If you love strawberries, then growing them in your garden is a wonderful idea. Once you buy a few plants, you can propagate them without much effort. Multiplying all runner-producing strawberry plants is easy and completely free. This is something that I love to do in my own garden. It is very satisfying to grow a plant collection, and perhaps even have extra plants to give away to family or friends.
What Are Strawberry Runners?
Strawberry runners are the stolons, or horizontal stems, which grow from the base of many strawberry plants. Now June-bearing and ever-bearing strawberry varietals will produce runners as a means of propagation.
Nodes form on these stolons, followed by adventitious roots (which are roots that grow from places like stems or leaves). These roots will grow, and when they make contact with soil or another suitable growing medium, new strawberry plants will form at these points. The new strawberry plants will be clones (genetically identical) of the parent from which they grew.
Directing Strawberry Runners
If you leave a strawberry bed to develop naturally, runners will spread out in all directions and eventually create a dense tangled strawberry patch, with new plants popping up between the older ones in a random fashion.
Alternatively, you can direct the runners to make your life easier. If you are growing strawberries in the ground in a typical garden bed, you can direct the runners from a row of strawberries to a second orderly row. This makes sense because it’s easier then to keep track of the age of your strawberry plants and remove the oldest plants after three to five years, which is when they become less productive.
Another option, whether you are growing strawberries in the ground or in containers, is to direct strawberry runners into new pots. The advantage of this is that you can easily move the new strawberry plants to a new area of your garden or give them away.
Pegging or Weighing Down Strawberry Runners
Once you have decided where you would like your new strawberry plants to grow, you have to make sure that the node of a runner is in contact with the soil or growing medium. To keep the runners in contact with the soil in a specific spot, there are a range of solutions. I like to use reclaimed or natural materials.
For example, you can use forked twigs with a section on either side of the runner, or bendy twigs formed into U-shapes and inserted into the ground. You might use two thin stones with a larger stone placed on top to hold the runner in place. Other ideas include using a piece of bent-over wire, an old tent peg, or a clothes peg inserted upside down.
Take care not to crush the runner. Remember that the nutrients and water will need to travel along this runner from the parent plant until the root system of the new plant is established.
Caring for Strawberry Runners and New Strawberry Plants
Remember to water your existing strawberry plants and the new ones at the end of the runners as they form. It should not take too long for the new plants to form strong and healthy root systems.
As soon as they’ve rooted well, the connecting runners should naturally die back and break the connection to the parent plant. If you do not wish to wait this long and want to move your new plants away a little sooner, you can cut off the runners as soon as new roots have formed.
If you remove the peg or other structure holding down the runner and the plant does not lift easily away from the surface of the soil or growing medium, then that means roots have formed and you have successfully propagated new strawberry plants.
Multiplying Non-Runner-Producing Strawberry Plants
Woodland or alpine strawberries do not usually produce runners. So when I want to get more plants of these types for free, I collect and sow the seeds.
To do this, you can harvest the completely ripe wild strawberries. Cut off the outer skin (with seeds), eating the rest of the berries. Take these seedy skins and blend them briefly with a cup of water. Let the mix sit for a few minutes and the viable seeds will sink. Pour off the water, pulp, and non-viable seeds, leaving the viable seeds at the bottom. Rinse the seeds under cool running water, then sow immediately or dry and store them in an airtight container.
Some strawberry seeds need a period of cold to germinate. If you have this type, place it in the freezer for a couple of weeks before taking them out, allowing them to warm to room temperature before sowing. Seeds will germinate at temperatures between 65˚F and 70˚F (18-21˚C). Seedlings should appear within around two to three weeks.