Planting Wild Strawberry Ground Cover – Growing Wild Strawberries

Planting Wild Strawberry Ground Cover – Growing Wild Strawberries

Wild strawberries are a common native plant found growing in open fields, woodlands and even our yards. In fact, some people consider the wild strawberry plant to be nothing more than a weed. Yet, it’s so much more than that.

Smaller than store-bought strawberries, which are a hybrid of the wild strawberry and a European species, the berries are a favorite treat to many birds and animals, as well as people. Yes, contrary to what some may think, wild strawberries are not poisonous. In fact, the berries are edible and tasty. There is, however, a similar plant, called Indian mock strawberry, which has yellow flowers (rather than white), that produces berries with little to no flavor.

The neat, clump-forming habit of wild strawberries makes them an excellent choice for edging or ground cover. They can also be grown in containers, hanging baskets or strawberry jars.

Wild Strawberry Flower Varieties

Wild strawberries produce one or more clusters of flowers. The wild strawberry flower, which is white, normally begins blooming in late spring or early summer and lasts about one to two months. These blooms are followed by the familiar red strawberries. These plants are hardy in USDA Growing Zones 3 through 10, and there are several types available, so it’s easy to find one suited to your region. You may already have them growing somewhere on your property. The most common varieties include:

Virginia wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana – This is one of the most popular types of wild strawberry. It has light green leaves and small, tasty berries.

Beach or coast strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis – The leaves of this variety are dark green and shiny. While its berries are also edible, they’re not as palatable.

Woodland strawberry, Fragaria vesca – This type enjoys moist, shady conditions, and is normally found in wooded areas. Both the flowers and leaves are larger than other species and its foliage is more bluish in color. The bigger berries are also quite delicious.

Cultivating Wild Strawberries

The wild strawberry plant is easy to grow and will eventually spread to form a nice ground cover (about 6-12 inches high), so this is something to consider when growing wild strawberries. Give it space. It’s also a cool-season plant, which means that it grows actively during spring and fall but goes dormant in summer and again in winter.

The wild strawberry flower generally prefers full sun to partial shade. It also likes rich soil that is somewhat moist, though is tolerant of slightly dry conditions too. If your soil contains a lot of clay or drains poorly, amending it with organic matter will help.

Wild strawberries spread by stolons (above ground runners) and rhizomes. As the runners grow, they send up new strawberry plants, which can be easily transplanted from other areas of your property into the garden. Divide and transplant in early spring just as the new growth appears. Lift plants and pull apart the crowns.

You can also purchase plants from nurseries. When planting wild strawberry, keep the crowns at ground level and water well. Top-dress the soil with compost and mulch plants with straw to help soil retain moisture and keep fruits clean.

Wild Strawberry Plant Care

Once established, wild strawberry requires little care other than keeping them watered during hot weather and while bearing fruit. During winter in colder climates, you may want to mulch the plants with straw or loose leaves to help protect them.

Ripe berries can be harvested anytime during April through June. They are a good source of Vitamin C and can be used on cereal, in pancakes, fruit salad, sauces and more, much like regular strawberries.

Wild strawberries are an excellent addition to any backyard garden, whether the fruits are enjoyed by you or your wildlife friends.

Wild strawberry

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The wild strawberry produces miniature versions of the much-loved and commercially-produced juicy red ‘fruits’.

These tasty treats are eaten not just by humans, but also slugs, mice and many other creatures.

Once widespread, wild strawberries are categorised as near threatened in England due to changes in countryside management that have led to the dramatic decline of wildflower meadows.

The red, fleshy part of the strawberry plant that is generally known as the ‘fruit’ is actually receptacle tissue, and the pips or ‘seeds’ embedded on the outside of this tissue are the true fruits.

The wild strawberry is a herb that produces long and spreading, above-ground runners. It has bright green leaves composed of three leaflets with toothed edges and hairy surfaces. Its flowers have five rounded white petals and its small, dry fruits are embedded on the outer surface of a fleshy red receptacle.

Flowers and leaves of wild strawberry © Igor Sheremetyev Flowers, fruit and leaves of wild strawberry, William Milliken © RBG Kew

In Cornwall, young girls used to rub wild strawberry leaves on their faces to improve their complexion.

The wild strawberry was also used to make lotions and creams to whiten skin and remove freckles and can be found in old recipes for face wash.

The wild strawberry with its glossy, green leaves, pretty, white flowers and juicy, red ‘fruits’ is used as a semi-ornamental plant in gardens.

The fleshy, edible ‘fruits’ of the wild strawberry have been used in jams, juices and bakery products.

Wild strawberry is used in traditional remedies as a laxative and diuretic.

In rabbits and guinea pigs, the wild strawberry has been used to treat constipation and in cattle to treat red-water fever.

Care should be taken as the fruits and leaves can have a negative affect on the skin, gastrointestinal system or respiratory system of some individuals.

Wild strawberries are not commercially cultivated due to their small size and low yield, but they are considered to have a superior flavour to the commercial strawberry and are used in patisserie in France and central Europe.

The name ‘strawberry’ is thought to have come from ‘streabariye’ - a word used by a Benedictine monk in AD 995 to describe how the plant spreads through runners.

The wild strawberry is used as an indicator plant for diseases that affect the commonly cultivated strawberry variety.

Grasslands, open woodland and forest edges in upland areas at an altitude of 2400–2850 m. Wild strawberries grow in dry, stony, lime-rich soils and even on rocks in full sun.

Kew Gardens

A botanic garden in southwest London with the world’s most diverse living plant collection.

The Natural Area and behind Kew Palace in the Queen's Garden.

The wild strawberry is categorised as near threatened in England due to steep and steady decline in wildflower meadows.

97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s due to changes in countryside management such as increased fertiliser use, earlier hay harvest and removal of grazers.

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This is having a devastating impact on the insects that rely on meadow plants for survival, including the grizzled skipper butterfly that needs wild strawberries to provide food to its larvae.

Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank has 13 collections of wild strawberry seeds collected from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Seed specialists dry, package and store seeds at a sub-zero temperature in our underground vault at the Millennium Seed Bank.

The banked seeds of wild strawberries are helping to conserve this near threatened species and could be used to restore meadows in the future.

Kew Science: Plants of the World Online — Fragaria vesca

Strawberries (Wild & Woodland)

(NOTE: If you are not interested in growing Wild & Woodland Strawberries, but just finding the Strawberries, try going to the Nature's Restaurant Online site Strawberries (Wild & Woodland) page.)

Woodland Strawberries (Fragaria vesca). Known also as the Alpine Strawberry, European Strawberry, Hillside Strawberry and Wild Strawberry. Also, Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana). Known also as the Common Strawberry and the Virginia Strawberry. Both are more often than not just called Wild Strawberries.

Is the growing of this plant compatible with Natural farming, Ecoagriculture or Eco friendly agriculture, Ecological farming, Sustainable agriculture, Agroforestry or Agro-sylviculture and Permaculture: Like most perennials, this plant does not require any tilling of the soil after they have been planted, making them ideal to be included in a Natural farming, no-till garden setting.

Identification: Telling the difference is not obvious unless you carefully study them. The Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) does taste better - very good "Strawberry" flavor, while the taste of the Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca), is duller and less sweet, so knowing how to identify them is a good idea when out looking for some to transplant. On the Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), the little yellow seeds (achenes technically) are on the surface in pits, or holes, while on the Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca), the seeds (achenes) are on the surface not in pits or holes. On the Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) the leaf is thicker and tougher feeling and wrinkly looking, where on the Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), it is thinner and less tough feeling and flatter overall. The serrations on the tips of the leaf are longer than the sides of the Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) leaf, whereas on the Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) the serrations are about the same size all around the leaf. Also, in general, the Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) is lower to the ground than the Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) - but that can overlap. The Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) has runners that are up to 60 cm (2 feet) long, while the Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) has runners up to about 30 cm (1 foot) long.

Oddly, though they are so very similar in most ways, they do not hybridize, as they are genetically unique. One has two sets of chromosomes, while the other has eight.

Identification Caution: When looking for Wild Strawberries to transplant, don't confuse it with the Mock Strawberry Potentilla indica. Unfortunately, the leaves are very similar. Although not native to North America, the Mock Strawberry has been brought here as a garden ornamental and has escaped and naturalized in places in Eastern North America, especially the Southeastern USA. Pictures of the Mock Strawberry on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images). The Mock Strawberry has yellow flowers, while the Wild Strawberry has white or pinkish-white flowers. Take note when comparing pictures of them that the Mock Strawberry fruit is upright on the stem and has five green little petals (bracts technically) framing it, while the Wild Strawberry hangs down from an arced over stem (stem does a U-turn) and does not have the green petals framing it.

Soil & Site: Both types need a good amount of light, but do fine if there is some shade, especially if the shade is in the day during the heat of the summer. The better tasting one, the Fragaria virginiana, will go dormant in the summer if it is hot and dry, so you will actually get a better harvest if it gets morning and evening sun, but not direct sun during the mid-day during the hot months. Often that is hard to do, however in a container you can just put an umbrella over it, or move it to different places as the seasons change.

Both types can grow in a range of soils, but if you want the biggest fruit, and the largest harvest, plant in soil that has a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, is rich in organic matter, drains well and is kept moist. The soil acidity of pH 6.0 to 6.5 is just slightly acidic, though very close to neutral. I have neutral soil of 7.0, and they do well as I put just a little layer of garden compost on them each fall. Most garden compost, without lime or ash added is slightly acidic.

Seeds: You can buy seeds, though not from garden stores in the spring like most seeds unless you have an amazing garden store. Follow the instructions on the package for starting, but if there are none, I suggest using moist potting soil in 10 cm (4 inch) pots, sprinkle a few seeds on the surface of each, scratch into the soil just slightly, tamp down, keep moist by misting, and keep in good light, but not direct sun. When they are established, transplant to the garden or container you want them in. After transplanting get them used to morning and evening sun slowly, and don't expose them right away to the midday sun. Keep moist, but make sure they don't sit in water.

Transplanting: Transplant a shovel full or two if you can find some in the wild. Since they do taste better, I would focus on finding the Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana). You can purchase cultivars of this plant, though not often through your local nursery. They are not hard to transplant. Just make sure you don't disturb the roots right under the main stem. Cut around with the shovel, pry out, put in a bag and set in a hole where you want them and water well until established. Every time I've moved some, they took quickly.

Cloning: The Fragaria virginiana is fun to start in new pots. They put out runners that can be up to 60 cm (2 feet) long. Where the runner has a terminal point, they will set root. Just put a pot with soil under that point and use a U shaped piece of wire pushed into the soil to lightly hold the runner in place. Keep the soil in the pot moist, and once the new one takes, cut the runner, and you can transplant the new one to a new spot or give away to a friend.

Maintenance: There is no maintenance to be done to them other than a little fertilizer or some compost or composted manure on the area they are growing in the fall or early spring - only use a thin layer each time.

Using: If you like whipped cream over regular strawberries cut up, a nice visual trick for serving is to have a few wild strawberries gathered, put the regular strawberries cut in the bowl, put the whipped cream on top, then a few wild strawberries on the whipped cream. Pick and eat is the way I do it.

Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).

Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana). This is the better of the two.

  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 2-9(More information on hardiness zones).
  • Soil pH: 5.1-7.8
  • Plant Size: Low to ground, with runners that root and produce new plants. Generally, no more than 20 cm (8 inches) high
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Leaf Shape: Trifoliate compound leaf with more or less Ovate leaflets
  • Leaf Phyllotaxis (Arrangement) on branch: All leaf stems are basal - they come from a root crown at the surface of the ground, or just below.
  • Leaf Size: Around 7.5 cm (3 inches) long by 3.75 cm (1 1/2 inches) wide
  • Leaf Margin: Serrated (saw toothed edge)
  • Leaf Notes: Pale green on lower surface. Leaf stems and runners can be green to dull red and are hairy
  • Flowers: Five petalled white flower with yellow center on about 7.5 cm (3 inch) stems that come from the root crown. Flower about 2 cm (3/4 inch) diameter.
  • Fruit: Sweet, very good "Strawberry" flavor. The seeds (achenes) are in little pits or holes on the surface of the fruit.
  • Habitat: Near woodlands, likes rich moist, well drained soils, does well in limestone soils, open areas, ditches, waste areas. Because it grows in cool spring and fall conditions and goes nearly dormant in heat of summer, it can survive summer shade.

  • Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
  • Interactive USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
  • The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.

Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.

Woodland Strawberries (Fragaria vesca). This one is the second choice, it does not taste as good as the one listed above.

  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 3-9(More information on hardiness zones).
  • Soil pH: 6.6-7.5
  • Plant Size: Low to ground - no more than 30 cm (12 inches) high, with runners that root and produce new plants
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Leaf Shape: Trifoliate compound leaf, each leaflet is more or less Ovate
  • Leaf Phyllotaxis (Arrangement) on branch: All leaf stems are basal - they come from a root crown at the surface of the ground, or just below.
  • Leaf Size: Each leaflet is 2.5-6.5 cm (1 to 2 1/2 inches) long, and 2-5 cm (3/4 to 2 inches) wide
  • Leaf Margin: Coarsely Serrated (saw toothed edge)
  • Leaf Notes: Upper leaf surface is medium green, lower leaf surface is light green. Can be finely hairy on both sides or glabrous (hairless)
  • Flowers: Five white petals, yellow center on 7.5-20 cm (3 to 8 inches) long stem that can be green or a reddish-purple and covered in hairs. Stems are also basal - they come from the root crown at the ground surface. Flowers late spring until mid summer.
  • Fruit: Very small strawberries. Flavour duller and less sweet than the Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), but never bitter or sour. The seeds (achenes) are on the surface not in pits or holes.
  • Habitat: Can be found almost anywhere except exceptionally dry or soaking wet ground. Grasslands, edges of woods, sunny woods, fields, roadsides, hillsides, and as a weed in flower and vegetable gardens.

  • Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
  • Interactive USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
  • The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.

Woodland Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.

Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) plants in late summer after last fruiting.

If you plan to enter the world of growing fruit, strawberries are one of the easiest fruit to grow and great for beginners. Plus, homegrown strawberries are far more flavorful than what you’ll ever find in a grocery store. Why? The sugar in berries converts to starch soon after they’re picked. Learn more about growing strawberries in the home garden.

About Strawberries

The best thing about strawberries is that they’re relatively easy to grow and maintain as long as you keep them in a location that gets full sun.

Strawberry plants come in three types:

  • June-bearing varieties bear fruit all at once, usually over a period of three weeks. Day-length sensitive, these varieties produce buds in the autumn, flowers, and fruits the following June, and runners during the long days of summer. Although called “June-bearing” or “June-bearers,” these strawberries bear earlier than June in warmer climates.
  • Everbearing varieties produce a big crop in spring, produce lightly in the summer, and then bear another crop in late summer/fall. These varieties form buds during the long days of summer and the short days of autumn. The summer-formed buds flower and fruit in autumn, and the autumn-formed buds fruit the following spring.
  • Day-Neutral varieties produce fruit continuously through the season, until the first frost: Insensitive to day length, these varieties produce buds, fruits, and runners continuously if temperature remains between 35° and 85°F (1° to 30°C). Production is less than that of June-bearers.

For the home garden, we recommend June-bearers. Although you will have to wait a year for fruit harvesting, it will be well worth it.

Protecting the Plants You Have

If you are dealing with an invasion of wild strawberry plants, you might be concerned about how they would affect your garden, and you have every right to be concerned.

These plants can cause a lot of damage by taking up all of the soil’s nutrients, causing trouble for your plants. Because of this, you are going to want to make sure that you know how to protect the plants you are currently growing.

If you have plants that are beginning to get taken over by the wild strawberries, you are going to want to do what you can to protect them. You will want to dig up the plants you want to save, being mindful of the root system.

From here, you will want to move the plant to a temporary holding site, or depending on if you have it set up or not, you can move the plant to its new home. While you are doing this, you can also add some glyphosate to the soil to make it inhospitable for the strawberries.

Speaking of new homes, you are going to want to make sure you set up an adequate area for your garden where the wild strawberries can’t easily invade it. This area should meet all of your plant’s requirements for sunlight, shade, temperature, and soil conditions.

If not, you should take the time to make sure that it does so that you can keep your plants growing for as long as possible.

When you have the new bed set up, you are going to want to set a three to four-inch deep layer of mulch. This will not only add some degree of appearance to your home, but it will also keep the strawberries from finding any interest in growing up and through the mulch.

In some cases, this might even help deter other types of pests that want to mess up your gardens.

Wild Strawberries vs Farm-Grown Strawberries

The strawberries that we are most familiar with are typically grown on farms. These strawberries are mass produced for public consumption and are the ones we will generally see on the shelves at the grocery store.

Farm-grown strawberries are predominantly used for the fruit, not the leaves. This form of strawberry is high in tannins and vitamin C.

This makes them astringent and also quite good for whitening teeth and tightening skin. Those strawberries also offer immune system support because of all the antioxidants that are in them.

Not only that, these strawberries tend to be much bigger than wild strawberries. That provides more edible food for consumers.

Wild strawberries are primarily used for their leaves as opposed to the fruits themselves. Because they are smaller than the farm-produced strawberries that we are most familiar with, we tend to not see them quite so often.

Enjoy Alpine Strawberries

Alpine strawberries are interesting, because they’re such a unique form of the plant. They’re an amazing find if you’re out foraging, and they’re fairly easy to grow as an ornamental plant or protector against weeds in your own garden.

It’s safe to say that Alpine strawberries are on the list of great wild finds. What do you think about them? Where have you seen them growing lately? Do you have any recipes you use them in? Comment below and let me know!

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