Originating in Asia and Europe, alpine strawberries are the traditional fruit that our ancestors enjoyed. Smaller and more delicate than the common garden strawberry these attractive little plants, also known as woodland strawberries can be found growing wild in many areas including North America.
A member of the Fragaria vesca genus, typically wild varieties have now been cultivated for the garden. The name alpine strawberry refers to both wild plants, Fragaria vesca, and cultivars bred for the garden.
Despite their delicate appearance these fruiting canes are surprisingly tough little plants. As well as being an attractive addition to the garden they are also great ground cover plants. If you want to add a strawberry plant to your garden, why not try some alpine strawberries? Here is your complete growing and care guide.
Small but easy to grow, alpine strawberries are an attractive addition to the garden.
What is the Difference Between Alpine Strawberries and Other Types of Strawberry Plant?
Alpine strawberries differ from the modern strawberry plant that we commonly grow in a couple of ways. They are typically smaller and don’t set out runners. This means they are less likely to spread out of control.
The fruit is also noticeably smaller, roughly the size of a fingernail. While the fruit is smaller it often contains more seeds than the fruit of larger strawberry plants.
Varieties of Alpine Strawberries
A member of the Rosaceae family, the alpine strawberry is the botanical form of the wood strawberry, also known as the fraise de bois. The green tri-foliage foliage of the plant has a distinct serrated edge. Meanwhile its small, white flowers each have 5 delicate petals and a yellow center. Following pollination the flower fades and is replaced by an aromatic fruit. A herbaceous perennial, during the winter months the foliage dies away.
Pretty much all types of alpine strawberry are ever bearing. Also known as perpetual plants, most varieties of everbearing strawberries produce fruit from the spring until the fall. Alpine strawberries typically bear fruit from June until October. While the first crop, produced in the spring, is often the largest, with a little extra care and fertilizer, sizable harvests can be produced until the temperatures begin to fall.
All varieties of alpine strawberries are hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 10. In addition to the typical red cultivars, the plants can also produce yellow or cream colored fruit.
Bush Alpine and Gaillon are both reliable, non runner setting varieties. Another popular choice is Golden Alexandra. This variety also doesn’t produce runners, meaning that it is unlikely to take over a bed, and grows easily from seed. While runners won’t spread, the berries, if allowed to, will fall and reseed throughout the garden, emerging in corners of flower beds and cracks in paths and patios.
Like Golden Alexandra, Regina and Mignonette are also easily cultivated from seed.
If you want a sweeter strawberry, both Just add Cream and Mara des Bois are known for their sweetness. Both are commonly sold as bare root plants ready for planting into the garden.
For something a little different, Pineapple Crush has a distinct pineapple flavor. Like Yellow Wonder it is a reliable yellow fruiting variety. Similarly popular white varieties include White Delight, White Giant, Albicarpa and White Soul.
Smaller than other varieties, alpine strawberries produce small, aromatic fruit.
Garden stores and plant nurseries sell not only bare root plants and young transplants but also seeds. If you decide to buy online make sure that you use a reputable supplier. While seeds can be dispatched at any time of year, plants and bare root transplants are usually only dispatched in the spring when they are ready for planting out.
Where to Plant
Despite preferring sunny positions these plants can also tolerate shade, they are naturally forest plants afterall. Alpine strawberries can bear fruit, with as little as 4 hours of sun a day. Their shade and semi-shade tolerance makes them ideal ground cover plants.
Alpine strawberries produce their best fruit in rich soil that is also well draining. The plants also do well in pots and planters. You can also use runnerless varieties for edging garden paths and beds. Runnerless varieties are often easier to tend and maintain than other types of strawberry plant.
The soil should be rich in humus. A slightly acidic soil helps to encourage larger fruit. Basically, the richer the soil the better. Alpine strawberries use more nutrients than other varieties. Make sure you enrich the soil before planting. Use a soil test kit to measure the nutrient content of your soil and make any necessary amendments. A soil pH level of 5.8 to 6.2 is ideal.
Don’t plant in soil that has recently held tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes The soil can sometimes harbor nasty diseases and problems such as verticillium rot. Planting in fresh soil, or employing a simple form of crop rotation, can help to keep your garden healthy.
Growing From Seed
You can purchase alpine strawberry seeds from garden stores and plant nurseries. You can also harvest ripe seeds from fresh fruit. Avoid seeds from hybrid cultivars, these rarely grow true to type.
Start the seeds undercover in a greenhouse or on a light windowsill in late winter or early spring. Sow as thinly as possible in trays or pots filled with a fresh, well-draining compost or peat free multi purpose potting soil. If you are concerned about drowning the seeds, work a handful of perlite or grit into the soil to lighten the mix. Moisten the soil before sowing.
The seeds can be small and difficult to handle. Don’t worry if you struggle to sow the seeds thinly enough. They can be thinned out following germination.
Cover the seeds with a thin layer of compost or soil and place in a warm light position. The temperature should average between 65 and 75 ℉.
Don’t worry if you don’t get immediate results, germination can take up to a month. The first shoots and leaves to emerge are often small, and can be difficult to notice.
Following germination, allow the seedlings to grow on in the tray or pot until they develop at least two true sets of leaves. The true leaves will have distinctive vessels and veins on them.
When true leaves have formed carefully lift the seedlings and pot on in small, individual pots.
You can begin hardening off the seedlings, for transplanting outside, once the outside temperatures have warmed sufficiently and they have reached at least 2 inches in height.
Planting your Alpine Strawberries
Once they have been hardened off, and the outdoor temperature and soil has warmed sufficiently you can begin transplanting your alpine strawberries.
Alternatively, if you don’t have the time to start from seed or find them difficult to handle, you can purchase young plants. You can either buy young alpine strawberry plants or bare root transplants.
Whether you grow from seed or purchase plants or transplants, the planting process is largely the same.
Prepare the soil by enriching with compost or well rotted manure. Make sure you work the organic matter in well. This should be done a few weeks before planting to give the soil time to settle. You can also add some wood ash from a bonfire to increase the soils potash content. But don’t overdo this because it can make the soil overly alkaline.
Preparing the soil before planting helps your transplant to thrive. This results in healthier plants and larger harvest.
When you are ready to plant, dig a hole in the soil large enough to hold the plant. Position the plant in the hole so that the crown sits just above soil level. The crown is the point from which new growth will emerge. Lifting the crown above soil level is particularly useful in wet climates and damp soils because it helps to prevent rotting and disease.
If you are planting bare root plants, trim the roots back a little with a sharp scissors before placing in the hole. The roots should be about 6 inches long.
After positioning the plant, carefully backfill the hole. If you are planting more than one plant, space them 12 at least inches apart. Rows of alpine strawberries should be spaced 12 inches apart.
Water well and mulch the soil around the plants. Make sure that the soil remains evenly moist until the plants are settled and new growth is visible.
Planting in Containers
You can also plant alpine strawberries in pots as part of a container garden. While these are pleasingly low maintenance plants, planting in self watering pots helps to reduce the maintenance load even further. The pots should be at least 6 inches wide and deep. Fill with well draining, rich potting soil and plant as described above.
These versatile plants are ideal for growing in pots and planters.
Caring for Alpine Strawberries
Keep the beds clean and tidy. Weeding the soil regularly prevents fast growing weeds from harvesting nutrients and moisture from the soil, potentially stunning the growth of your plants.
Alpine Strawberries are perennial plants, hardy down to -20 ℉. During the winter months mulch the beds with straw or horticultural blankets. Kasbon Plant Covers are light enough to enable air, light and moisture to reach the growing plants whilst also protecting them from cold temperatures. As the ground warms remove the organic mulch. Blankets can be kept on the plant until the first flowers appear. Just remember to remove them otherwise the flowers won’t be pollinated.
While mulching is useful for a number of reasons there is no reason to use the mulch to raise the fruit from the ground. Unlike other strawberry plants that set their fruit low to the ground, which can encourage mold problems in wet conditions, alpine strawberries have an upright growth habit. This means that the fruit is less likely to sit on the ground.
Neat plants, their upright growth habit means that the fruit is elevated from the ground.
When to Water
Water well after planting. Once established, if it doesn’t rain apply about 1 inch of water per plant every week. Use a garden hose to drip water around the plants, gently irrigating the soil. This is preferable to immersion.
Aim to keep the soil evenly moist. Don’t allow the soil to dry out.
Feeding your Alpine Strawberries
Mulch your beds or pots in the spring with straw, compost or other organic material. This helps to keep the soil rich and healthy. Mulching the soil also helps to improve moisture retention and prevent weed growth.
For a further boost top dress the plants with compost in the spring. Alternatively apply an organic, balanced granular fertilizer at the start of the growing season, before flowers emerge. Apply the granular fertilizer when the soil is dry and water in well. Granular fertilizers can also be applied after pruning, to encourage fresh, healthy growth to emerge.
Plants in pots and planters may require extra nutrient boosts throughout the growing season. An occasional dose of potash rich fertilizer also helps to sustain healthy growth. If you don’t want to use a chemical product, try making your own liquid fertilizer. These are just as effective as commercial products and far better for the environment.
Pruning your Plants
Alpine strawberries have a tidy growth habit. This means that they require little regular pruning. Regularly check your plants for signs of damage or disease. Prune away dead or dying foliage. This process not only helps to prevent disease but also helps to improve air circulation between the plants, keeping them healthy and free from mold or mildew issues.
As well as some light pruning, you should also pick and discard any damaged or diseased fruit.
Remove any damaged or dead foliage from the plants as soon as it becomes apparent. You should also discard damaged fruit to prevent disease from spreading.
How to Propagate Your Plants
If you want to propagate new plants from seed, harvest ripe seeds from freshly picked fruit. Wash the pulp away before sowing as described above. You can also propagate from crown division.
This form of propagation is best done on older plants. It is also a useful way to rejuvenate an aging strawberry bed. Crown division of alpine strawberries is best done in early spring.
Use a shovel to dig up healthy, older plants. Carefully brush away any soil from the root system and inspect the plant for signs of disease.
Cut away young tender growth that is visible on the outside of the plant. You can also use the shovel to separate the plant. Each cut section should have a healthy amount of roots. Replant the new sections back in the ground. The central, older section can be composted.
Common Problems and How to Solve Them
Alpine strawberries are more resilient than other varieties of strawberry plant. If planted correctly, so that they are not overcrowded, then issues such as botrytis or grey mould and powdery mildew are unlikely to occur. Caring correctly for the plants, in particular making sure that they are not overwatered, also helps to prevent diseases as well as issues such as moldy fruit.
As the fruit matures, you will need to protect it from the birds and other animals. Bird Netting is a good solution. A durable product it doesn’t tangle easily and reliably protects your fruit from potential predators.
Slugs and snails can also target the foliage and fruit.
How to Harvest Your Fruit
Alpine strawberries are ever bearing plants. This means that they produce fruit for an extended period, often throughout the summer.
As the berries ripen simply pick them from the plants. Be careful not to damage the plants as you harvest. You can also use a small garden scissors to cut the fruit away from the plant.
Robust and reliable, strawberries are also a great ground cover plant.
To encourage a larger harvest, try planting with or close to pollinator friendly flowers. This helps to draw more pollinators to the area. Forget me nots are a popular companion plant choice because the colors of the flowers compliment those of the alpine strawberry. This is a particularly useful combination if you are planting for ground cover.
Alpine strawberries may not be as large or prolific as other, more common strawberry plants, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a great addition to the garden. Happy to grow in difficult shady positions, they are reliable and low maintenance. A great ground cover option they are also attractive enough to be planted in flower beds to bring contrast and points of interest.
Now that you’ve seen how easy they are to cultivate, why not plant some alpine strawberries in your garden today?
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.