Smart Strawberry Picking Tips

Make a outing extra sweet with these kid-friendly pointers.

With a pick-your-own strawberries farm right around the corner from my house in Georgia, life just doesn’t get any sweeter. In strawberry season, berries picked that day are just minutes away from a strawberry-almond salad or my go-to dessert — angel food strawberry shortcake. When my son was a toddler, we often had play dates at the u-pick farm. Some of my favorite photos show him squatting down to pick the juicy, red fruit, although he didn’t last long out there when it got hot or buggy.

Ripe Strawberries

Ripe Strawberries

Ripe strawberries fill a bucket at Washington Farms, in Watkinsville, Ga., where each April and May families from surrounding areas come to pick their own berries.

Photo by: Shannon Dominy

Shannon Dominy

From selecting each berry to participating in strawberry-related activities at the farm or at home, strawberry picking can be a fun annual tradition with your family and friends.

“We see it as lifelong memories that these kids are making, and we love to see them year after year as they keep growing,” says Karen Parker with  Hickory Bluff Berry Farm in Holly Hill, S.C.

But wandering out into the fields unprepared can lead to sunburned toddlers and cranky kiddos. Here are four ways to ensure your first (or next) strawberry picking expedition won’t be your last.

Pack for sun and more

Expect to encounter sun, bugs and possibly mud at a u-pick farm. Most farms advise leaving the flip-flops at home and wearing older tennis shoes or even boots.

Pick-Your-Own Strawberry Farm

Pick-Your-Own Strawberry Farm

Strawberry season is April and May at Washington Farms in Watkinsville, Ga.

Photo by: Shannon Dominy

Shannon Dominy

Arrive early in the day, so that it’s not too hot and the fields have a better berry selection. If you visit in the afternoon, temperatures may be at their peak and strawberries could be spotty, causing you and the kids to walk further to fill your sacks and buckets. Fill up sports bottles with water to stay hydrated, or bring a cooler with icy drinks and snacks. 

Don’t forget to plan ahead for allergies, either.

“We are a farm. We may have mowed grass yesterday, and there’s a lot of pollen out here,” says John Washington, who co-owns with his wife, Donna, Washington Farms in Georgia (its strawberry season runs from April through May). “If your kid has allergies, bring some Benadryl.”

John and Donna Washington of Washington Farms

John and Donna Washington of Washington Farms

John and Donna Washington, owners of Washington Farms, stand in their strawberry field in Watkinsville, Ga., where customers can pick their own berries each April and May.

Photo by: Shannon Dominy

Shannon Dominy

Make a day of it

Turn an hour-long outing into an entertaining afternoon by bringing a picnic or participating in special events at the farm. Before you go, look for information about upcoming activities, like festivals and classes, on the farm's website or Facebook page (that's also where some farms post if their supply is running low that week or if they're closed because of rain).

Some families find enough to do to spend easily three to four hours at a u-pick farm, Parker says. 

Ripe Strawberries

Ripe Strawberries

Ripe strawberries fill a bucket at Washington Farms, in Watkinsville, Ga.

Photo by: Shannon Dominy

Shannon Dominy

Hickory Bluff holds jam-making classes and even has had drones flying over the farm. Or farms may host special days with activities where children can run and jump, along with a petting zoo, hayrides and games, in addition to berry picking.

Continue the berry-filled fun at home, where your children can help make a strawberry dessert with the day’s harvest. Ice cream and strawberry pie are both good options, but Washington Farms’ co-owner Donna Washington also recommends freezer jam — a jam you can make with fruit pectin, sugar and fruit and little cooking. 

“If mom brings the kids here and picks, and then they take them back, and wash the berries, cap them (remove the caps) and make jam, that can take a good part of the day,” says John Washington.

“And they also see how much work goes into preparing food,” adds Donna Washington.

Yes, they can learn, too!

For many children, strawberry picking is their first introduction to the farm-to-table experience.

Fresh-picked Strawberries

Fresh-picked Strawberries

John Washington, co-owner of Washington Farms, picks berries in his in Watkinsville, Ga., strawberry field.

Photo by: Shannon Dominy

Shannon Dominy

“There’s so many kids that come out here that have never been on a farm, and they’ve never picked anything,” John Washington says.

Courtney Flores, a Georgia mother of two, takes her children strawberry picking each season. Most of today’s children are removed from the food production process. They grow up picking up boxed and bagged fruits and vegetables in large, air-conditioned grocery stores. Flores likes that a trip to a farm can be a revelation.

Georgia Strawberry Farm

Georgia Strawberry Farm

In the strawberry fields of Washington Farms, in Watkinsville, Georgia, families come to pick their own berries each April and May. As customers move down a row in the field they move the wire flags to signal what areas have been picked over.

Photo by: Shannon Dominy

Shannon Dominy

“I want to make sure they know where food comes from — the ground,” she says.

Experiences on the farm are educational in other ways. With young children, you can do counting games with your harvest, or teach them about colors.

Strawberry Plants

Strawberry Plants

Strawberry plants bloom at Washington Farms in Watkinsville, Ga.

Photo by: Shannon Dominy

Shannon Dominy

Some kids get excited when they get out there — they just see a berry and want to pick it, says Marilyn Gurosik, co-owner of Gurosik’s Berry Plantation in North Augusta, South Carolina. But you may be filling your bags and buckets with sour strawberries.

Instead, parents can talk to kids about the different colors of the strawberries beforehand. Help them understand that red means they’re ready to pick while berries with a green, yellow or orange tint need a bit more time to grow.

Strawberry Farm

Strawberry Farm

A farm activity is picking your own fruit, such as strawberries. Washington Farms is in Watkinsville, Ga., with another location in Loganville, Ga., outside of Atlanta.

Photo by: Shannon Dominy

Shannon Dominy

“You can see the whole lifecycle as you’re going through the field,” Parker says. “There’s a lot to teach them and a lot to show them, if the parents are interested in taking the time and educating them along the way.”

Take the pressure off picking

Remember, this is supposed to be a fun family activity. Even when her 2-year-old spent most of a recent trip running up and down the rows rather than picking berries, Flores didn’t worry about it.

“Don't worry about picking a ton of strawberries, or even about picking the ‘best’ strawberries,” she says. “I know I’m paying for the experience, rather than the actual product, so I just let the kids have fun with it.”

With heat and bugs as factors, keeping the activity low pressure means that when your kids are ready to leave, it’s OK to do so.

“When they are ‘done,’ we are done,” Flores says. “I don't try to make them pick for longer than they want to.”

—Additional reporting by Shannon Dominy

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