Strawberries can “reproduce” either through seeds or from runners. Strawberry runners are horizontal stems that run above the ground and produce new “baby” clone plants at the end of the long horizontal stem. These baby plants (which are a genetic copy of the mother plant), set roots and grow into the ground surrounding the mother plant. Strawberry runners are properly termed “stolons”, but to keep it simple, we’ll refer to them by the more commonly recognized term “runners”. Runners are a more reliable and preferred method for establishing strawberries in your garden. You can obtain strawberry runners from nurseries or online. They are sold as a crown with a spindly mass of bare roots.
These rather uninspiring looking things produce some of the tastiest fruit over summer and autumn. Nurseries in Melbourne and all over the temperate regions of Australia (eg., NSW, SA, TAS & VIC) will start stocking these runners over the coming weeks. This is because winter (from June and as late as October) is the time to plant them. If you live in the sub tropics strawberry planting is best done in autumn. Once planted, the new leaves will be produced from the crowns in spring.
If you buy your runners from reputable nurseries or mail order, they’ve hopefully been grown in conditions that are virus free. Such runners are called “certified runners”. Certified Strawberry Runner Growers actually encourage the mother plants to send out runner plants by removing all the flowers and fruit.
When you have your strawberry runners, you should prepare them for planting straight away. Unwrap them wash and their roots well in water. Discoloured leaves should be pinched off. Trim the roots back to around 10cm. Plant your runners the same day that you prepare them. If you are not ready to plant them on the same day, you should store them in the refrigerator, and plant them as soon as possible.
Where to plant strawberries?
Strawberries have two main requirements when considering planting locations:
- a sunny spot
- good drainage
You can grow them in garden beds, pots, hanging baskets. Their small size makes them very popular in vertical gardening, which has the added benefit of keeping the fruit off the ground, away from dirt and slugs.
Strawberries need plenty of water over the summer months, so make sure you put them in a spot that is easy to water.
How to plant strawberry runners
It is important to plant runners at the correct depth. Planting your runners too deep will cause the crown (the bit from where the leaves grow from) to rot. Remember, strawberries don’t like wet feet at all. On the other hand, planting your runners too shallow will leave the roots exposed. The plant may not establish correctly with exposed roots. Do not allow the roots to double back, or fold over when planting.
If you’re planting out your runners into a large garden bed it’s a good idea to plant them in mounds. This will help to ensure they have good drainage, during times of high rainfall. To do this, mound up the soil into long ridges about 10cm high. This mounding is best done by hand, lightly pressing the soil together as you go. Planting into smaller raised beds or containers don’t need to utilize the mounded ridge technique.
Check the strawberry runner packaging to see how far spaced apart they should be. Usually its 30 to 40cm. Place the strawberries at the required spacing. Spread the roots as you go so that the runners sit up across the ridges.
Now cover over the roots with more soil. To help improve drainage, make sure you maintain the mounded shape of the ridge. Most importantly, check that the base of crown of the runner is sitting just on the soil surface.
At this point, the runners should be watered in well. Use a liquid fertilizer to help them become established. Any fertilizer containing seaweed is a good idea, as it promotes root growth. Now leave your runners to become established and grow.
Mulching & Fertilizing & Pest Protection
At the time of planting, you can work through some well composted manure (chicken manure is best). Alternatively you can apply it as a top dressing soon after planting. A sprinkle of blood and bone, (with added potash) will help them thrive.
Keep the soil moist (but not too wet in the cooler months) then increase watering as the days warm up in the spring. Protect young plants from frost until established.
Once the leaves have become established and the weather starts to warm up, some pea straw or similar mulch around the plants is a good idea. This helps to keep the fruit off the soil so it stays clean and helps ward off slugs and snails that will target your fruit. As the fruit begins to develop, you’ll really need to keep those slugs and snails under control. Birds might also need to be kept at bay with some netting or mesh.
Unlike bananas and many other fruit, strawberries will only ripen on the plant. So it’s important to only pick strawberries once the whole fruit has turned a nice red colour.
The Leaf, Root & Fruit bonus tips for growing strawberry runners
1. A household with 5 people, will need around 20 to 25 runners, to get a decent harvest throughout summer and autumn.
2. Different varieties fruit at different times. You can get varieties that fruit as early as October and as late as May. We’ve planted four different varieties (Adina, Lowanna, Red Gauntlet and Tioga) to ensure continuous harvest for 8 months of the year!
3. Try to avoid getting water on the leaves of your strawberry plants. To help reduce fungal diseases use drip irrigation or direct the hose onto the soil surface rather than the leaves.
4. Odd shaped or deformed strawberries are often a result of poor pollination. Bee attracting flowering plants like borage make great companion plants around the edges of your strawberry patch.
5. Originally grown from runners, the strawberry reproductive cycle will continue with your plants. We recommend cutting off any runners that appear to encourage more fruit and a bigger harvest.
6. Strawberry plants seem to perform at their best for only 2 to 3 years. After this they tend slow down, so it’s a good idea to replant them. You should get a bigger harvest, with tastier fruit this way.