How to Propagate Strawberries

Learn all about growing and propagating this “berry” tiny yet bountiful fruit.

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by Michael Feldmann
Even a small strawberry patch can be bountiful. Strawberries are perfect in jams, cakes, pies, and other sweets.

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Learn how to propagate strawberries and which strawberry diseases and pests to look out for during the strawberry season. 

Strawberries are easy to grow in almost all climates, and they’re an ideal plant for gardeners and small farmers across the United States. Strawberries fruit year after year and can be harvested from midsummer all the way to the first frost. They’re convenient to have in the garden, because they only take up a little space.

Strawberries grow quickly under the right conditions, and a patch of strawberry plants can produce hundreds of delicate berries. This combination of rapid and plentiful fruit production makes strawberries perfect for making cakes, pies, and ice cream, and for preparing jam, jelly, and juice. It also makes them the ideal candidate for a profitable enterprise. Selling strawberries can be as simple as placing a sign near the road to bring customers to your farm or pick-your-own strawberry patch.

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Best of all, it’s easy to get started growing strawberries! The key to a successful berry patch, whether for profit or personal consumption, is to choose cultivars for increased yield and fewer diseases.

Choose Your Favorite Berries

Once you’ve tasted homegrown strawberries, you’ll never want to eat store-bought again. They smell wonderful, and their brightly colored, juicy fruit is full of flavor. Plus, when you grow your own, you can select a variety of cultivars that ripen at different times, taste unique, and produce fruit of varying sizes.

strawberries collected in an assortment of containers on the ground

Although strawberries are self-pollinating, consider planting two or more cultivars to spread out the harvest season. You’ll find that most places label cultivars as either early, mid-, or late-season ripening. June-bearing strawberries produce a single harvest in spring or early summer. Everbearing strawberries have two harvests each season: one in spring and the second in fall. Day-neutral strawberries bear fruits throughout the growing season. The number of runners–horizontal stems that extend outward from the base of the strawberry plant–that are produced varies with type and cultivar. Strawberries are also susceptible to viral diseases, as well as Verticillium wilt, red stele, and leaf spot, so you’ll benefit greatly from purchasing disease- and virus-resistant plants.

Additionally, don’t forget to consider the characteristics of each cultivar’s fruit. The intensity of flavor, size, and firmness vary by cultivar. Firmer cultivars are better for freezing and preserving. Here are a few of my recommendations: For everbearing strawberries, consider ‘Ogallala,’ ‘Ozark Beauty,’ or ‘Fort Laramie.’ For June-bearing strawberries, try ‘Sparkle,’ ‘Earliglow,’ ‘Honeoye,’ or ‘Surecrop.’ For day-neutral strawberries, look into ‘Tristar,’ ‘Seascape,’ and ‘Tribute.’

Cultivating Strawberries

Each strawberry plant yields roughly 8 ounces of fruit, so plan ahead and plant enough for your needs. It’s definitely worth the effort for the pleasure of harvesting your own berries.

man driving a tractor in a strawberry field

Soil preparation and location. Strawberries grow best in organic soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 that’s been supplemented with compost or manure. Don’t plant them where any tomatoes, potatoes, okra, melons, eggplants, cotton, or raspberries have grown within the past three years, since they may pick up soilborne diseases as a result. Don’t plant where grass has grown within the past year, since strawberries can be harmed by grubs that may be in the remaining grass roots. Work a 2-to-4-inch layer of well-rotted manure or compost into the top 8 inches of soil a few months before planting. Alternatively, apply a 2-to-4-inch layer of peat moss and 1-1/4 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet and dig the soil over thoroughly.

Planting. When setting out a new strawberry bed, buy only certified disease- and virus-free plants; don’t replant your own, as they may have contracted a root disease. Plant strawberries in early spring in most of the United States. If you live in Florida, along the Gulf Coast, in the Southwest, or in coastal areas of California, plant them in fall. Planting depth is critical; the objective is to set each plant so that half its crown is buried and the other half is above the soil. Immediately after planting, feed each plant with 1 pint of liquid fertilizer diluted to half the strength recommended on the label.

illustration of how to plant a strawberry

The hill system of planting strawberries works for both the June-bearing and everbearing strawberries. It results in large berries but calls for considerable work. Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart in both directions, making beds two rows wide. The beds should be raised about 6 inches above the garden level to provide good drainage. Remove runners as they appear, so the plants’ energy will be channeled to fruit production.

Use the spaced-matted system to grow June-bearing cultivars in cooler areas. Space plants 2 feet apart with a distance of 4 feet between rows. When the plants begin to produce runners, don’t let more than six new plants form from each parent plant, and prune the surplus runners. The following season, when the plants will be the most bountiful, remove any new runners in between rows. The season after that, destroy the old bed and begin again with a new area.

Season-long care. Use a rake or tined cultivator to stir the top inch of soil around your plants regularly to keep weeds away. Pick off all flower buds on June-bearing cultivars planted in spring before they open the first season; they’ll blossom and bear fruit the following summer. With spring-planted everbearing strawberries, pick off blossoms the first year until late summer, and then allow them to produce a fall harvest of berries. Thereafter, let blossoms mature for a spring and fall harvest each year. Everbearing strawberries planted in fall will begin to bear fruit a few months after planting; don’t remove their buds.

In late summer, scatter 10-10-10 fertilizer around your strawberry plants at the rate of 1-1/4 pounds per 100 square feet of bed area. Fertilizer can burn the leaves, so be careful when applying it. Scratch it into the soil, or if the plants are mulched, spread it on top and water it in.

In the North, mulch strawberry beds with straw or salt-marsh hay to a depth of 3 to 4 inches in fall when average night temperatures fall below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Pull most of the mulch into the space between plants in spring when the new growth begins, leaving some around the plants to keep the fruit from resting on the soil.

In the South, mulching is done mostly to keep fruit clean. In fall, shortly after planting, apply a 1-to-2-inch layer of cottonseed hulls, peanut shells, sawdust, bagasse (sugarcane fiber), or pine needles to cover the soil. Don’t cover the plants.

To protect your strawberries from birds, which will eat the berries as soon as they begin to turn red, erect a low tent of plastic netting over a frame of stakes.

Strawberry Diseases and Pests

Slugs and snails are a big problem for strawberry growers. Keep weeds down and clear any debris under which they might hide. For raised beds with wooden edges, consider using copper strips, which are typically available from organic supply catalogs. Tack the strips along the edge of the bed. The copper will give slugs a mild electric shock, deterring them from venturing farther.

Gray mold, or Botrytis, can affect strawberries. It’s worse in damp summers or if the fruit is splashed during watering. Keep weeds controlled and space plants well apart to improve air circulation.

Yellow, blotchy leaves and progressively low yields are likely caused by a strawberry virus, particularly if the plants are several years old or if you propagate your own replacement plants from runners. The virus is spread by aphids, so you’ll likely encounter it eventually. Dig out and destroy effected plants as soon as you notice the problem, before the virus can spread to the others, and buy virus-free stock to start a new row at the first opportunity. Control aphids to prevent them from spreading the disease in the first place.

Verticillium wilt is often fatal. It makes strawberry leaves wilt and then turn brown. There’s no cure, so remove affected plants and surrounding soil, if possible, as soon as you spot a problem.

Red core, or red stele, is a disease that develops in heavy or damp soils. It stunts strawberry plants, causes them to grow reddish leaves, and may result in the plant collapsing. If you have this problem, destroy your current plants, change the site, and improve drainage.

How to Propagate Strawberries

Propagating strawberries is easy, and you can do it in one of three ways: by runners, seeds, or plant division. The ideal method for you will depend on the amount of time you have and the number of plants you’d like to end up with.

How to Propagate Strawberries by runners. Propagating strawberries by runners is probably the easiest and quickest way to create new plants. Wherever runners touch the soil, they’ll grow roots and form a new strawberry plant.

illustration of strawberry runner propagation

To propagate your strawberries this way, direct the runners so their roots grow in a separate movable container. You can bury the container so the strawberry runner remains at ground level, or you can set it on the ground for easier removal once the runner has established its root. Once the root is established, in about 4 to 6 weeks, separate the new plant from the mother plant by cutting off the runner. Typically, this new strawberry plant can be transplanted into the garden and will produce its own flowers and berries.

How to Propagate Strawberries by seeds. Each strawberry has more than 100 seeds that can be planted and grown into full-sized plants. It can take a little bit of time, but this is an easy and interesting way to propagate lots of strawberries.

To start, take a fully ripe strawberry and cut it in half. Place both halves on a paper towel to dry completely, with the cut sides down. Then, carefully collect the seeds from the dried strawberry. Store the seeds in a dark area in a dry container until it’s time to sow them. While bare-rooted strawberry plants can be planted almost anytime, seeds need to be kept indoors until the last frost has passed. Simply plant the seeds in a pot or seed-starter tray filled with moist potting medium, and water them thoroughly. Then, place the seeds in a sunny windowsill away from direct sunlight. Allow several weeks to germinate. When your strawberry plants become large enough to transplant, you can plant them directly into the garden or plant them separately in pots.

How to Propagate Strawberries by plant division. The final way to propagate your strawberries is by dividing their crowns. When strawberry plants get older, they’ll start sending up multiple crowns from the center of the plant. You can divide those crowns and plant them individually, greatly expanding your stock. Be careful not to damage the crown in the process, however. When you replant a crown, getting it at the right height above the soil can be difficult and requires some experience.

Divide your strawberry crowns in early spring while the weather is cool. Water the plant well the night before. Locate the crown of the strawberry plant and carefully remove it from the soil using a shovel. Bisect the crown and remove any soil from the roots. Then, continue to divide the crown halves, making sure each newly divided crown section is at least 1/2 inch in diameter and has 6 to 12 good roots.

Replant the new crown sections so each one is between 1/4 to 1/2 inch in the soil. Water the new plants well over the season, and expect to see leaves within a few months. The newly propagated plants should provide berries the following year.

man driving a tractor in strawberry field

Gathering the Harvest

For the best flavor and texture, harvest your strawberries when it’s dry and cool and, ideally, after the heat of the midday sun has passed. When ripe, each fruit should have a deep-red color and a pleasant scent. Pick berries daily, and don’t leave small or misshapen ones behind, because they’ll mold and can spread disease. Use them in cooking or jam instead.

To extend the strawberry season, try preserving the harvest by freezing and, of course, making jams!

Michael Feldmann is a farmer and writer by both hobby and profession. He’s been published in numerous farming publications, including Hobby Farms, Mother Earth News, Canadian Organic Growers, Farming Magazine, Farmers Weekly, Poultry World, and many others. Michael is currently based in Oklahoma, writing articles on every farm topic that interests him.