How to Grow Strawberries and Runners

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In this post, we will cover how to grow strawberries and runners and how that process looks starting from original crowns and runners. The goal is to figure out how many strawberries can be purchased affordably and then how many new plants can be quickly acquired from runners. 

At home strawberries are so much better than the store offerings – strawberries start to spoil as soon as they are picked so it is nice to enjoy them when they hit ideal ripeness.

Here are 9 tips to grow strawberries and runners

1. Get the type of strawberry that works well for your climate and taste and of course is prone to producing runners

I lucked out in this department because instead of getting some terrible quality roots from a store, my first strawberry roots were acquired from the farmer’s market. They looked at me funny when I only purchased one strawberry plant. That one strawberry is now 4 within 3 months. I plan to get more from the seller after testing this variety.

The vendor took out the guesswork for me as the fruit and runner production works well for my needs. When picking out strawberries you have to decide what kind to work with:

June – This kind usually makes one large crop of fruit in June, hence the name. These strawberries tend to give you a lot of fruit at once as well as make the largest strawberries.

Well known varieties are: Chandler, Sequoia, Tioga

Everbearing – These strawberries make fruit twice, both early season in spring and a smaller harvest in fall. The drawbacks of this strawberry is less heat tolerance and higher light requirements to get them flowering. Usually, this type has a lower runner output compared to the other two so beware.

Well known varieties are: Quinault, Ozark Beauty

Day-neutral – These strawberries don’t tend to have light requirements and make fruit all the time near all season. For fruit, you need to remove runners and pick fruit often to keep up production. If your goal is to get more runners to grow up strawberry plants faster you keep the flowers and fruit off.

Varieties to try: Albion, Tribute, Tristar

These varieties are often what you find from big commercial breeders or your usual big home improvement store. When you source from specialty and small operations, your variety of options open up.

My farmer’s market mother plant potted up in a recycled container

2. Grow strawberries in warm conditions

Strawberries are sensitive to frost. To get good runner production regardless of fruit they need temps between 40-85 . Any lower and strawberries go dormant and don’t produce fruit or runners and often die back down to the ground waiting for temps to return.

The first runner off my mother plant

3. Choose the best location for strawberry production

Strawberries require well-draining soil that is rich in nutrients and prefer full sun or a majority sunny location. The best strawberry patch I saw was on a raised ground with sandy soil that had been enriched with a healthy dose of compost. The area had water dripping and draining away almost as quickly from clean water runoff.

Even neglected the small patch turned into a huge patch from runners and strawberries were enjoyed for a few years until the critters and weeds took over. Lessons here were to tend the soil down to at least a foot and remove all competitor roots or weeds. Soil needs to be built up with organic matter, possibly worm castings, and compost.

4. Plant strawberries the right way

The first step to strawberries is getting some healthy starter crowns. Some prefer to source strawberries directly from a nursery to help avoid disease or stressed plants. Getting some off an online vendor is a bit of a gamble so keep watch for good return policies. Strawberry plants in a bed should be planted 1 per square foot at the least as runners will fill the empty space.

The roots should be very fat and hydrated from water and fertilizer. They should be planted down to the correct depth so the crown remains above the soil to prevent rot and harm.

Strawberries also tended to do better with companion plants. I used medium-height sunflowers as they helped shade my strawberries in summer when I lived in zone 7b. In Minnesota, the sun intensity isn’t quite as brutal so they are doing well in the green onion patch and will most likely end up in my garlic plot as well.

5. Strawberries love mulch

The main mulch I have always used for nearly everything was suitable waste paper from junk mail (black ink on white paper), cardboard that has been shredded, and recycled yard leaves as these were free to me and plentiful.

Straw could be a nice addition as the bales are very affordable and low cost. They are good for a variety of uses, even planting directly into the straw bales once they have been hollowed a bit and filled with good soil.

Mulch strawberries with a 4” layer of organic materials like the non-toxic waste paper and yard leaves or any suitable mulch you desire.

Mulching is important for any garden as it helps hold in moisture and helps keep things free of weeds.

6. Strawberries need water and they need it to drain

The big sin I have committed over the years when I attempted a strawberry tower or a small patch was incorrect watering. They need to be deeply watered and then the top of the soil needs to be left to dry out a bit before being watered again. When the fruit is setting the soil needs to be kept moist a bit more often or the fruit comes in smaller or will even drop.

7. Strawberries need nutrition and encouragement

Plants you are hoping to get fruit or runners from should be given a shot of fertilizer when the flower buds appear. I usually hit my plants with a compost tea made from worm castings.

If you want fruit you leave them be, if you want runners you remove the flower buds whenever they appear. With strawberries, you want to add in organic fertilizer all during the season. I used to water with the worm casting tea every time I watered.

When runners do appear you want to pot the runners up in potting soil and wait for roots to develop. Once the roots are in they should be removed from the mother plant.

8. Strawberry pests

Some people new to gardening really need to be taught the first main lesson which is whatever amount you think you need for your own use should be tripled. A third goes to the animals and insects that eat away a part of the harvest, a third is there to help mitigate losses from poor growing conditions, and the other third is hopefully your intended target harvest amount.

Strawberries are one of those crops I might even go 4x with because everything seems to like strawberries. If I got home to inspect mine I might find an opossum or raccoon getting a snack though that is after whatever the birds picked out. Sometimes I’d even find my own dogs snacking on them.

For physical protection, it may be attractive to go with netting as a barrier method. Other people swear by painting some rocks red and sticking them around the strawberries to confuse birds.

Insects can be a bit trickier because both ground and flying insects might feed off them. One big help is keeping strawberries off the ground so at least the ground pests are eliminated. You will have to check your strawberries and remove what you can by hand.

Using a neem oil spray will help with things as well as companion planting them with something like garlic or chives as most critters aren’t fond of those smells.

9. Harvest strawberries religiously

When strawberries reach their mature state, they should be harvested by having them picked or cut off the plant. They should also be handled gently so they don’t bruise or have their outer surface squished as they will spoil more quickly. Strawberries aren’t the sort that ripens further once off the plant so they should be collected when fully ripe.

Any rotting fruit or plant material should be removed from the bed and thrown into the compost bin.

Fresh strawberries should be eaten right away or stored for a short time in the refrigerator. Many of my strawberries were frozen and used for smoothies or jam.

Challenges of Growing Strawberries in Minnesota

This year I got a small batch of strawberries except instead of installing a Louisiana patch I am now in Minnesota. Some things of note this year is there was a drought so the strawberries needed watering every day and sometimes several times a day unless shaded.

I didn’t have to shade my strawberries much so it doesn’t appear the sun intensity is too high. In Louisiana, they required afternoon shade and mulch was a necessity.

Strawberries can be sensitive to different soil types like if they are in a clay heavy soil or soil that is salty. Deep watering to the intended planting area can help with some of that as it will wash away things present in the soil.

September is a good time to plant up strawberries into a patch as they will get a bit of growth in and go dormant. By spring they will have had time to store up energy and have a stronger growth habit for both runners or fruit.