In this article we’ll go over the facts and science for what it takes to grow bigger, sweeter, and more flavorful strawberries as well as how sweetness and flavor can be measured. But know that just by growing your own strawberries and eating them fresh you are ahead of the game.
“Strawberries are among the most perishable fruits available. They begin losing significant amount of taste and aroma within 48 hours of picking, even when stored cold.”Andrew Petran of Twin Cities Berry Company – Southwest Journal – Why Grocery Store Strawberries Lack Flavor
How To Grow Bigger Strawberries
Choose Large Strawberry Varieties
To grow bigger strawberries start off with the right variety of strawberry. June-bearing strawberry varieties typically produce bigger strawberries than do ever-bearing and day-neutral types.
Strawberry varieties that are known to produce large strawberries include Chandler, Allstar, Cabot, Jewel.
The largest strawberry ever produced was a Japanese variety called Amaou. The world record grower is Koji Nakao and her giant strawberry weighed 250 grams.
The world record strawberry had lots of lobes, way more than the one pictured above.
Unfortunately we’ll need to look elsewhere for giant strawberry varieties because Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries put a ban on the export of Amaou seeds and seedlings to protect the strawberries value in the international market.
Give Strawberry Plants the Optimum Environment
- Plant Spacing – To get big strawberries give strawberry plants plenty of space. Like most garden plants, tight spacing will probably lead higher overall yields, because you have more plants, but individual plants will produce smaller strawberries and less of them per plant. Check out “How Far Apart To Plant Strawberries” for more on that.
- Grow in Great Soil – Great garden soil is loamy and full of organic matter and beneficial soil bacterias.
- Feed Them! – For strawberries, feeding them with an all-purpose fertilizer before and after they grow and a fertilizer high in potassium just when they begin to flower is a great feeding schedule. Check out “Best Fertilizers & Soil For Strawberries“.
- Choose a Sunny Spot – For strawberries to grow to their fullest potential they need a sunny spot in the garden. At the least they should get 6 hours of full sun a day.
- Water Regularly – Watering strawberries regularly keeps all systems functioning as they steadily grow. “Watering Strawberries (How Often & Tips)” has some good information in it.
How To Grow Sweeter Strawberries
The sweetness of strawberries and other produce is measured by brix levels. Brix levels can be measured with a brix refractometer.
Here is a chart with brix levels for a list of produce. According to strawberries with a brix level of 10 are considered average sweetness and 16 or higher are categorized as having excellent sweetness.
What I’ve seen and share later are lower brix levels than those listed here with most strawberries falling between 6-12 on the brix scale.
Benefits of High Brix Levels
Brix levels not only measure sugars but also are a measure of other soluble solids such as vitamins and minerals. Having a higher brix means produce tastes better because there are more simple and complex sugars in the produce but it also means that the produce is healthier and contains more nutrients.
Higher brix levels also mean healthier plants that are more resilient to pests, disease, and more tolerant to extreme temperatures as well as produce with a longer shelf life and better aroma!
Using Brix as an Indicator of Vegetable Quality is an article from Ohio State University that talks about brix levels. What they mean and what affects them.
“Environmental conditions that most strongly influence crop quality and °Brix include sunlight, temperature, and moisture.”–Using Brix as an Indicator of Vegetable Quality – Ohio State University Extension
The article says that soil nutrition also plays a role in brix levels. It says that some conditions like weather, temperature, and moisture levels can be out of farmers hands.
As gardeners, we can more easily control how much water the plants get and can mitigate temperature to some degree with shade cloths and soil mulching.
Increased temperatures, in general and especially warm temperatures at night, increase a plants metabolism causing it to burn more sugars. With cooler temperatures at night plants can rest and keep more of the sugars they produced through photosynthesis.
Choose the Sweetest Strawberry Varieties
Varieties of strawberries known in reputation for their sweetness include Albion, Diamante, Sweet Charlie, Mara Des Bois, Sparkle, Jewel, and AC Wendy
All things being equal, varieties of the same crop tend to differ in their baseline °Brix level. That is, varieties have a natural inclination toward lower or higher levels of soluble solids within the portion that is marketed. Therefore, variety selection is one of the most important and direct methods of shaping °Brix and crop quality.–Using Brix as an Indicator of Vegetable Quality – Ohio State University Extension
Grow Trial #1 – In this grow trial conducted by the University of Maryland 15 strawberry cultivars (varieties) were grown.
“The average brix ranged from 5.7 to 7.4 across 14 cultivars. AC Valley Sunset had the highest brix levels, followed by FlavorFest and Jewel. The lowest brix levels were with Strawberry festival, Camarosa and Yambu.”
Grow Trial #2 – In this grow trial conducted by the Horticulture Department of the University of Nebraska 11 strawberry varieties were grown. The results of the Brix levels can be seen in Table 5.
The highest brix level went to strawberry variety Daselect with a score of 12.94. This was followed by AC Wendy 12.66, Cavendish 9.83, Albion 9.03, Honeyoe 7.88, Evie-2 5.76, Chandler 5.61, an unknown grocery store variety 5.6, Clancy 5.56, Seascape 4.84, Strawberry Festival 4.62, and in last place Portola with a brix level of 4.16.
Grow Trial #3 – In this grow trial NC State grew 35 different strawberry varieties. The strawberries had a brix level range of 9.9 to 5.7. Some of the higher brix level varieties include Ruby J and Rocco. Many of the varieties were grown were named after the nursery the growers got the plant clones from.
How To Grow More Flavorful Strawberries
To grow more flavorful strawberries focus on improving the brix levels of your strawberries choosing flavorful varieties. Note that high sugar levels are not the end of the road when it comes to flavorful strawberries!
“Virginiana & Vesca – these two Fragaria species are not unique insomuch as they are powerful. The aroma and strength of flavor contained in the small wild-type strawberries are tremendously stimulating to the senses. Jams and wines made with these strawberries command a significant premium over all others due to their potent strawberry taste and smell. All commercial strawberries are bland in comparison to these. Due to their power, these are usually considered the gourmet strawberries.”Novelty Strawberries for the Home Garden – StrawberryPlants.org
Flavor can be measured scientifically and subjectively. In grow trial 2 linked above flavor is measured by brix levels, phenols, and flavonoids present in strawberries. In grow trial 3 flavor is measured by taste and a poll done with the strawberry’s taste being rated from poor flavor to excellent flavor with a score from 1-4.
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