How to Propagate Strawberry Plants from Runners
There’s no such thing as too many strawberries. We absolutely adore these tasty little cones of happiness, and all the delicious treats they provide us.
Pie, jelly, shortcake — not to mention fresh-picked strawberries eaten straight from the vine. It seems like there’s never enough of this fruit to go around. If you’re an avid gardener, you know the woes of a strawberry shortage.
The good news is that you have the power to help your plants reproduce. That’s right, you can grow a large, healthy crop of strawberry plants just by using the ones you already have. You’ll never have to purchase new plants again.
So, how can you achieve berry bliss? Proper propagation from strawberry runners is the key to ensuring a healthy, happy crop of strawberry plants. Read on to discover how to up your strawberry game, and learn to propagate like a boss.
How Exactly Do Strawberry Plants Reproduce?
If you want to try and propagate your strawberry plants with runners, you’ve got to know a thing or two about typical strawberry reproduction and how runners come into play.
Basically, there are two ways that strawberry plants reproduce. They can use sexual or asexual reproduction.
The mode of sexual reproduction is generally the way wild strawberries (and other fruit) are propagated naturally in the wild. When a plant grown from a seed reaches maturity, it produces flowers.
These flowers are then pollinated and the plant begins growing fruit. The fruit puts out seeds, and the cycle begins again. With sexual reproduction, the new plant won’t be the same as the parent plant. It will have genetic variation, because it has genes from different sources.
The majority of strawberry plants are able to reproduce asexually, including the most popular breeds. June-bearing, everbearing, and day-neutral varieties all produce runners (Alpine strawberries do not, and must be planted from seeds).
When the strawberry plant is mature, it will begin to put out runners, or stolons. These are smaller stems which emerge from the mother plant. They grow horizontally to the ground and eventually put down roots.
When the new roots establish themselves in the soil, the runner stems generally shrivel and die away. In this way, strawberry plants basically propagate themselves — what could be easier than that?
With asexual reproduction, the new plant is exactly the same as the parent plant genetically. It’s a clone. This means that when you propagate strawberries using the runners of good fruit-bearing plants, you’ll get more delicious fruit-bearing plants.
Why Use Runners to Propagate Strawberry Plants?
So, why use runners and not grow the strawberries from seeds? There are a few advantages to growing the berries from runners.
According to Agroecologist Dr. Tohid Nooralvandi, strawberry plants are simply more difficult to grow from seeds. The process is longer. You have to take care of the seeds through germination, then plant them in soil, protect them, and nurture them throughout their lives.
And even after all of that, there is no guarantee you’ll get good strawberries. That’s because of the plant variation associated with sexual reproduction. Though the parent strawberry plant may have been a good producer, the child won’t necessarily do the same. Domesticated strawberry plants grown from seeds will not necessarily exhibit the same traits as the parent plant.
When you use runners, you eliminate both of these issues. You don’t need to tend excessively to strawberry runners. They appear naturally and grow naturally alongside the mother plant. All you need to do is cut them, if you choose to.
Furthermore, since they’ve been propagated from asexual reproduction, there should be no variance in the plants. The clone plant will produce fruit just like the parent plant, since it is an exact copy.
How to Use Runners When Propagating Strawberry Plants
So, how can you ensure you get healthy, happy plants from your runners? You have to tend to them properly. Although the method of asexual reproduction is much quicker and simpler than growing strawberry plants from seeds, it still does require some level of care.
Below are some of the best ways to take care of your strawberry plants:
1. Pegging the Runners
You’ll notice runners beginning to emerge from healthy strawberry plants when they become mature. Keep in mind that the mother strawberry plant must be at least 2 years old before it fruits and can be used for propagation.
The BBC advises pegging down the plant during the June or July months in the height of the season. Gently pegging down the runner in the soil with a garden peg or clip will help it take root and grow faster. It is not yet time to separate the plant from the mother.
It’s definitely possible to leave the runners attached to the mother forever. They will eventually form a new strawberry plant. However, this is detrimental to both mother and child. That’s because runners and the resulting plants suck energy out of the mother plant. She will produce less fruit, and the fruit will be smaller.
2. Cutting the Runners
Once the runner has taken root, it will begin to grow quickly. Once it has sprouted leaves, you can safely cut it. Once you cut the runner, you do have the option to leave it where it is, detached from the mother. This works best in large, open plant beds.
However, if you are using pots to grow your berries, it’s advisable to transplant the runner in order to more evenly distribute nutrients to your plants. Overcrowding a pot never produces healthy fruits. Instead, your harvest will be small and the plants will be stunted.
It is ideal to cut the strawberry runner free from its mother in the late summer to early fall, when the roots have had adequate time to grow strong enough to take in nutrients on their own.
3. Repotting the Runners
If you decide to repot your runners, do so with care. Repotting should only be done with healthy runners, and you should give the plant plenty of access to water and sunlight before, during, and after the process.
Use a tool like a trowel to dig up the roots, making sure not to damage them with the implement. Make a hole in the soil of the new pot (or whichever container you want to use) which is a bit larger than the root system of the runner.
Place the runner plant’s root system gently in the hole. Pack the surrounding soil against the plant firmly but not too tight. It’s important not to bury the new plant too deeply, or it will rot.
4. Care and Maintenance
Once you replant your runners, it’s imperative that you care for them properly to ensure healthy plants and a good harvest.
Provide them with water and place them in a sunny area. It’s important to note that while your runners should have access to moisture, don’t overwater them. They will drown. It’s equally as important to prune them, clearing away fallen leaves and ensuring the area around your plant-babies is clean and clear of debris.
Slugs and other undesirables use this debris as their base camp, and clearing it away will help keep your berries free from pests.
At the end of the season before the first frost, prune away the sickly and dead leaves. This will give it time to strengthen and re-energize itself so as to survive the winter.
Why Are My Strawberry Plants Not Growing?
Even if you do everything as described above, you may find that your runners just simply aren’t producing fruit. Or if they are producing, the fruit is small, and the plants are stumpy. Why is that?
It could be for several reasons:
- Poor Conditions: Strawberries are hardy plants, but they can’t work miracles. If the weather isn’t right, they just won’t produce like normal. They crave warm days and cool nights. So, if you have frequent cold snaps or hot weather flashes, your strawberries will suffer for it.
- Watering Woes: Plants need to drink responsibly, too. Make sure they have enough water, but don’t overwater them. If plants are dehydrated, they won’t give enough fruit. Make sure you water them several times per day during the hotter months.
- Sickly Strawberries: Diseases like root rot are common in strawberry plants, as are garden pests like slugs and insects. You aren’t the only one who loves the taste of strawberries. Pick out bugs as you see them, and prevent fungus from taking hold by keeping your berries dry.
- Negligible Nutrients: If there aren’t enough nutrients in the soil, your strawberries won’t grow well. Use a natural fertilizer to promote growth. Be careful not to use too much, as over-fertilization can cause problems too. You’ll get gigantic leaves, but no fruit.
- Young Plants: Strawberries will produce no fruit or only a small harvest before they are a year old. It could be your plants are too young. Wait until next season before giving up on them.
Propagate New Strawberry Plants to Enjoy a Happy, Healthy Garden
Strawberries are an incredibly popular treat, and easy to grow in almost any garden. Are you ready to expand your plant horizons (and your harvest) through propagation?
Get out there, get digging, and get ready to enjoy the delicious fruits of your labor.
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