7 Benefits of Removing Strawberry Runners

If you want to eat loads of berries this summer, you may need to do some pruning. Strawberry runners suck a lot of energy away from your plants, but former organic farmer Logan Hailey has expert info on why and how you can remove them for higher yields.

remove strawberry runners. Close-up of female hands adorned with orange gloves, delicately pruning strawberry runners in a sunlit garden bed.

Contents

Garden-fresh berries are the highlight of the summer season, but strawberry plants require a bit of maintenance pruning to reach their fullest potential. Runners, sometimes called stolons or “suckers,” are the long stems that strawberry plants send out to vegetatively reproduce. Every runner can root to grow a new baby plant, but the problem is that they can quickly create a matted mess of stems and leaves. 

If you don’t remove the suckers, your strawberries may have smaller yields and become more susceptible to disease. Whether you’re planting a new patch or tending an established bed, here are 7 important reasons you should remove strawberry runners and how to get the pruning done quickly. 

YouTube video

Should I Remove Strawberry Runners?

Close-up of female hands with black pruning shears trimming strawberry runners in a sunlit garden bed.
Boost your strawberry harvest by removing pesky runners promptly.

Removing strawberry runners encourages the plants to funnel their energy toward fruit production, leading to higher yields, healthier plants, and less risk of disease. Runners are sometimes called “suckers” because they literally “suck” nutrients and energy away from the plant. You want those nutrients to go toward producing delicious berries! Gardeners who don’t remove strawberry runners may face issues like small berries, low berry yields, fungal diseases, overcrowded beds, and nutrient deficiencies in their plants.

Strawberry runners or stolons are a form of vegetative reproduction. A mother plant sends out lots of stolons throughout the season in an attempt to clone itself. Each stolon establishes roots while sucking off the energy of the mother plant.

While all those free plants may sound like a good thing, leaving strawberry runners in place can quickly lead to overcrowding. The matted mess of strawberries will channel the bulk of its energy into growing new leaves, stems, roots, and runners rather than focusing on producing fruit.

7 Benefits of Pruning Strawberry Runners

Strawberries are very low-maintenance crops compared to most berry bushes and fruit trees. While they don’t require complicated pruning regimens, these herbaceous fruiting plants benefit from regularly snipping to keep them at their best. 

A simple weekly or biweekly runner removal can revolutionize your garden strawberry production. This can take 5 minutes or less! If you snap or trim off the runners every time you see them, you can easily stay on top of strawberry pruning and stop worrying about low yields, small berries, or fungal diseases. 

Here are 7 major benefits of removing strawberry runners and tips on how to do it:

Improve Yields

The Strawberry plant features lush, dark green foliage and clusters of vibrant red, juicy fruits nestled among the verdant leaves, on a bed covered with black plastic mulch.
Boost strawberry yields by regularly pruning away runners for fruiting focus.

It is scientifically proven that runner removal improves strawberry fruit yield. Pruning away runners is specifically important in everbearing or day-neutral strawberry varieties. If you cut away runners once or twice per week, the plants are more likely to produce an abundance of berries.

Removing runners boosts yields because it changes how the plant allocates its energy. Strawberry plants have a certain amount of leaves, each with a certain capacity to photosynthesize every day. As the plant uses sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce energy (in the form of glucose), it naturally allocates certain amounts of energy to different plant functions. 

Flowering and fruiting require a lot of energy, so you don’t want the plant to use its valuable glucose stores to grow a bunch of runners when it could be growing fruit. Removing the runners ensures that a maximum amount of energy is channeled toward producing tasty berries.

Young plants have fewer leaves, which means they are producing less overall energy than a mature plant. This is why removing runners in the early stages of growth is particularly important because you want young plants to focus on rooting and fruit production. They should not be funneling their limited energy toward growing runners and new baby plants.

Ultimately, removing strawberry runners tells the plant to focus on fruiting. I find that gardeners who struggle with low fruit production or excessively small berries are most often forgetting to prune. 

If you leave your plants to produce prolific amounts of suckers, all the energy will be sucked away from fruiting as the plants instead try to create a mat of growth. On the flip side, if you prune your strawberry plants into nice individual mini-bushes, they are more likely to be loaded with fruit. Dozens of berries can be ripening on a single plant at once as long as the plant is focusing the bulk of its energy on fruiting. 

Pro Tip: Productive Pruning

Close-up of farmer hands harvesting ripe strawberry fruits using red scissors in a garden with mulched soil.
Enhance berry yields by pruning runners during harvest sessions.

Maximize your harvesting and pruning productivity by doing both at the same time. Every time you go out to the garden to harvest berries, do a quick sweep around the plant to snap off any new suckers. It’s best to catch them young before they suck a lot of energy and water away from the plant.

As long as the plants are thoroughly rooted, you should be able to gently snap the runner off with your hands. However, if the plant is young, you don’t want to pull the runner by hand because it may uproot the plant. Instead, use small scissors or pruners to snip the sucker off as close to the crown as possible.

When I worked on large-scale organic strawberry farms, we removed runners every other day in peak season during harvest. That’s right— the plants were producing so many fruits that we had to harvest the berries every other day! This made it super easy to stay on top of runner removal because we were already right there hunched over the bed of strawberry plants. 

We created a positive loop: more runner removal = more berries = more harvests = more runner removal. This simple maintenance scheme allowed us to harvest hundreds of strawberries from each plant over the course of the season. The yields can literally double or triple once you start pruning away the runners!

Larger Berries

The crate is filled with freshly picked red strawberries, each showcasing a plump, heart-shaped form with vibrant crimson hues, among the green strawberry bushes in the garden bed.
Improve berry size by addressing potential growth obstacles promptly.

In addition to increasing yields, runner removal also increases the average size of the berries. Many gardeners complain about tiny strawberry plants and crave to grow the big, juicy fruits you see at farmer’s markets and in grocery stores.

If your plants are yielding tiny berries, you may have a few issues:

  • Lack of organic matter and nutrient deficiencies reduce overall plant vigor.
  • The plants are under stress from extreme heat or cold, so they slow production.
  • Drought is causing smaller berries because the plants don’t have enough water to develop large fruits.
  • Poor, compacted soil could make it difficult for the plants to develop roots.
  • Overcrowded plants are competing for limited space and nutrients.
  • The plants may be too young or too old to produce large berries.
  • The variety may be a small-fruiting cultivar. I like ‘Albion’ for the largest, tastiest berries.
  • Forgetting to remove runners sucks away energy from developing fruits.

If you’re not sure what the issue is, you may have to work through a process of elimination. For a nice first step, prune off all those runners and clean up the beds so there is clear 8-10 inches of spacing between each strawberry plant

Once the plants are thinned out and no longer sending energy to runner production, they can refocus their energy on larger berries. Recovery may take several weeks, but you will often find noticeably larger berries as soon as you start pruning.

Pro Tip: Varietal Selection

Close-up of a ripe strawberry bush showing lush, green foliage adorned with ripe, red strawberries with a glossy surface decorated with tiny pale yellow seeds.
Choose day-neutral strawberries for larger, immediate harvests and compact growth.

Strawberries come in three main types: June-bearing, everbearing, and the modern day-neutrals. As a former professional organic farmer, I highly recommend planting day-neutral strawberry varieties. The plants are far more vigorous, and they produce fruits in the first year. Better yet, their berries tend to be much larger, and they provide a steady supply all summer long.

Day-neutral cultivars like ‘Albion’ and ‘Seascape’ are the gold industry cultivars for flavor, productivity, and commercial size. These strawberries are also excellent for a home garden because they produce attractive little 8-12 inch wide clumps of foliage averaging 8-10 inches tall. As long as you remove the runners throughout the season, the plants will stay compact and loaded with giant, flavorful berries. 

Many older June-bearing strawberry types tend to be planted in “matted row” styles without pruning. The plants literally create a mat by sending out excessive amounts of runners. When left to root, each sucker becomes its own new plant, creating an overcrowded bed with smaller fruits. While matted plants are great for woodland strawberries or ground cover, they are the worst option for large berry yields. Moreover, June-bearing types typically take a year or two to start producing large yields, which can be annoying for impatient gardeners.

Ultimately, if you want giant berries that yield in the same season that you plant them, day-neutral cultivars are the best. Remove the suckers as often as you can to maximize strawberry harvests!

Runners Suck Energy Away from Fruiting

The plant displays a vibrant array of ripe strawberries in varying shades of red, interspersed with unripe green berries among straw mulch.
Control stolons to ensure abundant fruit production in strawberries.

“Stolon” is the botanical term for runners. A stolon is a creeping horizontal stem that can root to form a new plant. This is why you’ll see new tiny strawberry crowns and leaves forming at the terminal end of each runner. They have lots of cell reproduction that allows them to produce new leaves and roots very rapidly. 

Much like the umbilical cord from a mother to a baby, stolons funnel energy straight from the mother plant to the baby plant. This movement of nutrients and water takes away from the mother plant’s vigor. 

This is a form of vegetative cloning where the plant produces lots of genetically-identical replications of itself. In contrast, strawberry gardeners want the plant to focus on sexual reproduction (flowers, fruits, and seeds!) because that is the part of the plant that we like to eat. Remember, each strawberry is actually a “multiple fruit” or a cluster of tiny fruits called achenes, each with a tiny seed inside them. 

Stolons can be great for propagating new plants (as we’ll explain below), but at some point, most gardeners end up with far more strawberry plants than they can handle. You probably don’t want to grow more plants— you want more fruit! Ironically, in the case of strawberries, more plants does not equal more fruit. In fact, too many runners and plants in a bed can dramatically reduce your yields and cause other problems like nutrient deficiencies or diseases.

If you let too many runners root, it can even drain the energy of the parent plant so much that it stops producing berries altogether. Try to catch the runners before they start rooting into new baby plants.

Pro Tip: Start Runner Removal Quickly After Planting

Close-up of female hands in blue gloves trimming mustache off strawberry using secateurs with wooden handles. The strawberry plant showcases lush, green foliage with serrated leaves, while delicate runners extend outward.
Prune runners early to promote healthy strawberry plant growth.

Instead of keeping your strawberries as perennials, you can replant day-neutral varieties each season as annuals to maximize production and make maintenance easier. Order bare-root crowns in the winter to ensure delivery to your house in early spring. I like to plant ‘Albion’ in the spring around the last frost date. 

Ensure spacing is 8-10 inches apart in every direction. After planting, immediately mulch your beds with leaf litter or straw. Check the plants every few days to start removing runners right away. Sometimes, the stress of transplanting the crowns can cause plants to periodically send out lots of runners or flowers. You’ll want to prune both off in the early stages.

Remember, young plants are susceptible to uprooting if you yank too hard on the sucker stems. Instead, use sharp, sanitized pruners to cut off the suckers in the early stages. Once the plants are more mature, you’ll be able to quickly snap the suckers off by hand without scissors.

Prevent Overcrowding 

Gardening tool hoe weeds beds of strawberry plants that boast vibrant green, serrated leaves that form dense clusters.
To boost strawberry yield, keep plants properly spaced and pruned.

Overcrowded strawberries are particularly vulnerable to low production and disease issues. People don’t like to be crammed in a subway like sardines, and plants are just the same. Too many plants growing in one bed leads to unnecessary competition for space, water, light, and nutrients. Things get particularly competitive and unproductive when runners are allowed to root willy-nilly, and the strawberry plants become matted together.

Rooted runners are the number one cause of overcrowding. You may have planted your strawberry plants far apart, but they can eventually cover the entire bed if the suckers are left to root and grow into new plants. 

If you’ve seen strawberries growing in the wild, you will understand that this is their natural habitat. It is an evolutionary advantage to form a thick matted ground cover over a large space because the plants have strength in numbers. They can easily outcompete other species by rapidly cloning themselves into big colonies. But, while this is helpful for wild plants, it is detrimental to garden-grown plants because it detracts from fruit production. After all, you’re probably growing strawberries for the delicious berries, not the leaves!

Removing the runners ensures that plants have sufficient space between them. In general, most strawberry varieties do best with 8-10 inches of space between them. However, some gardeners widen the spacing to 12-24 inches for larger cultivars. If you’re growing in pots or hanging baskets, only plant one or two plants in each container. Overcrowding is extra troublesome in small spaces. 

Pro Tip: Opt for Less Plants With Wider Spacing

Close-up of a woman's hand planting a strawberry seedling with bare roots and vibrant green leaves, featuring serrated edges, an oval shape, and a glossy texture, into the soil in the garden.
For abundant harvests, prioritize spacing over plant quantity.

One of the biggest misconceptions about gardening in general is: “If I cram as many plants as possible in a small space, I will get the most food from a small area.” This could not be farther from the truth! If you are limited on space, it is much better to grow fewer plants with wider spacing. 

For example, if you have a short round raised garden bed (perfect for strawberries, by the way), it has a 38-inch diameter, which is about three feet. Recall that the area of a circle is calculated using pi x radius squared. The raised bed has an area of about seven square feet. To make things simple, we’ll say we give each of our plants one square foot (12” x 12”) of space. So you could comfortably fit seven strawberries in a short round raised metal bed.

In contrast, if you tried to plant 14 strawberries in that same bed, your production may be significantly reduced. The plants would only have six inches of space between them, and they may have even less space if you forget to prune out the runners. I’ve seen overcrowded beds yield less than half the berries of a properly spaced bed (even though they had double the amount of plants!)

Moral of the story? Plant wider than you think. If you have fewer plants, they may actually yield more berries than a bunch of plants crammed together.

Improve Airflow and Prevent Disease

Close-up of a strawberry bush with unripe and ripe red heart-shaped fruits, one of which is covered with gray mold.
Prune suckers to fend off strawberry plant diseases!

Removing strawberry runners reduces the risk of plant diseases. Since suckers produce new plants super quickly, a bed can rapidly become overgrown with dense foliage. As if low yields weren’t bad enough, overcrowded strawberries are especially prone to problems with disease. 

Botrytis (gray mold or powdery mildew) is the number one attacker of strawberry plants. It forms a white flour-like coating on the plants. If there is an overgrowth of leafy foliage without enough airflow, the stagnant conditions and excess moisture create a breeding ground for pathogenic fungi. These disease-causing organisms rapidly spread from one plant to another when the runners are left in place. 

In humid or rainy climates, runner removal and wider spacing are especially important because moisture tends to linger on the plants longer, causing more likelihood of fungal attack.

If you notice mildew forming on your strawberry runners, leaves, or fruits, remove the infected parts immediately and destroy the diseased plant parts. Sanitize your tools and gloves. Use sanitized sears to thin out the patch and ensure no runners are left to spread the disease. You can also use a diluted neem oil solution to suppress and prevent future infections.

Pro Tip: Water Strawberries From the Base

Close-up of a strawberry plant being watered via drip irrigation in a garden covered with black fabric mulch.
Keep strawberries dry by using drip irrigation or soaker hoses.

Avoid overhead watering your strawberries at all costs! Although many varieties are disease-resistant, they are not invincible. Overhead watering dramatically increases the risk of disease because water droplets sit on the surface of the plants. While this may happen naturally with rain, it should be avoided during irrigation. 

It’s best to irrigate with soaker hoses or drip lines to keep the foliage as dry as possible. This will save water and ensure that moisture is delivered straight to the base of the plants. 

Easier to Harvest

Close-up of a hand picking organic ripe bright red strawberries on a raised bed.
Prune runners for effortless berry harvesting and healthier plants.

Runner-free berry plants are simply easier to harvest. Instead of seeing a bunch of crisscrossing stems all over your bed, you can clearly access each large, healthy plant and find the ripe berries with ease. It is very annoying to sort through foliage and suckers in search of your berries. 

Harvesting doesn’t need to be a scavenger hunt! Well-pruned plants ensure that fruits are accessible. This also can help you prevent rotten berries. If fruits are hidden amongst scattered foliage and suckers, you may miss them during harvest.

As they rot, they become harbors for pests and diseases, attracting issues like mildew, slugs, or birds. You want to remove as many ripe berries as possible with every harvest. This ensures that the bed stays clean and the plants keep producing new flowers and fruits.

Free Propagation Material

Close-up of a woman's hand holding a strawberry runner against a background of growing strawberry plants that form elliptical leaves with serrated edges.
Turn annoying runners into free strawberry plants for propagation.

Runners are mostly annoying freeloaders on your strawberry plants, but the one thing that they are great for is— propagation! If you want a dozen or a hundred free new strawberry plants, this is your chance! Every runner can grow into a new plant as long as it is provided with the right conditions to thrive. Instead of leaving the suckers to leech off the parent plant, you can snip them and replant them in their own pots. This gives you a double whammy of benefits: better-performing plants and new propagation material to plant elsewhere or share with friends.

Runners are basically bulletproof, so you really can’t go wrong with this propagation method. Strawberries are so easy to propagate by runners that many prolific growers cannot give away the plants fast enough! The key to success with runner propagation is pruning at the perfect time

It’s helpful for the baby plantlets to have a few tiny roots before you snip it from the mother plant. But this does not mean I recommend leaving those suckers in place too long! Since your plants produce so many runners, you’re bound to miss a few during your weekly pruning. Remove as many as you can, and if you notice that a plantlet has started to root at the end of the runner, gently dig it up with your hands or a trowel and snip it from the mother.

Place the plantlet in a soil blend, planting just like a strawberry crown. Be sure to keep the roots buried in the soil and the leaves above. Allow the sucker to naturally brown and fall off. You can replicate as many runners as you’d like throughout the season. They will be exact clones of the parent plant, so be sure to only propagate from your favorite varieties. 

Final Thoughts

Prolific stolon production is a great sign that your strawberry plants are healthy and vigorous. However, removing them is important to ensure big yields and happy plants. Every time you cut a sucker, imagine that you are commanding your plants to put their energy into fruiting. If you stay on top of pruning, you will be rewarded with higher quantities of larger berries and fewer issues with plant diseases. 

SHARE THIS POST
Growing strawberries from seeds. Close-up of a starter tray with young strawberry seedlings. The seedlings are characterized by thin, short stems with small, round leaves with five lobes at the edges.

Fruits

How to Grow Strawberries from Seed

Have you ever bitten into a strawberry and wondered if you could grow a plant from its tiny seeds? You can! Join organic farmer Jenna Rich as she discusses this fun and easy process.

In the foreground of the orchard, a solitary apple tree proudly displays its red apples, ripe for picking. The tree's branches extend gracefully, laden with the luscious fruit, inviting observers to indulge in its autumn bounty.

Fruits

15 Fruit Trees to Plant this Spring

Spring’s moderate temperatures and lengthening days make it the perfect time to plant new fruit trees. But before you pick up any old tree and stick it in the ground, take a minute to learn about some popular varieties. In this article, Briana Yablonski will share 15 different fruit trees you can plant this spring.

A vibrant cluster of 'Heritage' Raspberries reveals plump, ruby-red fruits glistening in the sunlight. Each succulent berry promises a burst of sweet and tart flavors. Surrounding the berries, lush green leaves add a touch of freshness and vitality.

Fruits

How to Plant, Grow, and Care for ‘Heritage’ Raspberries

Are you looking for a new ever-bearing red raspberry variety to add to your garden this season? Transplant ‘Heritage’ bare roots and leafed-out plants in the spring, and they’ll produce berries for you in year one. Join organic farmer Jenna Rich as she shows us how to plant, grow, and care for ‘Heritage’ raspberries.