Finding a hobby you love is a cool thing. Especially one you had no idea you would love. I’ve always loved growing strawberry plants, for as long as I can remember, but I had never tried growing from seed. Most growers of strawberries don’t grow their own plants, it’s considerably easier to buy bare-root plants in late winter/early spring. Growing strawberries from seed is hard work, and it is slow. Add in that many strawberry varieties for commercial growing are not seeded, but starts are grown by clippings.
If you want huge, commercial size strawberries, buy starts, and as you get runners, clip those and pot to grow more plants. You will need to replace your original plants about every 3 years for best growth. But if instead you want to grow true heritage strawberries, the tiny alpine types, where flavor trumps size, you will need to grow from seed (unless you know someone locally who grows and sells!) Most alpine berries are ever bearing, meaning they produce berries throughout the growing season. Depending on your growing zone/hours of daylight, you will get a crop in late spring/early summer and then the plant goes dormant till late summer. It then produces a crop till first frost. Some years I have pushed plants under grow lights to put on berries through the winter, into February.
Where to find seeds? Baker Creek Seeds is one of our favorite sources.
I start my seeds yearly in mid winter, usually at the end of January. You will need a greenhouse, or a protected area to start seeds (such as a sunny south-facing area in your house.
But don’t go into strawberry growing expecting the seeds to behave like other seeds. They are slow to germinate, and fickle on a good day.
Prepare your pots. I prefer round 4″ pots. Use new ones, or well washed and sanitized ones. I don’t buy special potting soil, I use the same organic soil I used for everything (G&B Oraganics), and placed in trays. As we grow a lot of varieties every year, I do one tray per type (or in some years 2 trays!). Be sure to label each tray well. I pack in the soil, tapping each pot. Soak the soil with water. I use a kids watering can for this, and do the watering 2-3 times, ensuring the soil is saturated. Sprinkle the seeds on top. Put at least 6 seeds per pot.
DO NOT TOP WITH SOIL. Yes. Just walk away.
Keep the soil moist, checking every few days, especially if your greenhouse or home is hot. As we don’t heat our greenhouse above 45°, unless we have a sunny streak of weather in winter, I check every 3 to 4 days. Water only as much as needed.
There are two methods one can do for the germination process. One is faster, but it comes down to you, your budget, space and equipment. Either use supplemental lighting or don’t.
Will take the longest. Chances for a lower germination rate.
Seeds germinate faster. Plants get a head start.
To boost it faster, use a seed germination heating mat. While I have one, I don’t use it. My method takes longer to grow the plants, but I have found my plants are very hardy.
Now walk away. Just walk away. Nothing is going to happen. For a very long time. Don’t give up. Even if 4 to 6 weeks has passed. Right when you think NOTHING is going to happen you will see a tiny speck of green.
And then you relax. They are growing!
These were seeded on January 31st. This is them in late April. While the plants did receive grow lights in February, they didn’t after that.
Due to our move, a farmer friend of mine fostered my babies this year (her pay being she got to keep a bunch). She brought them to me in late April. Her greenhouse isn’t heated. So while still small, I potted them up into 1 gallon pots, which will keep the plants happy for a long time.
Within a week or two the plants jumped in size.
Once the longer days kick in, strawberry plants know to grow, and do so quickly. (As you can see, the deer do like the plants, so while they grow outside, I keep them protected from chomping.
First year alpine strawberry plants won’t put on berries until the end of summer, but will then produce a crop till the first freeze. The next spring you will get a batch in spring/early summer as well!
As for the plants you grow, they should be lightly fertilized with an organic pellet type every month or so. Just sprinkle on some, then water.
In spring, once the plants come back for the year, you can break apart the root balls carefully and separate to make more plants, as desired, and repot into new pots.
To protect in fall and winter, cover and surround the plants (especially if in pots, rather than in ground) with hay. They can be fully covered. They will go to sleep for the winter. Uncover once deep freezes have passed.
But most of all? Enjoy the fruit of your labor: