Few fruits are quite as refreshing as a fresh juicy strawberry, and maintaining your own strawberry patch is the most affordable and environmentally friendly way to get your strawberry fix. However, the limited growth season of conventionally-grown strawberries lasts for just a few summer months, so if you want to effectively grow strawberries year-round, more advanced strawberry growing methods are required.
Home-growing fruits, vegetables and flowers with hydroponic systems is becoming increasingly popular, and strawberry plants are commonly grown by both novice and expert hydroponic enthusiasts. However, if you want to grow strawberries in your hydroponic system, you need to ensure that the growing medium you choose is suitable. These substrates are used as an anchor by the roots of your strawberry plants and must be carefully chosen to allow your strawberry plants to grow properly.
Which hydroponic media are suitable for growing strawberries?
Perlite is a form of volcanic glass, and perlite chips and pebbles are one of the most commonly used and inexpensive of all hydroponic media. When it comes to growing strawberries, perlite is practically ideal -- the gaps between the individual glass chips allow an ample supply o oxygen to reach the roots, and the glass does not absorb water which can cause strawberry roots to become waterlogged and rotted. If you choose perlite, be careful to wear breathing protection when setting up your system, as dust given off by the glass can damage the lungs if inhaled.
A naturally-occurring silicate mineral, vermiculite has very similar properties to perlite when used as a hydroponic growing medium, providing excellent aeration and rapid drainage for the roots of your strawberry plants. However, vermiculite also has the ability to retain nutrients more readily through a molecular process known as cation exchange -- this can help you save money on fertilisers, but may cause novice growers to over-fertilise and damage their delicate strawberry plants during early stages of growth.
Expanded clay pebbles
These pebbles are created by firing clay in large kilns until the clay expands, hardens and becomes porous. Another popular hydroponic medium, expanded clay pebbles provide excellent aeration and nutrient retention properties. They also absorb a small amount of water; this can be disadvantageous if you over-water your strawberries, but can make them useful if you use a hydroponic system (such as a drip irrigation system) where water retention is desirable. Unlike most other growing media, clay pebbles can also be reused several times.
Which hydroponic media are not suitable for growing strawberries?
This hairy substance taken from the husks of coconuts is a fine growing medium for many hydroponically grown plants, but is not suitable for growng strawberries. The absorbent coir retains too much moisture and can cause catastrophic root rot. It also has a tendency to change the pH of the water that passes through it, making it too acidic for strawberry plants to properly utilise.
Another popular medium that is sadly unsuitable for growing strawberries, rockwool consists of superheated stone that is spun into densely woven threads while it is in a liquid state before being allowed to harden. Like coconut coir, it is too absorbent to use safely with strawberries, and the densely packed fibres also prevent sufficient oxygen from reaching the roots of your strawberry plants.
Visit a hydroponic shop for more information.