Unlike most fruit, strawberries provide a small crop during their first year but at least you won't have to wait until the second year before cropping, as was once advised. Strawberries constantly throw out runners, so keep cutting the runners back to the crown to prevent a jungle of growth that weakens the plants and reduces the harvest.
When the fruit sets, place straw round the plants to keep strawbs off the ground and prevent them from becoming muddy when it rains. You could use strawberry mats instead, but the cheap option is to make your own. Cut a 30sq cm square of cardboard, cut a slit from one edge to a hole in the middle and place them round individual plants.
Although slugs and snails can be relied on to ruin the fruit, using Slug-X beer traps reduces their population. Remember to refresh the beer every week or two. They also hide under straw or mats, so periodically check underneath to remove them.
Strawberries crop well during their second and third year and are worth keeping on for a fourth one. You then need to dig out the plants before they become riddled by viruses and are therefore weak and stunted. Viruses are usually spread by aphids, but soil pathogens - fungi, nematodes and eelworms - can also be responsible.
Some fungi absorb viruses from around the roots of affected plants. They store these viruses for long periods, so would then infect any newly planted strawberries. Eelworms are infected by virus particles absorbed from strawberry roots. When they bite into weed roots - annuals or perennials - they inject viruses into the weeds. The disease is subsequently absorbed by other eelworms, so the problem persists for a few years in the soil. As with vegetables, a three or four-year rotation is required to break this cycle.
Container-grown strawberries also need to be replaced after four years, but only because here viruses are transmitted by aphids, not soil-borne organisms. When replacing strawberries in containers, renew the compost too and use the old compost as a soil conditioner. Provided the old plants were virus-free, their compost can be spread anywhere in the garden.
Strawberries need space and feed wherever they're grown, so restrict yourself to no more than three plants in a 30-litre pot. When planting up the container, mix in water-retaining gel to keep the compost moist. The plants need regular feeding when fruits start forming - a high-potash tomato liquid feed is best, applied weekly. Liquid comfrey makes an excellent free homemade alternative.
With limited space, perpetual strawberries such as Ostara make a good choice for containers. Inevitably, you get a much smaller harvest from a container and can only expect to pick a handful at a time - perfect for muesli. But, you'll have a longer picking season from perpetual strawberries. Alpine strawberries such as Mignonette also punch above their weight and give a long season of smaller but often tastier and more fragrant fruits.
We're used to encouraging strawberries to hang decoratively over the edge of containers, or even hanging baskets. Last year I made a raised strawberry bed like a long, thin sheep feeding trough on stilts and the fruit lolled over the sides, making a fine spectacle. But vertical gardening is all the rage for folk with very little space. New climbing strawberry varieties are ideal for this. Mount Everest climbs to around one metre, so can be trained against a trellis or up a sweet pea frame. Rambling Cascade reaches twice that height. Both varieties do well in troughs or containers.