Try a PVC Strawberry Tower if You’re Short on Space - or Long on Daring!

A PVC strawberry tower is an innovative way to grow lots of strawberry plants on a small plot of ground.

This strawberry planter would work well on a patio or deck.

And if used in a greenhouse, you could be picking your strawberries before the outside strawberries are even blooming.

It's a fun way to grow strawberries, too!

Question: How Many Strawberry Plants Can You Grow on One Square Foot of Ground?

Answer: If you’re planting in the ground, you can grow exactly one strawberry plant on a square foot of ground.

But if you’re using that square foot as the foundation of a strawberry tower, you can grow many plants - 100, to be exact, using the setup I’m about to show you.

Advantages...

What are the advantages of this system?

Well, the most obvious is the ability to grow many plants on a small plot of ground.

It’s an interesting way to maximize the production of a small garden, or to grow strawberries on a deck or balcony. And since greenhouse space is precious, it’s particularly well-suited for greenhouse growing.

But there are other advantages.

Since the plants are off the ground, you’ll be able to grow very clean, very high-quality berries. Disease problems can be minimized with the off-the-ground approach, particularly in a greenhouse where constant airflow is provided.

There’s an intangible advantage, too: This is just a cool way to grow strawberries; it’s kind of fun!

And Disadvantages...

To be fair, there are some definite disadvantages to this system, too.

One is that this is really just a one-season approach to growing strawberries. We haven’t had much luck carrying the plants through a second growing season. We've found that the plants overwinter and survive OK (in our greenhouse), but aren’t very productive the second season.

There is also more potential for problems with this growing system than with the old-fashioned method of just planting in the ground. Towers can fall over (happened to us!), and plugged irrigation lines can quickly result in dead plants (happened to us!). And it’s a lot of work to get your PVC pipes ready and the system set-up.

If you’re game to give it a try, or just curious as to how it’s done, read on…

(NOTE: Some feel that there are concerns about potential health risks in using PVC pipe. You’ll have to decide that for yourself, but just in case you didn’t know, you likely drink and bathe in water every day that’s traveled miles through PVC pipe.)

Intrigued with the concept of vertical growing...

But don't want to bother with all the measuring, drilling and building? Then here are some purchase-and-grow alternatives that might be worth considering:

5-Tiered Vertical Strawberry Planter Pot

This product is very similar to my strawberry towers in that it utilizes the trickle-down method of irrigation. You just pour water in at the top and it flows through to every pot.

Comes with a bottom drip tray which makes it usable for indoor growing. And though it's a 5-tier stack of pots, it can be broken up into two tiers to make two shorter, separate towers.

If I just wanted to grow a small amount of strawberries, I think I'd do it this way rather than building a tower from scratch. But then, I'm more into the growing than the building! Click here to visit product page.

3-Foot Column Planter Tower

Comes with a center feeding tube for watering and fertilizing.

This planter is made of thin plastic instead of rigid PVC, so will only stand erect once filled with growing medium. (Perlite would work great with this tower, just as with the PVC tower.)

I'm not sure how durable this tower would be long-term. But it would probably be a great way to experiment with vertical growing. Click here to visit product page.

Mr. Stacky Hydroponic Growing Tower

Not inexpensive, but this unit is a self-contained hydroponic tower for growing strawberries (or other crops). It's designed for both indoor and outdoor use.

The tower comes with:

- a 17.5 water/nutrient reservoir

- a submersible irrigation pump and timer

- pipe and tubing

- a stack of grow pots providing locations for 20 plants

Click here to visit product page.

Transform a Plain Piece of Sewer Pipe Into a Strawberry Tower

Yep, I said sewer pipe. 6-inch sewer pipe to be precise.

We purchased it in 10-foot lengths, and cut them in half to make 5-foot towers, but you could go with any length you want.

(I don’t think I need to clarify this, but just in case: it’s new sewer pipe, not used!).

You can buy sewer pipe at most any home improvement store such as Lowe’s and Home Depot.

You’ll also need a 1.5 inch hole saw (the kind you can use with an electric drill), and you might need an end cap for each pipe (to be explained later).

Once you've got everything you'll need on hand, you can lay out where your holes will go, and cut them with the hole saw.

The Measurements:

Here are the measurements we used for our strawberry towers:

  • There are 8 vertical rows of holes on each pipe
  • The rows are 2.5 inches apart, center to center
  • Along each row, the holes are 4 inches apart, center to center
  • Stagger the holes, so that the holes on one row aren’t lined up evenly with the holes in the adjacent rows (see the photos below)
  • Place the first holes 8-inches up from the bottom. Otherwise you’ll end up with plants growing on the ground

These measurements and spacing will give you 4 rows of 12 holes alternating with 4 rows of 13 holes, for a total of 100 holes per 5 foot tube

Mark and Drill Holes

Use any method you want to lay out the hole pattern, but here’s what I did:

  • I used a flexible tape measure (the kind that would be used in sewing) to mark off each row around the circumference of the pipe
  • Do that at each end of the pipe, of course, and be sure to keep the measurements at both ends lined up (I used the manufacturer's marking on the pipe as a reference) 
  • Then I used a rigid tape measure to mark the rows from end to end, and to measure and mark each hole location on each row.

With all the hole locations marked, it's a relatively quick and simple job to drill out all the holes with a hole saw. For both marking and drilling the pipe, you'll need a way of stabalizing the pipe. (I used a pair of sawhorses with spacers nailed on to make a pipe cradle.)

Once the holes are cut, it’s a good idea to use a piece of sandpaper to knock off the sharp edges formed by the hole saw. (Your fingers will thank you when it comes time to plant!)

Setup the Strawberry Towers and Get Ready to Plant

To get your strawberry tower ready for planting, you’ll need to address two concerns: stability and irrigation.

Stability:

I’ve only used the towers inside a greenhouse, so wind was of little concern. But even so, the towers tend to be a bit unstable and should be supported in some way. The taller the tower, the more important this is.

We simply ran a wire from one end of the greenhouse to the other, and attached each tower to the wire. Any arrangement that keeps the tower from tipping and doesn't block light from the strawberry plants will work.

We don’t put a cap on the bottom of our towers, but you could if you preferred. If you use a cap, you’ll need to drill several holes in it to assure drainage.

I've heard of people suspending strawberry towers in the air, and for this setup you’d obviously need a bottom cap. You'd also need a VERY STRONG structure to handle the weight, because these towers are HEAVY when full of moist growing medium!

Irrigation:

The simplest arrangement for irrigation is to use a single sprayer or dripper positioned at the top of the tower, and let the water percolate down. That's what we did.

If you have some experience with irrigation systems, you could design your own system for this purpose, purchasing just the components you need.

Alternatively, you could buy a kit designed for container gardening, such as this product or this one. Though if you buy a kit it's likely you'll be purchasing some components that you'll never use.

Another possibility would be to run a small diameter soaker hose vertically through the center of the tower. With an internal water outlet, though, you run the risk of complete or partial clogs.

Whatever system you set-up, I'd recommend running your irrigation from a timer, if possible. Makes things a lot easier.

If you don't have a timer on hand, I'd recommend this product. It's what we used in our strawberry greenhouse, and for many other farming applications through the years. Perhaps I've just been lucky, but I've NEVER had one fail on me. (I've had some far more expensive timers fail, though!)

You could also plan on applying irrigation by hand, just pouring the water in at the top. That would be very doable, especially if you're just using one or two towers. But this setup requires frequent watering, so an automated system with a timer makes management much simpler.

Once you have the tower stabilized and the irrigation in place, you’re ready to plant.

Some Pre-Planting Notes...

Strawberry Plants:

We use bare-root strawberry plants that are dormant at the time they are shipped. So for the most part, the plants are just roots and crown. (You can see that the strawberry plant in my hand below has just broken dormancy and begun to grow.)

But you could use strawberry plugs if you prefer. (Here are some tips about buying strawberry plants.)

Growing Medium:

We use perlite as the growing medium in our strawberry towers. Here's why: We grow the strawberries hydroponically, meaning that all of the nutrients the plants require are delivered in the irrigation. Every time the plants are watered, they are also fed.

The perlite works great as a ‘substance’ for the roots to grab hold of and grow into. Perlite also provides excellent drainage of excess water, while retaining a film of water around each grain of perlite to help prevent roots from drying out.

If you use perlite alone, just be sure to select a quality brand of horticultural grade perlite.

If you don’t want to use just perlite, though, you can use whatever combination of perlite and/or potting soil and fertilizer you prefer (soil from your garden is not recommended due to the risk of soil-borne diseases and pests).

Be aware that if you’re watering from the top, water might not make it down to the bottom plants in sufficient quantity if your potting mixture is too dense (not a problem with perlite).

Fertilization:

Many people have asked about fertilizing strawberry plants grown this way. There really are many options; which will be best for you will depend upon your situation and your preferences.

As I noted above, we grow our strawberries hydroponically. That means that we use water-soluble fertilizers that are dissolved in the irrigation water. So every time the timer kicks-off an irrigation cycle, the plants are also fed.

We're very experienced hydroponic growers, with years of experience growing hydroponic tomatoes and lettuce on a commercial scale. So we're very comfortable growing our strawberries hydroponically. 

But if you don't want to use that method of fertilization, there are many granular fertilizers that you could choose to use. Probably the best bet would be to choose some form of slow-release granular fertilizer to mix into the growing medium as you plant. You could go with a strictly organic fertilizer if you prefer.

If you decide to use a granular fertilizer of some sort, you’ll need to make certain that it’s mixed well with the growing medium you’re using. You’ll also need to be careful not to exceed recommended rates of application according to the fertilizer’s label.

And it will probably take a bit of head scratching to convert the fertilizer’s label recommendations for surface application to a suitable quantity for your tower.

Some Fertilizer Recommendations...

Don't have a favorite fertilizer in mind for your strawberries? Here are some suggestions:

Winchester Gardens Organic Berry Fertilizer

This is a 2-3-4 formulation that will work as a slow-release fertilizer, so you can mix it with your growing medium before planting.

It's composed of ingredients that are approved for organic growing (ingredients include bone meal and feather meal). Click here to visit product page.

Hydroponic Strawberry Fertilizer

If you want to grow your strawberries hydroponically (the way the plants featured on this page were grown), you'll need a completely water-soluble fertilizer suitable for hydroponic use.

If you happen to be an experienced hydroponic grower, you may know how to mix your own formulation from a number of different nutrient ingredients. But if you're a newbie to hydroponic growing (or you just don't want to bother with all the mixing), I'd recommend that you start with something like this product.

It contains all the ingredients needed for a complete hydroponic nutrient solution - all you have to do is add water.

Be aware that this is not an organic product (and neither is the nutrient formulation we use with our strawberries). Click here to visit product page.

Load Up Your Strawberry Tower With Plants

Once your towers are set-up and stabalized, you're ready to plant your strawberries.

To get started, you just pour perlite (or whatever growing medium you’re using) into the top until the tower is filled up to the bottom of the first row of holes.

Then place one plant in each hole, taking care to plant the crowns at the proper depth.

Now pour enough perlite in to fill the pipe up to the next layer of holes, tamp it down a bit by reaching into the holes with your fingers, and then put in the next level of plants.

Just repeat the process, working your way up the tower until all of the holes have been planted, as illustrated in the series of photos below.

Notes:

  • It’s a good idea to make sure the perlite is wet before you start planting. It's easier to work with when wet, and you don't have to breathe the dust. I drill a few small holes in the bottom of a plastic 5-gallon bucket, fill the bucket with perlite, and then add as much water as possible to the bucket. The bucket will gradually drain, keeping the perlite moist but not waterlogged as you use it.
  • Remember that since the hole layout in the rows is staggered, you’ll have 4 holes at each level as you work your way up the tower. So you’ll plant 4 strawberry plants, pour in enough perlite to get up to the next level of holes, and then plant 4 more plants, etc.

And The Result?

Two weeks after planting:

Six weeks after planting:

Eight weeks after planting:

Time to feast!

Modify to Suit Your Needs

I certainly did not originate the concept of strawberry towers using PVC pipe. There are many different versions and methods of growing strawberries vertically, but this is the system that I’ve used myself.

Some strawberry tower setups are quite different from this system, and involve variations such as melting the PVC tube in places to create ledges for the plants.

So if you want to try this challenging (and fun!) method of growing strawberries, perhaps your system will contain some innovative design tweaks of your own to make it perfectly suited for your growing environment.

In any case, I wish you lots of luck (and lots of good eating!) with your strawberry towers.

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