Strawberries grown in a hydroponic system have fewer problems than their soil-grown counterparts and allow a bit more flexibility when it comes to planting times. If your hydroponic garden is located outdoors, you can plant your strawberries in the spring after the last frost of the season. If planting indoors under grow lights, you can plant any time and even plant year-round to produce a constant supply of berries.
Hydroponic strawberries are less prone to diseases and pests, many of which live in soil. Strawberries grown hydroponically can be placed in elevated growers, making care of plants and harvesting easier and more convenient. By placing your hydroponic system indoors under grow lights, you can harvest berries year-round.
Seed vs. Plants
Strawberry plants propagated from seed will take two to three years to mature and bear fruit. If you don't want to wait that long to begin harvesting from your hydroponic strawberry garden, check with your local nursery for chilled runners. When choosing your chilled runners, try to find shoots with flowers or buds present.
Generally, you should plant strawberries in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Most strawberry varieties prefer the cooler temperatures of northern areas, but some varieties such as Florida Belle and Tioga are suited for southern areas. You should plant your berries in the fall for winter growing in these areas to take advantage of milder temperatures.
Preparing for Planting
Be careful when preparing your strawberry runners for planting in your hydroponic system; the roots are delicate and any damage to the roots or root hairs will stress the plants and slow their growth. Remove your nursery runners from their container, gently shake off excess soil from the roots, then submerge the roots in cold water for ten minutes. If any dirt still remains after this soak, rinse the roots under cold running water.
Pour an inch of sterile support media such as expanded clay pellets in the bottom of each net pot. You should soak your support media in pH-balanced water for a half hour before planting to prevent the media from sucking the moisture from the plant roots.
One strawberry plant should go in each net pot with the roots spread out on top of the support media. You can then add enough media to the net pot to support the plant upright without burying the crown of the plant. Once you place the net pots into your hydroponic garden, try to keep the pH between 5.8 and 6.2 for optimal production.
Strawberry plants will not do well overwintering in your hydroponic system, so to get year-round production you'll have to do a little preparation. Once your plants are well established, have finished rooting and have produced runners, clip a few runners from the plant and use rooting hormones to encourage them to produce roots and become new plants. Once they have grown a good root system, chill them by placing them in an area that will remain between 33 and 41 degrees, such as a garage. Chill the runners for at least 10 days and take them out depending on when you want to harvest your next crop of strawberries. The runners can be kept chilled for up to five months, so you can stagger planting times in order to keep up a continuous harvest of fresh strawberries.