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If I had to pick a favorite backyard fruit, I’d pick the strawberry. But not just any strawberry, mind you. I’d pick the alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca). These sweet little gems are far more fragrant and luscious than their jumbo-sized, commercially grown kin (Fragaria x ananassa). Alpine strawberries are also called woodland strawberries. Pop one in your mouth and be prepared for a juicy burst of sugary goodness with a flavor that’s a combination of pineapple and berries with a floral twist. Yep. They’re THAT good. And most importantly, they’re also really easy to grow.
What are alpine strawberries?
Alpine strawberries were originally native to Europe and Asia, but the plants have been bred and cultivated to select varieties known for flavor that’s above and beyond the native wild strain. The fruits of alpine strawberry plants are small and conical. Known as fraises des bois in France (which translates to “berries of the woods”), they are celebrated and cherished throughout their harvest period.
How is an alpine strawberry different from a regular strawberry
Alpine strawberries are a completely different species than the strawberries you find on the grocery store shelves. Yes, the plants share a genus (Fragaria), and the leaves and berries look very similar, but there are certainly many traits that set the two apart.
Unlike “regular” strawberries, alpine strawberries do not produce runners. They grow in clumps that increase in size as the plant ages. To get more plants, instead of propagating the runners as you do with regular strawberries, you dig up the clumps and divide them, moving the divisions to a new spot in the garden. Because of their lack of runners, alpine strawberries are quite well behaved, and unlike traditional strawberries, they will not take over the world. Alpine strawberries do beautifully in containers, raised beds, hanging baskets, windowboxes, and even along the edges of foundation plantings. Plan to divide plants every four or five years to keep production high and prevent the plants from becoming crowded.
The fruits of alpine strawberries are only about an inch long, but they are produced continually all summer long. From just a few plants you’ll get a handful of berries every day. Perfect for tossing into your breakfast cereal or a yogurt parfait – or eating straight off the plant.
Growing alpine strawberries from seed
Surprisingly easy to grow from seed, this is my favorite way to start a new planting of alpine strawberries. Doing so is inexpensive, fun, and the plants often produce fruits the very same year they are started from seed.
The best way to start alpine strawberries from seed is to sow seeds indoors, under grow lights, in late winter. The seeds can take several weeks to germinate, but once they sprout, they grow quickly. The ideal soil temperature for germination is between 65 and 75 degrees F. An alternate method is to start the seeds outdoors in a protected area, such as in a cold frame or raised bed. Keep the seeded area moist and only cover the seeds very lightly with soil or sand after planting. They need light to germinate so a small dusting is all that’s needed to keep the seeds from washing away.
Starting with alpine strawberry plants
Another way to get started is to purchase transplants from a specialty nursery. Sold as either bare-root plants or potted “plugs”, these alpine strawberry plants are mature and will produce berries much faster than when planting from seed. Yes, they are more expensive, but for a quick harvest, transplants can’t be beat.
To plant alpine strawberry plants, space them about 8 to 10 inches apart on center. Be sure to keep the crown of the plant (where the shoot system emerges from the root system) above the ground when planting, and mulch the newly planted alpine strawberry plants with a 1 to 2 inch thick layer of shredded leaves, straw, or compost.
Alpine strawberry varieties
There are several different selections available to gardeners. Among the most popular are red-fruited varieties named ‘Alexandria‘ and ‘Mignonette’. I also love the yellow-fruited varieties, including ‘Pineapple Crush‘ (which has a hint of pineapple in its flavor) and ‘Yellow Wonder.’ Grow a mixture of both red and yellow varieties for a greater diversity of sweetness and a harvest that’s even more fun.
Regardless of which variety or varieties you grow, all alpine strawberries aren’t just good for fresh eating; they also make a fragrant and luscious jam and excellent strawberry syrup and homemade ice cream (here’s the ice cream maker I use for this very important job! ).
How to take care of woodland strawberries
You’ll be thrilled to see how ornamental alpine strawberries are. They’re really pretty little plants. Thriving in full sun to partial shade with well drained soil, alpine strawberries are a good choice for gardeners with a moderate amount of shade. They earned the name woodland strawberries for a reason; they can tolerate much more shade than regular strawberries can. And, since the plants form such tidy clumps, they make a wonderful edible groundcover, too.
Alpine strawberry plants require minimal care. Add a top-dressing of compost to the planting area every spring, or fertilize with an organic granular fertilizer at the start of each growing season, before the plants come into flower. Keep them well-watered during times of drought and remove any rotten or diseased fruits as soon as they are noticed. I find alpine strawberries to be far more pest and disease resistant than their regular strawberry cousins.
Part of alpine strawberry care also involves regularly harvesting the fruits, which is far from hard to do. You will look forward to plucking them from the plants on a daily basis, trust me! Regular harvests keep the plant producing and limit fungal diseases that could take hold of old fruits left on the plants too long.
Because bees are required to move the pollen from one flower to another, plant a lot of flowering herbs, annuals, and other plants near your alpine strawberries. This encourages a healthy diversity of native bees which encourages maximum fruit set and fruit size.
What to do with woodland strawberries in the winter
Alpine strawberries are perennial, and they are fully hardy to -20 degrees F. If you live in a colder climate, mulch the plants with a layer of straw in the winter. They may survive temperatures below this threshold with mulch in place. I like to use straw for the job because it’s loose enough to let moisture pass through. Remove the mulch when temperatures warm in the spring, just before the new leaves begin to emerge. An alternative is to leave the mulch in place throughout the growing season. It keeps the ripening fruit off the soil and may help reduce diseases and damage from ground-dwelling pests such as slugs.
The joys of alpine strawberries
I hope I’ve convinced you to give this sweet and petite fruit a home in your garden. And I hope your family relishes the flavor of the berries and the lovely growth habit of the plants as much as ours does.
For more on growing fruits in the home garden, please visit these articles:
- Growing berries in containers
- How to grow hardy kiwi vines
- Transplanting raspberries
- Mini melons for small gardens
- Growing strawberries in pots and hanging baskets
- Blueberry pruning tips
Do you already grow alpine strawberries? What do you think about them? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.