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Thinning and Replanting Strawberry Plants

I’m not sure if the task of thinning and replanting strawberry plants really should take place in the late spring, or if it is just pure inertia on my part. Regardless, I walked outside in March, and realized my strawberry patch was out of control. Runners were everywhere, and I could barely see the ground between the plants. I had contemplated thinning the strawberry patch last fall, but frankly was unsure how to do it. I was worried that changing anything would impact our harvest this year, and so rather than investigate, I did nothing. Solid plan.

Thankfully, mother nature was determined to force my hand. I recently noticed tons of dried runners/dead portions of berry plants, and decided to be proactive in saving this year’s berry crop. We take fruit and berries very seriously in this house, and I would have some angry family members if I let the plants die.

http://sustainablecooks.com/2015/09/the-uncompromising-power-of-next-year.html

We planted 25 bare root strawberry plants along with some mini drawf apple trees from Raintree Nursery back in 2014. Awww, they were just little baby plants back then.

Thinning and Replanting Strawberry Plants

One year later, and they had gone insane with growth. And if I remember correctly, almost half of the original 25 plants had been ripped up by the chickens in that first year. Most types of strawberries produce what are called “runners” throughout the growing season. A plant’s desire is to produce offspring. The runners allow plants to send off shoots to become new plants. If left alone, you’ll have new plants. If directed with intention, you’ll have new plants where you want them.

thinning and replanting strawberry plants

2015 – it was a jungle out there

I started by clearing out the easy to yank and most obvious weeds. That showed there were huge empty patches, and thus an opportunity for thinning and redirecting some of the existing plants. Once I got the easy to remove weeds, well, the real “fun” began. I removed all the dried parts of the runners and the little weeds, along with the red clover that is tied with morning glory for my garden-related wrath. In many cases when I was removing the dried debris around the plants, the whole plant would come out of the ground. After freaking out the first two times it happened, I decided to embrace the opportunity for renewing the patch. Each time a plant came up from the earth, I set it aside.

Once the whole area was cleared of weeds, I took a break to try to stem the flow of boob sweat the chance to take a holistic view of the strawberries. I saw places that were totally almost bare earth, and still others that had such a high density of plants that I would be challenged to pick all the fruit once it ripened. Starting with the barest areas, I replanted the ones that had come up during my weeding. The soil is pretty loose, so it was just a quick dig with my hands and then I placed the strawberries in the shallow hole. I covered the roots with soil, and went and planted another within about six inches. I continued on until the bare sections looked like they were filling out. Knowing that within a few months, those plants would also be sending out runners, I wanted to be strategic about placement.

thinning and replanting strawberry plants

When those plants do start sending out runners, it is very easy to direct the new “starts” where you want them to go. Basically, I wait until the runner has a set of green leaves (almost still in a closed bud), and then I just stick that about 1 inch deep in the dirt where I’d like a new strawberry plant to start growing. Within a few weeks, it will have established itself as a whole new plant.

If you’d like to transplant runners in to another section of the garden, that is also a simple process. Take a plastic cup, and punch a drainage hole in the bottom. Fill it with dirt. Put the end of the runner in the cup, and cover gently with dirt, and make sure to keep it watered. After a few weeks, snip the runner from the original strawberry plant, and transplant your new start elsewhere in the garden.

thinning and replanting strawberry plants

After all the orphaned plants were re-homed, I gritted my teeth, and heavily watered the newly planted sections. My dedication to low-water gardening goes back years, but new plants and hot weather were not conditions for success. You can ignore established plants, but you have to do some watering to earn that “established” label. I have continued to water these new starts for the last week, and will likely keep up the routine for another few days.

thinning and replanting strawberry plants

I had a realization while pulling up weeds. Weeding inspires deep thinking. One, red clover has little seeds that like to pop up and get stuck on my face. And two, despite the rainiest spring on record, the soil in the strawberry patch was super dry! The rest of my garden has lovely lush soil thanks in part to my steady stream of composted chicken manure. Maybe it was the density of the plants before, but for some reason I had not been fertilizing this section of the garden. Even though I use aged chicken manure, I hesitate to put any on ground plants that are currently producing food. Please, please, please someone remind me in mid-July when the strawberries are done, that I need to fertilize the strawberry patch. I’m holding you to that.

Did thinning and replanting strawberry plants impact my harvest this year? Potentially, but I know that had I done nothing, more areas of the strawberry patch would have continued to die back. By being (finally) proactive and purposeful in replenishing my plants, I think we’ll see huge dividends next year.

Do you clean out your strawberry patch every few years, or just let it go wild?

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8 comments on “Thinning and Replanting Strawberry Plants”

  1. You did the right thing! It’s actually super beneficial to the plants and their yield of fruit to prune and thin them out.. especially with fruit trees.. it helps the plant make the best quality fruit. instead of them making a whole bunch of low quality, it helps to make the fruit they have better quality. quality, quality, quality.. let me say that a few more times 😉 I heard that every few years you are supposed to move your strawberry plants, anyway, because they deplete the soil of the nutrients.. but if you want an established bed of them to stay long term it is great that you plan on fertilizing it!

    • My sister used to mow over her strawberries at the end of every season to basically get her plants to start from scratch.

      So, I’m a giant nerd and used to read about the french market gardens in the early 1900’s. They were all raised beds and they never stopped planting and replenishing crops. I guess they would scoop up horse manure from the cobblestone streets and put it in the garden and just kept up with the heavy yields. I don’t have cobblestone streets, or horses, but I have chicken poop and straw. It’s on! 🙂

      So…quality? lol

  2. I love posts about your garden and I LOVE the before/after/progress pictures.

    Question- We have some friends who have wanted to get some fruit trees for a few years now. They have been super amazing and fast friends (oddly enough, sometimes non-military people have a hard time adjusting to and becoming friends with military people because of the whole moving all-the-freaking-time thing). They have been an amazing source of support and I want to get them a fruit tree or two as a thank you. I know that dwarf versions would be a better option, but what are your thoughts on grafted dwarf trees?

    I bought a ton of strawberry starts at the end of the season last year from our organic grocery store. I was so happy when they started to green up this spring and I was even happier when I realized they had sent out a bunch of runners! Then we decided to sell the house, so I transplanted a few into a big flower pot that has a raspberry plant growing in it. I am happy to report that we already have fruit growing on the plants in the pot!

    And, lucky for us, the apartment we are moving into is south facing and we have a little patio, so I can keep on growing them when we move!

    • Well you’re going to love this summer then, because I plan to shove so many garden photos down all your throats! 🙂

      It gives me warm fuzzies when people find such great friends to have in their life. What a gift to you three, and a fruit tree is so thoughtful. Honestly I don’t know a thing about grafted fruit trees. I would recommend you find a local/non-chain nursery in your area and talk with them. I use Raintree in my neck of the woods (fun fact: their business is located in the same town that some of Rambo First Blood was filmed), and they usually only carry items designed for our climate. A local nursery would give you great advice. Our mini drawfs are wonderful, and I wish I had room for more of them.

      Did you sell your house?! Since the patio is a limited space, you could try strawberry hanging baskets or a tower. Or even find something like this: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007WQBDVA?ie=UTF8&tag=thisb02-20&camp=1789&linkCode=xm2&creativeASIN=B007WQBDVA

    • Hi Tina,

      You can also try these.

      http://www.gardeners.com/buy/columnar-apple-trees/37-513.html

      They advertise that they are great for apartment patios/balconies. I have two of them in cut wine barrels and they produced fruit the first year. They require less horizontal space than even the dwarf apple trees.

      Good luck.

      Paula

  3. Funny or coincidence that you should post this now! I just came in from enlarging my strawberry patch.
    Last year my husband and the foster boys planted some plants in an area 1 cinder block wide and about 4 feet long. They are trying to send out runners and the first brick has a strawberry plant in each hole but the rest were empty so I dug them up and opened up that whole bed which is now about 4 feet wide by 5ft long.
    We also have had a very wet spring and the top layer of soil is dry but 2 inches down the soil is very damp. My question is should I leave them in a row and just move the runners to fill in the rest of the space. I do plan on buying some more plants especially if we leave the whole space for strawberries.
    Yes it was sweaty work for me too!

    • Pat, how many plants do you currently have in those 20 square feet? Our strawberry planting area isn’t uniform in size, but I would guess the square footage is probably 30-40 feet? It’s anywhere from 1.5-3 feet wide, and I’m guessing about 15 feet long.

      I ask, because I had about 15 plants survive that first year, and it was a literal strawberry carpet the next year. Because yours are in rows, you have an awesome opportunity to either make new rows with runners, or just let them grow willy nilly. If you have at least 10 plants, I honestly don’t think you need any more at this point.

      I would use a mulch like straw in-between your existing plants, and lightly over the rest of the bed. You’ll get some weeds from it, but they’re easy enough to pull out. The straw will lock in the moisture in that bed, and keep slugs away from your plants.