If you followed our step-by-step guide to growing strawberries you’ll probably be picking a few of your very own strawbs about now. And even as you enjoy the fruits of your labour, it’s time to plan for next year and grow more free plants from the runners produced by your plants.

Garden strawberries (fraises du jardin). Cordial. Runners

Garden strawberries (fraises du jardin). © Gilgil and licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

What’s happening in the strawberry bed?

If you’re new to the wonderful world of growing strawberries you may be wondering about the long stems coming from the plants that seem to be sprouting roots and plantlets. These are called runners and are the strawberry plant’s way of propagating itself. Runners make sure that new plants will grow at some distance from the parent plant, reducing competition for air, water and nutrients. Clever!

1st August - more strawberry runners bouncing around the bed. Strawberries

1st August - more strawberry runners bouncing around the bed. © J H Fearless and reused under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

There can be more than one plantlet on a runner and they root naturally into the soil quite easily – great if you want new plants. Be warned, though, that runners can take over a strawberry bed or border. It’s important to control them now, in early summer, or they will form a tangled and difficult-to-manage mat of new plants. Thin them out by nipping off all but the two strongest and healthiest runners.

Hop on the strawberry cycle

Strawberry plants have a three or four year cycle. In the first year the crop is small but in the second and third year you get lots more. By the fourth year the plant is starting to fizzle out and may be prone to viruses so it’s probably time to replace it.

If you like strawberries (and those of you with small gardens, remember how lovely they can look in ornamental borders with their attractive foliage, white flowers in spring and luscious red fruit in summer), it’s well worthwhile setting up a three or four year cycle of your own. And you can do it at no cost, absolutely free, by growing on the small plants produced by the parent plant.

How to grow new plants from runners

Runners are very keen and will root easily into the ground. They will grow more quickly, though, if you peg them down into pots. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Dig a hole under each plantlet. The one nearest the parent plant is the strongest.
  2. Set a pot containing good compost (such as John Innes no 1, or 3 parts multi-purpose compost to 1 part sand) in the hole. Push back the excavated soil to keep it in position.
  3. Pin or peg down the plantlet in the middle of the pot, so it will root into the compost. A hairpin, U-shaped clip, unbent paper clip or length of garden wire bent into shape will all do the job.
  4. When the plantlets have rooted and are well established, cut the connecting stems and plant them out.
Planted out strawberry runners.

Planted out strawberry runners. © sibyllinski and reused under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Monty Don shows how he roots runners in this video.

And that’s all there is to it!

Do this every year and you’ll build up a stock of strawberry plants fruiting at the top of their game.

Ah, game! Excuse me, strawberries and cream and Wimbledon are calling ...