How Do Strawberry Plants Grow?

Most people love strawberries. But I bet there are a surprising number of us that have never seen a strawberry plant. Do they grow on trees or bushes? Vines? Is there such a thing as a strawberry orchard?

We’re going to take a closer look at the life and growth habits of the strawberry plant that produces the berry that is summer sweet.

Do Strawberries Grow in Trees, on Vines, or in the Ground?

Strawberries grow with a bush or semi-bush growth habit but can appear to grow on vines when they produce runner plants that aren’t carefully trained and pruned.

June-bearing strawberry types have more of a bush growth habit and ever-bearing and day-neutral more of a semi-bush habit that sprawls more low to the ground.

In commercial strawberry grows June-bearing strawberry varieties are almost always grown. The plants are planted one year and the runners trained into a “matted row” and then the following spring is the harvest.

On the right is strawberry plants planted during their first year and on the left the matted row they develop into when runners are trained into row to create many strawberry plants growing close to each other.

If you’re walking through a small farmers U-Pick strawberry field or a gardeners strawberry patch it might appear that the strawberries are growing along a vine that likes to hug the ground.

What you’re looking at is a network of growths called runners. Runners allow the strawberry plant to spread quickly while conserving energy.

Runners are dependent on the mother plant for energy and nourishment until the runner grows so long and touches dirt, it starts to put down roots.

At this point the runner plant has become a “daughter plant”, an established clone identical to the “mother plant” that produces its own leaves and will grow strawberries on its own.

How Tall and Big Do Strawberry Plants Get?

Strawberry plants do not get very big or tall. June-bearing strawberry varieties will grow the bushiest, something like 12″ tall by 18″ wide, and they are best suited for container or planter growing.

Ever-bearing and day-neutral strawberry varieties tend to stay closer to the ground and grow wider; something like 6″ tall by 18″ wide.

Do Strawberry Plants Spread?

Strawberry plants do spread by producing runners that eventually will take root and become their own plant identical to the plant they sprang from. June-bearing strawberry plants produce more runners than ever-bearing and day-neutral types.

It’s common for June-bearing strawberries to be planted further apart, about 12″ apart in all directions in beds or along a row, so that daughter plants have room to grow in between. Ever-bearing and day-neutral can be planted closer together, about 6″ apart.

To learn more differences between these three main types of strawberries check out “How Many Strawberries Grow Per Plant?“.

How Strawberry Plants Grow Step by Step

Strawberry plants can grow from seed, bare root, seedling plant or runner plant. “How To Plant Strawberries” goes over the different ways each of these plants get established.

As perennial plants, strawberries reproduce both by seed and by their daughter plants that are established by runners. It’s far more likely that the plant will reproduce by runners than by seed.

When runners touch moist soil, they begin to put down roots, and a new plant is born. The daughter plant is a clone of the original.

As a newly established plant, a strawberry plant won’t put all of its energy into producing runners until after having produced fruit. Once the plant has produced strawberries full of tiny seeds and summer begins to taper off, then the strawberry redirects its resources into putting out runners.

For June-bearing varieties it’s common for gardeners and farmers to pinch off all the flowers that form so the plant will focus on producing runners. This way a small harvest the first year is given up for a bigger harvest the following spring.

This is such a focused phase of the strawberry plant’s growth cycle, that it produces a hormone called gibberellin that causes stems to grow longer, which means the runners grow longer and faster.

Having put out all the runners and established all the new plants that it can before the frost, the strawberry plant goes dormant for the cold season, surviving on stored energy.

A well maintained and robust strawberry plant can live for 5 to 6 years but its value as a fruit-growing plant is over with after about 3 to 4 years.

For a more detailed step by step check out “Growth Stages of Strawberry Plants“.

How Are Strawberry Plants Grown Commercially?

The farmland begins preparation for strawberry production the growing season prior to harvesting. The land is plowed and fertilized. Then down goes black plastic along with drip tape for irrigation. A specific kind of tractor is used for this task. No waiting around for the rain! The drip tape will provide the watering and the fertilizing that the strawberries need.

The ground having been prepared, the next task is the planting. There is a tractor rig that can plant starter plants into the black mulch but typically there is a machine used to punch evenly spaced holes and then farm workers plant strawberry seedlings into the holes.

An acre of strawberry farmland will contain between 15,000 and 20,000 plants, so commercial strawberry farming is no casual undertaking.

In the winter the plants are covered and protected from freezing temperatures and winds. If things go as planned, the plants will produce a large strawberry harvest in the spring.

The large majority of domestic strawberries grown commercially come from California where farmers can produce strawberries year round.

Where Do Strawberries Grow?” has more on that and “When Are Strawberries in Season?” is a really interesting article IMO!

Conclusion

The production of runners is a constant activity with the plant. The thinning and renovating of strawberry beds is an ongoing project for the gardener that wishes to have productive strawberry plants.

Please comment below with your own thoughts!

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