There’s something special about strawberries. The first of the garden fruits to ripen, their sweetness signals the beginning of great harvests in the garden. Nothing compares to plucking a juicy red berry from the stem, taking a bite, and savoring the incomparable flavor while a drip dribbles down your chin.
At least that was the plan, right? But for many hopeful strawberry gardeners, their crop didn’t turn out like they had hoped. I can’t count how many of my friends have lamented disappointing strawberry harvests in their first year.
The bad news is, if you’re growing June-bearing varieties (which is the most popular type), the fruiting season has passed. But the good news is, if you take these steps, you can pave the way for a bumper crop of berries next year.
June-Bearing or Ever-bearing?
The first important thing to know about the strawberries you planted is whether they are the June-bearing variety. June-bearing strawberries actually bear in May in my Zone 7 climate, so don’t let the name trip you up. The point is, they produce a harvest of big berries once per year. (Ever-bearing, by contrast, produces smaller berries both in the late spring and fall and sometimes small quantities throughout the growing season.)
How do you know what you planted? The easiest way is to look at the variety on the plant label where you bought it and look it up online. Another way to know is if the strawberries stop flowering after production and begin to send out “runners.”
Strawberry Runners: the good and the bad
If you’ve determined you have planted June-bearing types, these runners are the key to next year’s harvest. Each runner produces several baby plants. If left unattended, these babies will take root in whatever soil is there and begin to grow its own plant. The runner eventually dries up.
Two years ago, I planted six strawberry plants in my blueberry bush bed. After their small first-season crop, I let them procreate without restriction. The following year I did the same. Now, my blueberry bush bed is overloaded with strawberry plants. This has been good in many ways — we’ve had an enormous amount of strawberries — but it has had some downsides as well. Because the plants are so close together, I haven’t been able to mulch deeply, and with heavy rains more than a normal share of berries have rotted before I could pick them. They are also cumbersome to pick when clumped together in this way.
If you only have one plant, it won’t hurt to allow these runners to produce baby plants as long as you have the space. But a better suggestion is to take each of these babies, let them root in a container, and replant them where you will want them next year.
How to Transplant Strawberry Plants from Runners
First, identify the baby plant. You’ll see clear leaves at the “V” of the runner, and if you look closely, you’ll see roots beginning to form.
Second, take a small container and fill with soil. I use containers I’ve saved from transplants or flowers I’ve bought in the gardening season.
Third, place the baby plant — without detaching the runner — and put it in the container. Don’t worry that it’s not well-rooted. With time and water, the plant will begin to grow on its own. Similar to a baby’s umbilical cord, the mother plant will continue nourishing the baby plant through the runner until the runner is no longer needed. When that happens, the runner will dry out.
Finally, when the runner begins to harden and dry, clip the runner and prepare to transplant the baby strawberry plant to its permanent place.
Ideal strawberry bed locations
Where should you plant the new plants? Strawberries are perennials, which means they come back every year in the same place. Your new site should have plenty of soil and water and get full sun. A dedicated raised bed is a perfect option. A 4 x 8 raised bed of second-year strawberries will give a small family plenty of berries to eat fresh the first year and even more to make jam the next.
Whether you choose a raised bed or a dedicated section in the garden, make sure you’re happy with the space as a permanent location, at least for a few years.
During the summer, the leaves will begin to lose their vigor as the plants focus their energy into root development. It is critical to keep up consistent watering during the hot summer dry spells. (I lost half of my raised bed of strawberries one year by ignoring them during the summer when I was busy with other crops.)
I’ve read that strawberries begin to lose their vigor after a few years, and although in my fourth year I haven’t found that to be the case yet, I am always looking to transplant the baby plants to prepare for future harvests for when that time comes.
By utilizing this method of transplanting your existing plant’s babies, you’ll be paving the way for a greater harvest of strawberries next year.