Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Garden Recipe: How to Make a Vertical Strawberry Garden

I've been meaning to write this post for a while. A little over a year in fact. So here, finally, goes.

I'd always dreamed of fresh summer strawberries picked warm from our garden. I tried to have a strawberry patch in our Oakland garden, but I didn't mulch properly with straw, and the plants' leaves got mildew and few strawberries were produced. So last year, I ripped out my mini strawberry patch to try something new: vertical gardening in a pallet!

Here are the original bare root strawberries just as they were establishing.

And here they are, just a few weeks later--look at all those leaves!

And then after a month! You can now barely see the pallets. I found this method to be great--I fit about a hundred strawberry plants within a small, very sunny, south facing area in our Oakland driveway that otherwise went unused. We learned a lot while making these strawberry pallets so I want to pass on the knowledge to you all.

Wooden pallet (not chemically treated)
Chicken wire
Strawberry plants (~50 bare root strawberries per pallet)
Soil blend (Garden soil, vermiculate, time release fertilizer)
Borage seeds (optional)
Weed cloth
1/4" laser drilled, soaker hose tubing (if you have a drip system)
Hydro Flow Tube Support Clamp 1/4 Inch (if you have a drip system)
A teaspoon

Staple gun
A friend to help

Things to note
Make sure you get a heat treated, versus chemically treated, pallet. Wooden pallets are treated with either high heat or with chemical fungicides, such as Methyl Bromide, to fumigate the wood; Methyl Bromide is no good for growing food and can leach into your soil not to mention that it will kill beneficial insects you might come in contact (like bees). You can tell which type of pallet it is by the stamp--make sure yours have an HT stamp.


  1. Cut your soaker hoses into lengths just about six inches longer than the width of your pallets. You will be putting these soaker hoses into the pallets, which will water the strawberries from within the soil. I would recommend having one soaker hose for every 6 to 8 inches of height of pallets you have.
  2. Cut one sheet of weed cloth and chicken wire with the same dimensions that covers the bottom, sides, and backs of each of your pallets.
  3. Cut another sheet of weed cloth that is the size of the front of you pallet (where the slats are).
  4. Lie the front, or slat side, of your pallets on the ground and lay the weed cloth cut to cover on the inside. Staple the weed cloth onto the back of the slats so it will stay in place with soil resting against it (you should be using a lot of staples).
  5. Lay your soaker hose lengths across the pallet; then, connect the tubing to the inside of the pallet boards using the support clamps. 
  6. Pour your strawberry soil into the flats, still lying front first on the ground. Walk across the soil as much as possible to compact it, but treading lightly enough to not break the pallet or damage the drip lines; while usually you try to avoid compacted soil in the garden, soil that you've just mixed has a lot of air in it and will eventually compact, taking your young strawberry plants with it. The more you can compact the soil now, the happier your strawberry plants will be later. So walk on your soil loads, water it down, maybe even let it sit for a day, and then walk on it again. Your strawberries will thank you. 
  7. Once your soil is satisfactorily compacted (it should be filled to the side edges), you will first staple your back and bottom weed cloth sheet to the sides and bottom slats as well as any back support slats you may be lucky enough to have on your pallet. For extra security, staple the chicken wire to the bottom/back/sides of your pallet--trust me, you want add the chickenwire for support. Nothing is worse that working hours to prepare your strawberry pallet, just to have the soil weight blow out the back and all your strawberry plants get buried in a dirt pile. (true story, don't let is happen to you). 
  8. Lean the pallet up against the wall/sturdy fence/house where they will permanently be (this is where your trusty friend will come in handy--this is NOT a one person job). You hopefully assembled your pallets near by because you will find your pallet is quite heavy. 
  9. Trim your bare root strawberry roots to about 4 to 5 inches (the pallets is only so deep!) and trim off any dead leaves or stems. 
  10. Make small rips in the front of the pallet's weed cloth, spaced about 6 to 8 inches apart, crosswise. This is where you're going to be planting you strawberries. 
  11. With your teaspoon (you were wondering when we were going to use this, yes?), loosen the soil behind each of the rips you made in the weed cloth. Carefully place your trimmed strawberries into each of the holes, laying the roots parallel with the bottom of the pallet. With either your fingers or trusty tea spoon, make sure your strawberries roots are happily covered with soil. Repeat for each of your strawberry plants. 
  12. Now, if you have a drip watering system, hook your soaker hoses up to your drip system and turn on your water! As pallets are much shallower than normal soil, I recommend checking on the soil moisture of your strawberries frequently; ours pallets are along a south facing wall and in the summer we water our berries every third day.
  13. If you don't have a drip system, hand water with your house on the shower setting but with not too much pressure; the water will have a harder time soaking into the pallet and percolating down to the plants roots before it runs to the ground so this isn't the most efficient use of water. If you're in drought ridden California, this runoff will make you quite sad. 
  14. In a week or so, your strawberries will start leafing out and in a month with likely have flowers. As I wrote about in my strawberry variety post, trim off these flowers for the first few months so the plant can focus on growing strong roots and leaves. 

You may wonder what happened to these pallets when we left our Oakland garden. Of course they came with us! Even if they were heavy, they were a lot of work, and we would never have left them behind. As we had to detach them from the overall drip system when we moved, and we still don't have them attached to a drip system now, we lost about half of the plants going into this season due to the roots drying out. But fear not! We have a great space for them on our very sunny deck and have replaced all the berry plants with new young ones--let the Alameda strawberry growing begin!

Related posts
Strawberry varieties
Soil Blend

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