Strawberry Growth Habits
Strawberries will grow from seeds spread by birds, but they are more likely to spread by runners. This is particularly true of June-bearing varieties and native strawberries or alpine types. After fruiting, each plant sends out at least two or three but sometimes more runners. The runners develop roots and establish themselves as new plants. Other stolonaceous plants like Bermuda grass spread in similar fashion.
Advantages of Groundcover Strawberries
Strawberries have a number of advantages when used as a ground cover. First, most varieties are evergreen. Second, they produce flowers and may even produce some berries, especially in the first few years. Third, should you decide you want to take out the ground cover, they are relatively easy to remove, unlike ivy or vinca.
Varieties for Groundcovers
Technically, you could use any variety of strawberry for a groundcover. However, certain varieties are better choices. These include:
- June bearers, which produce a lot of runners and cover the ground quickly.
- Fragaria chiloensis, the beach or coast strawberry, native to the Pacific Northwest.
- Fragaria virginiana, the Virginia wild strawberry.
- Fragaria vesca, the woodland strawberry, which will grow in shade.
What About the Berries?
If your primary purpose is using strawberry plants for their groundcover abilities, don’t count on them for a big harvest. With June bearers, you might get a decent crop the first year or two. After that, the plants usually become too crowded to produce many berries. They can also develop virus infections that decrease flowering and fruiting.
Managing Groundcover Strawberries
Growing strawberries as a groundcover requires different management techniques. For example, when growing for the fruit, you cut off runners to focus on fruit production. When growing as a groundcover, you want to encourage runners. On the other hand, the coast strawberry may need to be cut back as it is an aggressive spreader. For fruit, you need full sun – for groundcovers that is less of an issue.
Whether growing for fruit or as a goundcover, strawberries need similar conditions. First, they must have fertile, well-drained soil. They prefer a slightly acid environment, so keep the soil pH around 5.5 to 6.0. Water is critical for berry production, but groundcover strawberries can tolerate a slightly drier environment. Fertilize in the late summer and fall with a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Keep weeds down for best growth.