use a 6 percent captan dust applied once a week.
  11. Insect control - To control pameras, flower thrips, and spider mites use malathion spray or a 5 percent malathion dust.
  12. Caution - These suggested insecticides and fungicides are safe when used as directed on the labels. Take care to store unused portions safely and discard used containers properly. Keep poisons out of the reach of irresponsible people.

The use of trade names in this news article is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. It is not a guarantee or warranty or the products names and does not signify they are approved to the exclusion of others of suitable comparison.

(Fact Sheet #12)