Hard to believe that this rather spindly, ugly looking thing produces some of the tastiest summer fruit…….this is a strawberry runner. If you live in the temperate regions of Australia (eg. VIC, NSW, SA & TAS) you will start seeing these runners appearing in your local nursery or online via mail order from stores such as The Diggers Club NOW! And now is the time to plant them. If you live in the sub tropics strawberry planting is best done in autumn.
When you get your strawberry runners home, or they are delivered – unwrap them and give their roots a good wash in water. Pinch or cut off any discoloured leaves and trim the roots back to around 10cm. Now your runners are ready for planting…..
Where to plant strawberries?
Strawberries will thrive in a sunny spot, with good drainage – this means they are ideal to grow in garden beds, pots or even hanging baskets. They are water hungry over the summer months, so make sure you put them in a spot that will be easy to water regularly.
Why grow from runners?
And hang on…..what is a runner? Strawberries “reproduce” in two ways; seeds and runners. Runners are small “baby plants” that shoot off from the main mother plant via a long arm or runner. These baby plants (which are a genetic copy of the mother plant), set roots and grow into the ground surrounding the mother plant. If you want your plant to produce fruit – CUT THESE RUNNERS OFF as soon as they appear.
The runners you buy from nurseries and mail order SHOULD be grown in conditions that are virus free – these are called “certified runners” and are grown in certain areas of Australia by “strawberry runner growers”. These growers actually encourage the mother plants to send out baby runner plants…..because they pick off the flowers & fruit…..sounds criminal doesn’t it!!
How to plant strawberry runners?
Strawberries hate wet feet, so once you’ve chosen a site to plant with good drainage, it is important you plant the runners at the correct depth. Too deep and the crown (the bit from where the leaves & fruit grows!) will rot, too shallow and roots will be exposed and the plant may not establish correctly.
To really make sure my strawberries have good drainage (even when we have a lot of rain), I like to plant them on raised mini beds within my garden. Mound up the soil into long “beds” about 10cm, I just use my hands to do this pressing the soil together as I go. Placing the strawberries at the recommended (see the packaging they come in) spacing apart, I spread the roots is so the runners sit up across the ridges I’ve made.
Now just cover over the roots with more soil, but make sure you maintain the mounded shape of the ridge – to help improve drainage. AND make sure the base of crown of the runner is sitting just on the soil surface. Water in well with a dilution of liquid seaweed and leave them to establish and grow!
Mulching & Fertilising & Pest Protection
Soon after planting, I mulch with a generous sprinkle of pine needles. It must be the acidity from the needles that the strawberry plants LOVE because if I grow them without this pine needle treatment the fruit isn’t as good!!
At the time of planting you can work through some well composted chicken manure OR you can apply it as a top dressing now. A blood and bone, with added potash is also ideal.
Once the leaves have established and the weather starts to warm up, I like to add some pea straw or similar mulch around the plants. This helps to keep the fruit clean and ward off slimey pests that will target your fruit.
Be ready with the snail pellets, used coffee grinds or beer traps once the fruit arrives – slug and snail attack can be a big problem! I never seem to have a problem with birds eating my fruit, but if you do you will need to rig up a net over the fruit.
Fruit will ONLY ripen on the plant, so pick once the whole fruit has turned a nice red colour. For more information on how to pick strawberries check out my blog post “Harvesting Strawberries“.
TOP TIPS for growing strawberries
1. Only keep your plants in the ground for 2-3 years. After this they tend to run out of oomph and you’ll get a bigger harvest, with tastier fruit if you completely replant them.
2. A household with 4 people will need around 10-20 runners to get a good, continuous harvest over summer.
3. Different varieties fruit at different times during the growing season of Oct – May, for more info on varieties and when they fruit CLICK HERE
4. Avoid overhead watering of your strawberry plants, use drip irrigation or hold the hose closer to the soil surface to help reduce fungal diseases on the leaves.
5. Bee attracting flowering plants like alyssum and borage are ideal to grow as companion plants around the edges of your strawberry patch.
6. Cut off any runners that appear during the fruiting season, this will encourage MORE fruit.