If you leave most garden strawberries to their own devices, your strawberry patch can quickly become a tangled mess. Learning how to deal with strawberry runners can help you keep strawberries healthy. It can help you make sure yield from a strawberry growing area does not diminish year on year. And it can also allow you to gain a whole bunch of new strawberry plants. You can either use them in your own garden or give them away.
What Are Strawberry Runners?
Strawberry runners are the stolons sent out by most garden strawberries, Fragraria x ananassa. These stolons stretch out from a parent plant, and when the node at the end comes into contact with soil or growing medium, new roots develop and new plants which are clones of the parent plant are formed.
Do All Strawberries Produce Runners?
While most June-bearing or ever-bearing garden strawberries produce runners, woodland and alpine strawberries such as Fragraria vesca do not. These are propagated by seed. While garden strawberries can also be propagated by seed, it is far, far easier to use the runners to produce new strawberry plants for your garden, or to give away.
When are Strawberry Runners Produced?
Strawberry runners can be produced while the plants are still in their harvesting period. But to maximise yield, you may wish to restrict their growth and remove them before the harvest time is over. Once the fruits are done, however, strawberry runners can quickly take over and a strawberry patch, if left unmanaged, can quickly become a tangled mess.
Strawberries which are left to their own devices will send out runners in all directions and the new plants can just pop up at random throughout a growing area.
Training Strawberry Runners
This is not always a problem. But sometimes, you will want to train strawberry runners and direct them. You might want to denote specific locations where you would like new strawberry plants to grow.
When growing strawberries in a bed or border, or strawberry patch, there is an advantage to doing this. Directing the runners to specific locations can allow you to keep track of which are the oldest plants and which are the newest ones. Strawberry plants will usually only remain at peak productivity for a few years, after which there will usually be a drop-off in yield. An area can also become overcrowded and congested when new strawberry plants are allowed to root at will.
Often, gardeners will direct the runners from a row of strawberries into a second row, to keep things neat and orderly, and also to keep tabs on the ages of the various plants. Then, after a few years, the oldest plants can be replaced with new plants to maintain a high a yield as possible over time.
Of course, in mature planting schemes, and when growing strawberries in containers, there may simply not be space to root runners in the ground. Or in the same container as the parent plant. But it is just as easy to direct runners into new pots. That way, you can get new strawberry plants that can later easily be moved to new, permanent locations.
Holding Strawberry Runners in Place
You will soon find out when you begin to try to direct your strawberry runners into specific locations or new pots… The runners will not stay in place in contact with the soil or growing medium on their own.
So the gardener will have to find a way to hold strawberry runners in place until the new root systems form.
There are several ways to do this, using natural or reclaimed materials which won’t cost you a penny. You can use forked twigs, or bendy twigs which can be formed into a arch shape with both ends pushed into the soil or growing medium.Another idea is to use two flat stones with another stone carefully balanced on top. You can use old pieces of wire, or old tent pegs, or old clothes pegs inserted upside down. And those are just a few of the ideas to consider.
All you have to do is make sure that the runners are not broken. They must also be held firmly against the soil or growing medium to stimulate new root formation.
Separating New Strawberry Plants From the Parent Plant
Now you have held down your runners where you want new strawberry plants to grow. The next stage is to wait until the new plants are standing on their own two feet. Until their have their own root systems, the new plants get the nutrition they need through the runner from the parent plant.
If you wait long enough, the runner that connects the new plant to the parent will wither and die back. It will leave a new plant fending for itself. But if you are impatient, or want to move your new plants a little sooner, you can sever the connection as soon as you can tell that a strong new root system has formed under the new plant.
You will be able to tell whether new roots have formed when you remove the items holding the runner in place. Give the new plant at the end a gentle tug. If it does not lift easily from its new position, new roots are holding it in place. You can now simply cut the runner off the new plant.
What To Do With New Strawberry Plants
If you have directed your new strawberry plants to another location in the ground in a bed or border, nothing more is required. You can simply leave your new plants to their own devices, watering as necessary, until they fruit next year. It can also be a good idea to mulch well around your old and new strawberry plants. Use a good quality organic mulch of homemade compost, well-rotted manure or other organic material.
If you have directed your runners into new pots or other containers, then once you have severed the connection, you have options. You can move these wherever you wish. You might keep your new strawberry plants outdoors in pots. Or you can move them into a polytunnel or greenhouse. If you do so they may fruit a little earlier next year.
Of course, you might also transplant your new strawberry plants into a different area of your garden. You might also simply give these new plants away to family, friends, or neighbours.
Dealing with strawberry runners and using those runners to propagate new plants is a great idea. It can be great for those who want to take their home growing to the next level. And is also a nice way to produce gifts for those around you. They themselves could perhaps go on to spread the joy still further. And propagating more new strawberry plants of their own the following year.
Have you learned how to deal with strawberry runners and propagated your own strawberry plants in this way at home? Share your experiences with this simple project in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.