Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 10:54 pm
When you have harvested the first ripe strawberries from your own garden, you will immediately understand why the strawberry is the absolute favorite fruit of the Europeans – below you will learn how easy it is to propagate strawberries and why propagating the right cultivars will give you much more strawberry flavor than you are used to from the usual commercial strawberry.
Strawberry plants put quite a bit of effort into producing the thick red flower bases that are meant to attract insects for pollination (and are eaten by us as strawberries). They usually only manage to do this really well for two or three years (old varieties can be more persistent, we’ll get to that), then the harvest wears off and the exhausted strawberry plant should be replaced.
Without reaching for your wallet, you can get new strawberries by propagating the existing strawberry plants. This is not a problem, you usually even have a choice between vegetative propagation (cloning) or sexual propagation from seed:
Most strawberries form runners at ground level, which you cut away in favor of fruit development as long as the strawberry plant bears well. When it no longer bears well, you can grow the runners to produce new strawberry plants from them.
This is a task that will not overwhelm you:
- Strawberries are easy to propagate if they grow runners “according to the rules”
- They soon look distinctly like junior strawberries
- After some time feeding by the mother, they usually show root beginnings
- Together with the leaves in the upper part, they are now plants capable of self-sufficient nutrition by photosynthesis
- The runners can be separated from the mother plant with a sharp knife
- And should first be planted in twos or threes in a pot with compost soil
- Because they still need to develop strong roots and gather strength before they can exist in the open ground
- For this purpose, the offspring strawberries are placed in a sunny, wind-protected place for a few weeks
- If you pot the runners very early, the “umbilical cord” to the mother plant is initially preserved
- Because then the ability to self-sufficient nutrition does not yet work safely
- Or not yet at all, new roots form runners only when they come into contact with the soil
- You must first help the runners hanging on the outside of the pot by potting them.
- The pots are placed around the mother during the time of root formation
- When the young plants look nice and strong and get the first new leaves, they should have formed enough new roots
- Usually it is after two or three weeks
- You can see if the root ball has developed well when you pot the plants up for planting out
- If you have a nice tangle of fine and fresh looking white roots in front of you, everything is fine
- If not, the plant will stay in the pot a little longer
Normally, offshoots for propagation purposes are taken in early summer (a little later than they are cut away for harvest promotion). They are then already recognizable as separate strawberry plants and show their own small root beginnings. This approach fits well with the natural growth rhythm of the strawberry plant in that it begins to form the flower sprouts for the next season in its heart as early as summer to allow them to mature in late summer/fall. Therefore, strawberries are best to always be in the ground by mid to late August, whether you are re-growing your own seedlings or planting completely new ones.
You can plant out rooted seedlings until September, but then you will have to expect yield losses when harvesting next year. Why you can assume that even the late-set strawberries will bloom and fruit next year (and ignore the instructions that warn about total crop failure of strawberries planted in the fall), you can read in the article “Balcony strawberries” in the section on wintering.
If the young plants show the first flowers in the same season, you should remove them, so that first the plants develop well and vigorously, so that the next year will bring a good harvest.
It is usually recommended to plant strawberries in a location that has not been home to strawberries for the last three years.
years. This is to prevent soil fatigue, which inhibits plant development when strawberry plants (and other rose plants, this plant family is famous for its difficulties with soil fatigue) are cultivated in the same location for a longer period of time.
If you have enough garden space to “transplant” strawberries back and forth, you can follow this recommendation without worrying at all about the mysteries of soil fatigue. Even in a small garden, strawberries are fairly easy to transplant to a new location every few years if you are still cultivating other crops and plants. Other plant families are also happy to move a bit, usually establishing a sort of ring exchange of useful plants (strawberries, for example, like to move into a former bean bed because the nitrogen nodules left behind by the bean roots are good for them).
If your garden space is limited and precious, and the strawberry plants are really your only useful plants besides a few herbs (for which no other stand is provided either), it might be tight for the new strawberries. In that case, you can either cut the space in half and move the strawberry plants in turn (perhaps moving a few strawberries out to boxes or tubs in the process, see the article “Balcony Strawberries”), or counteract soil fatigue with creativity and soil knowledge, see the article “Fertilizing Strawberries Properly” for more on this.
When you read that “strawberry plants should be replaced annually if possible,” you don’t have to believe it. Strawberries are perennial plants that grow at least three years (depending on the variety, much longer) in one location and produce beautiful harvests. Certainly, annual culture has the advantage of constant selection of plants. However, replacing fully juiced plants for this reason is about as logical as constantly buying new cars, driving them for a while, and then scrapping them so that a constant selection of cars takes place … Certainly, this allows to change the cultivated area every year, and it is also true that strawberries remove nutrients from the soil. To counter this nutrient depletion by changing the cultivation area every year is just not very advisable for home gardeners – with the method you will soon be in China with their strawberries, but your garden soil still suffers from nutrient deficiency.
You should even distrust the advice not to cultivate strawberries in the same place for more than two or three years. This may be so with modern cultivars, many of which are bred to “spend the first year of standing” and then discarded. When you go for old varieties, you are dealing with a somewhat more robust category of plants. Many old strawberries, such as the famous ‘Mieze Schindler’ and its close relatives, don’t bear best until the fourth year of standing, and with a little soil care (see “Fertilizing Strawberries Properly”) can be in the same spot for years.
When strawberries bear well, you need to cut away the stolons in favor of the crop so early that they are difficult to root, these strawberry plants are better to propagate from seed. This is not only worth it to delight friends with strawberry plants, but will help you have a summer full of strawberries, if you sow the seeds later spread over time, so that the strawberries ripen gradually. Yes, sure, there are monthly strawberries that bring harvest from spring to late autumn on one plant – but if you want to harvest real strawberries in perceptible quantities, you will not necessarily be happy with isolated, usually not very aromatic snack fruits, only sowing “real strawberries” also brings “real strawberry harvest”.
As easy as propagation from seeds is – their extraction could be a bit tricky. Because the strawberry is botanically not a berry (with a seed in the middle like the “date berry” or several seeds like the “armored berry pumpkin”), but a “gathering nut fruit” with tasty thickened flower base (the “strawberry”) and many small yellow nuts on its surface. These nuts are so tiny and delicate that most of us have never consciously seen or felt a strawberry seed on our tongue (you swallow about 100 seeds per strawberry).
According to this story, even “creepy-crawlies-rejecting city kids” find ants congenial: ants drag whole strawberries into their burrow to delight their larvae with “strawberries without cream.” Since the larvae do not eat the seeds, which are huge and hard for them, any more than we eat the date kernel, the seed-nuts are left over – and are dutifully transported by the ant parents (or routinely during daily house cleaning, or in the exercise of “anticipatory stockpiling”) back out of the burrow into nature, so that they can germinate into new strawberries … If the ants get out of hand in the strawberry land of plenty, you can spoil their appetite, for example, with wormwood manure or strong peppermint tea, usually they move (to the neighbor) after such a stampede.
These tiny yellow nuts contain, in even tinier dimensions, everything the “germination factory seed” needs: seed coat, (hopefully) the embryo created by pollination of the egg + cell division + nutrient tissue in the embryo sac; the complete equipment to germinate and survive until the growing plant becomes self-sufficient in nutrition by developing photosynthetic roots and leaves.
Trying to pick the seeds off the fresh strawberry with a fingernail/toothpick therefore ends in many cases with “demolition damage to the germination factory”; it works better that way:
- Cut fully ripe strawberry in half
- Let dry with the cut side on newspaper
- Jerk newspaper back and forth until most of the seeds have fallen off
- Carefully poke remaining seeds from outer casing with the blunt side of a knife
- Now you can put the seeds in a dark, dry container and store them until they are sown in the spring (or give them to people with gardens and a thirst for strawberries with the following sowing instructions):
- Stratify seeds one to three months before planned planting.
- Means: break dormancy, normally nature does it with winter cold.
- Alternatively, the refrigerator must be used (or the window sill outside, the unheated garage).
- One month of cold is usually enough, only for rare seeds you should be on the safe side
- Seeds should be ready for sowing at the earliest in mid-February.
- Earlier sown seedlings do not reach the bed stronger, but usually not at all:
- They die due to lack of light or develop unusable rush shoots
- Strawberry plants should be in the sowing pot by the beginning of March for a normal harvest in June/July.
- Seeds sown later postpone harvest (or postpone it to the next year).
- Just before sowing, presoak seeds in lukewarm water for a few hours
- Scatter in trays/pots with lean (sandy, not nutrient-rich) growing soil
- Press down, sieve max. 3 mm high, spray wet and cover transparently
- Place in a bright location (sun only indirectly), ventilate at least every 2nd day.
- Minimum temperature 16 °C, at optimal 20 °C the seeds germinate faster.
- Germination time otherwise depends on the variety, average 2 to 6 weeks.
- When seedlings are visible, remove cover
- Prick out seedlings 2 cm high or thin out with scissors
- With a growth height of approx. 5 cm the seedlings may “go into the bed”.
Any activity to ensure the “eternal free supply of strawberries” will pay off twice if you choose the right variety of strawberries:
Commercial strawberries and real strawberries.
In mass trade (group-operated garden centers, plant discounters, hardware stores, spring offers food discounters, Internet platforms dealing with everything) you usually get strawberry seedlings/seeds of strawberry varieties grown for commercial strawberry cultivation. These are produced on an industrial scale anyway, and the “hobby gardener’s supply” can easily be forked off and passed on to suitable (or not so suitable) outlets.
These commercial fruit varieties have as their breeding objective the “optimally saleable fruit,” which does not only bring advantages to the hobby gardener: These cultivars must exhibit a whole series of characteristics; for recognition for commercial cultivation, the Federal Office of Plant Varieties tests around 40 different criteria – taste is not one of them. Therefore, it often enough falls by the wayside; again and again, one can read field reports in which the “wonderful aroma” of a sales description is described as “meaningless”, “unusually intense” becomes “not so sparkling in taste”, the “very fine aroma” is too fine to find.
The propagation of modern cultivated varieties then also often has a gambling character: some cultivated varieties of garden strawberries and most monthly strawberries (cultivated forms of wild strawberries bred to be “permanent carriers”) no longer form runners, seeds of varieties mixed in the laboratory or bred in a rapid process do not necessarily produce plants that resemble the mother plant (for more on this, see “Sowing and growing strawberries”).
But traditional strawberry breeding, which has produced over 1,000 varieties of the garden strawberry alone since the 18th century, lives on alongside industrial breeding; many of the old varieties have survived and can be obtained from specialized nurseries (werden.deaflora.de/Shop/Erdbeeren; werden.manfredhans.de, product search strawberries) or private growers (search via forums, swap meets).
Buy from dealers who can ask you personally about their strawberries or the origin of the strawberry seeds or seedlings, where you can see the parent plants growing and perhaps even taste the fruit (as jam). Then propagate strawberries that bear fruit with real strawberry flavor (or specialties such as fragrant strawberries and spicy strawberries).
Then propagation already brings a lot more fun, curious home gardeners are quickly a bit further and experiment around with the other varieties of strawberries, which are cultivated by people: Aromatic foreign apricot strawberries and particularly intense-tasting Chile strawberries; yet again runner-forming monthly strawberries or musk strawberries from the Italian Piedmont, for which gourmets travel extra at strawberry time; perhaps also a scarlet strawberry variety called ‘Little Scarlett’, which has been cultivated since 1750 and (today) cannot be had for less than €10 per jam jar … Have fun and good strawberry hunger!