When I first started growing fruits and vegetables I lusted after the idea of freshly-picked strawberries; what could possibly be better? Gardening on a budget, however, the price of strawberry plants never ceases to amaze me. This is particularly so if you’re a self-confessed strawberryphile, and plan on consuming copious quantities in early summer. Just how much will it cost to purchase all the plants necessary to meet your desire?
And so it was that I discovered strawberries can actually be grown from seed. Even more pleasantly, I found that a single pack of seeds cost considerably less than a small handful of strawberry plants. You could say I was sold.
Alpine strawberries are super-simple to grow from seed, which is just as well as they tend not to produce suckers. In other words, if you want to grow your alpine strawberry collection, you’ll need to put a little (but only a little) effort in.
Alpine strawberry seeds are incredibly small so care is needed when it comes to planting. Personally I use a small seed tray for mine – roughly 20cm long, 15cm wide and 5cm deep. Fill your seed tray with good quality (peat free) multipurpose compost, then water it well to ensure the compost is moist.
Next comes the sowing. Gently open your packet of seeds and tip the microscopic brown seeds into the palm of your hand. By gently tapping your hand as you sweep it gently across the surface of the compost you’ll scatter the seeds widely. No additional compost is required.
Next, you’ll want to place your seed tray into a warm place and prevent it from drying out. I like to place mine on a windowsill where it will heat up in the sun’s rays. Cover it with a plastic lid or clear plastic bag to retain moisture and keep your eyes peeled.
I have found that alpine strawberries germinate very quickly indeed; often within a week or so you’ll find that you have dozens of tiny green seedlings poking their heads out.
Alpine strawberry seedlings are barely visible when they first germinate, so you’ll need to be patient and let them grow. This is the benefit of sowing them thinly over a large area; they have the space to grow without being disturbed.
Once the seedlings become large enough to handle, I like to pot these on into individual modules. Here the seedlings can get their roots well established, and planting out is as easy as popping each one out and planting in the ground.
One of the benefits of alpine strawberries is that they tend to be quite hardy plants. Most pests ignore them in my experience, and bad weather rarely dulls them. All the same, I like to give my plants a fighting chance. As a result, I plant out in spring. Alpine strawberry plants can grow to around 6” across, so aim to plant your specimens at least this distance apart. Water them thoroughly after planting out and let them settle in. By later on in the summer you should start to see white flowers appearing; an indication that fruit is on its way.
Alpine strawberries have evolved to survive in harsh conditions, so don’t require too much upkeep. Personally I weed my plot once a month during the summer period and water them in particularly hot weather. The only other consideration is that slugs and snails seem to love the fruit, so you may want to consider protecting your plants as the strawberries ripen.
Alpine strawberries may be small in size, but not in flavor. These tiny red fruits just explode in your mouth, and many people find them much tastier than more traditional strawberries. Perhaps most excitingly, alpine strawberries can fruit at almost any time of the year, so with enough plants you can almost harvest strawberries year-round. Once Christmas we even had fresh strawberries we’d picked just a few days before!
As one final tip, the fruits of alpine strawberries are of course covered in more seeds. If you decide that you’d like to expand your strawberry patch, therefore, one of the easiest ways is to make use of the fruit. Just “squish” them into a pot of compost and soon enough you’ll have yet more baby strawberry plants ready to nurture.