There are two compelling advantages to planting bare-root strawberries instead of strawberries in pots. Bare-root strawberries are less costly than potted plants. They are usually sold in units of 25 plants, and the more you buy, the lower the price for each plant. Also, when you buy from a mail-order nursery, you have a much wider selection of varieties than those offered by local nurseries.
When your bare-root strawberries arrive, they look rather sad because they are dormant, which is just the way it should be. While it might seem unimaginable that these dry brown roots are going to turn into lush plants in a few months, be assured that with the proper care, they will.
The time and cost estimates are for 25 bare-root strawberry plants.
What Are Bare-Root Strawberries?
Bare-root strawberries are strawberry plants without any soil around them, which makes the plants easier to handle and at lower cost than potted strawberry plants. Because of their light weight, bare roots are easy to ship, which is the way mail-order nurseries sell strawberries. Bare-root strawberries usually come in perforated plastic bags.
When to Plant Strawberry Bare Roots
Bare-root strawberries should be planted in the early spring while they are still dormant, without any sign of new growth on them. A stray leaf that hasn’t shriveled is from last year. Strawberry planting time starts as soon as the ground is no longer frozen and can be worked. The earlier you get the bare roots in the ground, the better because then the plants get the moisture they need from spring rains, and you don’t have to irrigate them. A cold spring, frost, and even an occasional snowfall, does not harm the plants.
How to Store Strawberry Bare Roots Before Planting
Ideally you plant bare-root strawberries promptly after receiving them but that’s not always possible. Under certain conditions, you can store them for a maximum of two weeks.
Most likely, the plants will have dried out during shipping. Keep them in the original plastic bag and mist them very lightly with water. Do not get them wet or even damp, as excess moisture causes them to mold. Place the bag (if it is not perforated, leave the top of the bag open) in the crisper of your refrigerator.
Rehydrating Bare-Root Strawberries Before Planting
There is no unanimous view whether strawberry bare roots should be soaked to rehydrate them right before planting. Some growers recommend it, others tell you not to. If you decide to rehydrate the bare roots, submerge them in a bucket of hand-warm (never hot) water for a maximum of 1 to 2 hours. Do not leave them in the water for longer than 2 hours.
Equipment / Tools
- Shovel (optional)
- Bare-root strawberry plants
- Fish fertilizer (optional)
Separate and Trim Roots
If the roots are entangled, carefully separate the individual plants.
Bare-root strawberry plants often have very long roots of up to 12 inches, which is impractical for planting, as the roots should not be twisting and turning in the planting hole. Trim these roots back with pruners so that at least 6 inches of the root remain. This aids the nutrient take-up (most of the nutrients are concentrated in the top few inches of soil) and promotes new root growth.
Dig a Hole
Using a trowel, dig a hole that is deep enough to accommodate the root length. Make sure the trowel reaches deep enough into the soil; if it doesn't, use a shovel.
Spacing depends on the type of strawberry. In the commonly used matted row system, they are planted 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart.
Arrange Plant in Hole
Set the plants in the holes and fan out the roots. They should be hanging straight down and not bent to either side. Place the crown (the center of the strawberry plant) so that the bottom of the crown is at the soil line. The exact position is crucial because if the crown is below soil level and covered with soil, runners cannot emerge and growth will be stunted. If the crown is too high and exposed, the tops of the roots will dry out and will be exposed to insects and diseases. The crown should not be covered with soil so make sure you don’t accidentally bury it when weeding or hoeing around the plants.
Backfill the planting hole with soil and gently tap it down with your hands.
Water deeply. Adding an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion to the water gives the plants a starter boost. In the absence of frequent rainfall, water the strawberries for the first few weeks until new growth starts.
Planting strawberries does not give you berries the same year. Although it seems like a shame to snip off all the flower clusters that appear in the first season, it is necessary so the plant can put its energy into producing runners and yielding a good harvest in the second year.
Growing Strawberries in the Home Garden. University of Minnesota Extension.