“Short and sweet” is the perfect way to describe alpine strawberries. These vivid red berries are only half an inch in diameter and grow on plants less than a foot tall. They’re also very simple to grow in the garden or on your windowsill. As you grab your gardening supplies and design your landscape this spring, you’ll want to consider growing alpine strawberries!
Alpines may be smaller than regular strawberries, but they pack a flavorful punch. This is an old species of strawberry that was discovered 300 years ago. Unlike the plump, red giants in the grocery store, they haven’t been bred for size at the expense of flavor. Their tiny size and bold flavor makes them perfect for dessert toppings, salads, or a bite-sized snack.
These little plants are so lovely that they’re often planted ornamentally. They produce all summer long, so strawberry landscaping is constantly dotted with dainty white flowers and red button-berries. You can use alpine strawberries as a whimsical ground cover amongst the trees or a small pop of color in rock gardens.
Good Products For Growing Alpine Strawberries:
- Safer Brand 3-in-1 Garden Spray
- Bonide Pyrethrin Garden Insect Spray
- Southern Ag Liquid Copper Fungicide
- NaturesGoodGuys Beneficial Nematodes
Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Alpine strawberry, wild strawberry, woodland strawberry|
|Scientific Name||Fragaria vesca|
|Days to Harvest||3-4 months from transplanting|
|Light||Full to partial sun|
|Soil||Fertile, well-draining, compost|
|Pests||Aphids, spider mites, strawberry root weevils, birds|
|Diseases||Anthracnose, leather rot, angular leaf spot|
All About Alpine Strawberries
You’ll often hear alpine strawberries called woodland or wild strawberry. The names are fitting because, though they’re native to Europe and Asia, these plants can be found naturally all across North America. They spread by clumps and self-seed, gardening themselves into strawberry patches.
This species of strawberry (Fragaria vesca) grows best as a perennial in zones 5-9. It blooms from May to August, goes dormant, and comes back the following spring. The small plants are bushy with dark green, toothed leaves. They produce classic strawberry blossoms that are white with yellow centers.
Some alpine strawberry varieties produce white or cream colored fruit. These are naturally occurring hybrids that simply lack the protein responsible for that cherry-red color. They’re said to have a delicious guava-pineapple flavor. These fascinating varieties include Pineapple Crush, Krem, and White Soul.
Some people are severely allergic to strawberries, but these plants can also cause mild allergy symptoms. If you’ve ever gotten a rash or itchy hands while gardening with strawberries, you’re likely slightly allergic to the plant. Many people can still eat strawberries but have a reaction to the plant’s foliage (myself included!). If strawberry plants irritate your skin in any way, wear gloves when handling them. If your skin reacts severely to these plants, consult a doctor and hold off on planting these berries.
Planting Alpine Strawberries
Like most garden fruit, alpine strawberries seeds should be planted in the spring. They can’t go in the ground until after the frost is gone, so you can buy starter plants or get a head-start with planting alpine strawberries from seed.
Growing alpine strawberries from seed isn’t always successful. The seeds are tiny and don’t always germinate. If you’re committed though, it’s worth a shot!
Plant your alpine strawberry seeds about 3 months before the last frost of spring. Start them off in fine-grained growing medium and add a shallow layer of topsoil. Water them very lightly so the seeds don’t get washed away. Most seed varieties will take anywhere from 1-6 weeks to germinate.
When the frost is gone and your seeds have grown (or you’ve picked up seedlings from the store), it’s time to get gardening! If the seedlings have been living indoors, harden them off before transplanting. Place the plants about a 1½ feet apart. Be sure not to crowd them, since dark and damp conditions can invite disease and pests.
You can also grow alpine strawberry plants in containers. Use a medium-sized, shallow pot with drainage holes. As container plants, alpine strawberries will look great in potting arrangements. It’s easy to grow alpine seed and plants indoors, as long as they get plenty of light.
Growing alpine strawberries takes work, but they’re not that hard to figure out. Starting in early spring, follow these guidelines for some delicious fruits.
Sun and Temperature
Woodland strawberries produce best in full sun. However, they will tolerate partial sun and even a little shade. As long as they get 4-6 hours of light on a regular basis, they should be happy.
As mentioned, active alpine strawberry plants should be protected from frost. On the other hand, high heat can stagger their growth and even burn the leaves. The ideal temperature range through the summer is 60-80°F.
Water and Humidity
To grow alpine strawberries, the soil needs a medium amount of watering. This means keeping it from drying out without creating puddles on the surface. Alpine and regular strawberries both have shallow roots, so it’s better to water lightly and often than heavily and infrequently.
One of the best things you can do to keep your alpine strawberry plants healthy is water at the soil level. This will prevent bacterial, fungal, and mold growth and insect infestations. It’s tricky to stick a watering can under those short leaves, so soaker hoses are the best option (you can use them when gardening other plants too!).
Strawberries, alpine and regular, need 65-70% humidity for optimal production. If you live in zones 5-9, the humidity should be perfect for them.
For productive growth, use a humusy loam soil that’s full of organic matter. They may not look like it, but these plants are heavy feeders! To keep the nutrients coming – and protect the shallow roots – lay down some compost as mulch. You absolutely must use a well-drained soil.
Wild strawberries need a soil pH of 5.5 – 7.0. You can also opt out of soil completely and grow alpine fruits hydroponically.
If the growing medium is loaded with compost, the plants should be fine without fertilizer. However, you can always add some to boost growth and help the plants bear fruit. Use a balanced, granular fertilizer at the beginning of the season or a liquid option as much as once a week.
For the first year of your strawberry plants’ life, they need to focus energy on establishing good roots. The rule of thumb is to clip off the first round of blossoms in June. This should result in a stronger plant and plumper strawberries in the next crop.
Alpine strawberry plants don’t produce runners like normal strawberries. They grow in clumps, so this is the perfect opportunity to practice your plant dividing! In the early spring, before the plants have blossomed, dig them up and gently break them in two. Both sides must have a good set of roots and leaves. Transplant each section in its own spot and continue to garden as usual.
Harvesting and Storing
Lucky you! You get to harvest and enjoy alpine strawberries all summer long! Here’s how to make that transition from garden to plate.
Most strawberry varieties turn fully red when they’re ripe (except for the cream ones, of course). Woodland strawberries will be about the size of your fingernail. You’ll want to harvest the fruits when they’re completely ripe, but before they’re overripe. As they age, the wild berries turn dark red and get mushier in texture so the seeds come loose. Decaying fruits may invite pests and disease, so try to stay on top of harvesting them.
For the best taste of any strawberry variety, you should eat it right away. But, you can still extend the shelf-life of your tiny alpine strawberries. Start by leaving the stems on and not washing them right away. Spread them in a sealed container in one layer, if possible. Kept in the fridge this way, they should last about a week. If you see any mold growth, remove the affected fruit and change the container immediately.
For long-term snacking, you can freeze alpine strawberries for a few months. Remove the stems and lay the fruit on a cookie sheet. Freeze them completely and then transfer them to a sealed bag. If you don’t freeze them individually, they’ll freeze into one big mass in the bag (I speak from experience!). Strawberries can also be dried in a food dehydrator or an oven.
Alpine strawberries are usually resistant to most pests and diseases. But, even easy to grow plants have potential problems to watch out for.
We’ve all seen deformed strawberries. Usually they look like a few berries fused together (there are even some shaped like hands or animals!). Incomplete pollination is usually the culprit here. Strawberry blossoms have multiple pistils (pollen receptors) that lead to individual ovaries. When pollinated, each ovary ripens into its own fruit and seed, called an achene, and they’re all fused together by tissue that makes up the bulk of the strawberry. If some of the ovaries aren’t pollinated, they won’t develop fruit, resulting in a lumpy berry.
It takes about 20 visits from pollinators for a whole strawberry to grow and produce seeds. So, you’ll need to make sure there are plenty of bees in your garden. Seed some pollinator-friendly plants that flower at different times. The bees need to know that your garden is the place to be!
Deformed berries can also be the result of damaged flowers. The damage is usually caused by frost or nutrient deficiency. So, if pollinators don’t seem to be the problem, take a look at the nighttime temperatures and the nutrients being added to the soil.
Spider mites and aphids are classic garden pests that just won’t leave us alone. While growing your alpine strawberry plants, keep an eye out for these small insects so they don’t get out of control. Both aphids and spider mites are tiny pests that will suck the life out of your alpine strawberry plants. Neem oil is very popular for preventing and controlling these nuisances. For a more aggressive approach, Safer brand soap and pyrethrin spray work for aphids and spider mites, respectively.
An awesome way to keep pests away from your alpine strawberries is to give them some friends. Marigolds, thyme, mint, and other herbs are excellent companion plants for strawberries. Alpine berries have a sweet smell that’s very inviting to insects, so try to cover it up. Garlic, onion, and chives will definitely deter the pests. Finally, it’s always a good idea to add flowers that attract beneficial insects, such as lacewings and ladybugs.
The strawberry root weevil may become an issue in some regions. While the adults don’t do severe damage to strawberry plants beyond a few chewed leaves, their larvae chew through the roots and cause massive damage. Pyrethrin can be used to handle adult beetles, but beneficial nematodes are invaluable for handling the beetle larvae.
Birds also have a sweet beak for strawberries. Some gardeners keep them away by putting up something shiny, like tin foil or CDs. However, other gardeners report that shiny things are more of a sign for the birds to dig in (I’m thinking it depends on the bird variety present). Some other methods are using a net, floating row cover, or decoy owl. If you go with the decoy, be sure to move it around every so often so the birds don’t get used to its presence.
Anthracnose is a nasty fungal infection that hits the fruit and leaves. It will eventually ooze orange spores that infect other plants. These spores spread by water, so always water at the roots, not overhead. Anthracnose can survive in soil for 9 months, so remove diseased plants immediately and don’t plant anything there for a while. Fungicide may help control the disease, so add a little to the neighboring plants.
Angular leaf spot causes water-soaked lesions and chlorosis on the leaves. If left untreated, it can drastically affect the yield and fruit quality. Prevent it by keeping the soil clear of dead plant matter. Existing infections should be treated with copper fungicide.
Leather rot is as unpalatable as it sounds. It makes brown spots on the berries at any stage of development. This disease is quick to spread, so remove diseased berries as soon as possible. The key to keeping rot away is to ensure good aeration in the strawberry patch. Grow alpine berries at least a few inches apart and don’t overwater. If the disease prevails, use fungicide to get it under control.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do alpine strawberries taste good?
A: Absolutely! The fruit may be small, but it’s packed with a sweet flavor. If you’re looking for something really different, there are cream-colored alpine strawberries that taste like pineapple!
Q: Do alpine strawberries come back every year?
A: Yes. When originally planted in the spring, they’ll go dormant during the winter. You’ll find that they bear fruit better in the second growing season than the first.
Q: Do alpine strawberries need full sun?
A: Lots of light is ideal, but the leaves can be burned so be careful. This ground cover should produce just as well when growing in partial light or even a little shade.
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