If you've ever wondered how domestic strawberries got their start, look no further than the wild strawberry. This native ground hugger (Fragaria virginiana) is one of the parent plants used to create 250 different types of strawberries available to growers and consumers today. The wild strawberry plant is identical in appearance to cultivated plants with three leaves and white, five-petaled flowers on drooping stems that emerge from the crown.
Wild strawberry is an everbearing type that spreads in open, sunny areas by stolons and rhizomes. Active growth occurs in spring and autumn during cooler weather with periods of dormancy in summer and winter. Blooms appear in spring followed by berries in early summer. Autumn foliage turns attractive shades of red. Edible, fragrant, and very sweet, berries are smaller than those of cultivars and a food source for wildlife including insects, reptiles, and mammals.
|Common Name||Wild strawberry, Virginia strawberry, common strawberry, Scarlett strawberry|
|Botanical Name||Fragaria virginiana|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial ground cover|
|Size||6 in. tall, 24 in. spread|
|Sun Exposure||Part sun, part shade|
|Soil Type||Fertile, well-drained loam|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 6.5|
|Hardiness Zones||5a-9b (USDA)|
|Native Area||Eastern Canada, Northern & Eastern U.S.|
How to Plant Wild Strawberry
Wild strawberry is planted in the same way as other strawberry cultivars. It can be grown in pots, planters, and hanging baskets but works best as a ground cover in areas with afternoon shade. Plants are easiest to find at nurseries specializing in native plants.
If you have bareroot plants, plant them as soon as possible to prevent the roots from drying out. You can also hydrate roots by soaking them in water for 10 to 20 minutes. Dig a wide, shallow hole and build a small mound of soil in the center. Set the crown on the mound, spread out roots around it, and cover them with soil keeping the top of the crown at or slightly above soil level. Tamp down to secure the plant and water gently but thoroughly. Transplants should be planted at the same level as they were in the original pot.
When to Plant Wild Strawberry
Plant wild strawberries in late spring or from late summer to early autumn. Wait until the danger of frost has passed in spring when temperatures are still on the cool side. High temperatures can initiate dormancy. Allow enough time, about two weeks, in autumn for roots to establish before the first frost.
Selecting a Planting Site
Choose a spot that receives 4 to 6 hours of sunlight daily. These plants benefit from afternoon shade, especially in warm climates, however adequate sunlight improves fruit production and flavor. Keep in mind wild strawberry's habit of colonizing and expanding to fill areas with good light and loamy, slightly acidic, well-draining soil.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Plant wild strawberries 12 inches apart. Keep the crown just at or slightly above soil level but be sure to cover roots with soil. If you plan to harvest berries a natural mulch, such as straw, improves moisture retention and helps keep fruits off the ground.
Wild Strawberry Plant Care
Once established, these are easy-care, low-maintenance plants. They suppress invasive weeds, support wildlife, and attract pollinators.
Wild strawberries grow naturally in fields, along roadsides, and on slopes with 4 to 6 hours of sunlight daily. A location that receives morning light and afternoon shade works well.
These plants do not tolerate clay or overly wet soils. Otherwise, they adapt to most types, including dry, sandy soils, and often appear in open meadows and around old home sites.
Water your strawberry patch after planting. Once established, wild strawberries are drought tolerant and only need to be watered during hot weather and extremely dry conditions. Plants grown in pots should be watered regularly but infrequently. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.
Temperature and Humidity
The best flowering and fruit production occurs when the temperature is between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Afternoon shade protects plants from persistent high temperatures and once they've entered dormancy mulch adds winter protection, if needed. Wild strawberry is hardy in USDA zones 5a through 9b and can withstand temperatures to -20 degrees F. Thin overcrowded plants for good air circulation to discourage fungal growth during periods of high humidity.
If you plan to harvest fruit, apply a balanced 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer in early spring and again in autumn to support flower production and plant growth. Potted plants benefit from pine mulches and acidic compost worked into the soil.
All strawberries are self-pollinating but the process is often incomplete without the help of pollinating bees.
Types of Wild Strawberry
Four subspecies are identified by variations in distribution, height, and bloom time.
- Fragaria virginiana Duchesne ssp. glauca: Widely distributed across the Midwest. Grows to 4 inches in height and blooms from May to November.
- Fragaria virginiana ssp. grayana: Found north to south along the east coast and west to Texas. 8 inches in height. Blooms March through May.
- Fragaria virginiana ssp. platypetala: Known as the western wild strawberry, this subspecies is found from Canada to Mexico along the west coast. It reaches 4 inches tall and blooms March through July.
- Fragaria virginiana ssp. virginiana: Widely distributed across the U.S. and Canada. This subspecies grows to just 4 inches tall and blooms from March to May.
Wild Strawberry vs. Woodland Strawberry
Woodland strawberry, Fragaria vesca, is another native type similar to Fragaria virginiana but found globally and more widely spread across the northern U.S. Also called Alpine strawberries, the fruits are tiny and found in small clumps in high elevations from May to October. Woodland strawberry produces fewer blossoms closer to the ground while wild strawberry blooms are held above the leaves. Seeds on the woodland strawberry appear raised on the fruit surface while wild strawberry seeds are embedded.
Harvesting Wild Strawberries
Ripe berries are harvested between April and June when the fruits are fully red and fragrant. Stems can be snipped or berries can be gently twisted and pulled or pinched from stems.
How to Grow Wild Strawberries in Pots
Wild strawberries should be planted in pots using the same methods as planting in the ground. If you intend to keep pots outside year-round, use weather-proof containers that are less likely to crack during freezing temperatures. Otherwise, plan to move your pots into a sheltered location like an unheated garage or greenhouse.
Wild strawberries can grow in pots for many years if maintained properly. As a clump-forming perennial, they need to be thinned in late autumn to avoid overcrowding. The other option is to increase the pot size. To repot, choose a container large enough to accommodate the number of plants you want to grow. A 12-inch pot holds two to three strawberry plants. Use a hand spade to gently remove them from the original pot and transplant them into the new pot keeping crowns at the same soil level.
Pruning early in the season, when plants first come out of dormancy, improves fruit production. Wild strawberries produce fruit over several months, so removing the first blooms develops a sturdier plant to support the fruit. Pruning out lengthy runners directs energy into the mother plant and thins the patch for better air circulation. Leave some runners to develop for next year. Dead and damaged leaves can be removed anytime.
Propagating Wild Strawberry
Save pruned runners to grow new wild strawberry plants. A runner is propagated similarly to a cutting and may or may not have roots. Runners should be taken in spring as new growth is developing. To propagate wild strawberry from runners you need a snipper or small hand pruner, clips or anchors, and a pot with potting mix. Alternatively, you can replant the runner in a new spot.
- In early spring look for long thin shoots growing from an established plant. The opposite end may already be rooted in the soil or it may have a developing crown.
- If the new plant has developed roots, use a soil anchor or garden clip to pin the end of the runner to the soil. This allows roots to develop.
- Once roots are growing, use snippers to remove the entire runner from the main plant and snip off the end attached to the new plant.
- Gently dig up the developing plant and place it in a pot with well-draining potting mix at the same level it was growing in the ground.
How to Grow Wild Strawberry From Seeds
Growing from purchased or saved seed is a fairly simple process. Wild strawberry seeds require two weeks of cold stratification below 40 degrees F. to germinate. Sow outdoors between November and March or place the seeds in some soil in a bag in the refrigerator before planting. You need seeds, a seed tray or pot, and well-draining potting mix,
- Strawberry seeds can be saved by crushing a berry on a paper towel. Allow the berry to dry and remove the seeds.
- Sow seed directly on top of the potting soil. Germination is light-dependent.
- Place the container in a location with lots of sunlight and temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F.
- Germination occurs as early as two weeks but can take up to a month.
- Grow the plants, thinning if necessary, until they reach about 6 inches tall.
- Plant in the garden after the last spring frost. Remember to harden seedlings off before transplanting.
If you live in a zone with extended freezing, protect wild strawberry roots with straw mulch. Move plants grown in pots to a sheltered location or indoors in a garage, outbuilding, or unheated greenhouse.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Wild strawberries are vulnerable to many of the same insect pests that damage cultivars. These include slugs, thrips, borers, caterpillars, and plant bugs. Birds can fly off with your entire crop or peck holes in berries causing them to rot. Organic preventives like diatomaceous earth, biological sprays, and commercial products help deter insect pests. Use bird netting during ripening to prevent access to your strawberries.
Disease resistance is better for wild strawberries but they can develop strawberry leaf spot. Small reddish-purple spots appear on leaves and as sunken dark spots on fruits. Provide good air circulation in the strawberry patch and remove weeds and dead or diseased leaves. In severe cases apply fungicide. When using any treatment on the plants while they are bearing fruit, choose the least toxic method possible.
Can you eat wild strawberries that grow in your yard?
If the plant has white flowers, it is edible. A weedy plant known as mock strawberry has a yellow bloom but also produces a small berry similar to a strawberry. Mock strawberry is hard, dry, tasteless, and not considered edible.
Is wild strawberry plant invasive?
Wild strawberries are not considered invasive. However, keep in mind that they do spread and can cover an area when given ideal growing conditions.
How do you identify a wild strawberry plant?
Wild strawberry looks very similar to strawberry cultivars grown in the garden, but you will find it in clumps or patches in untended places like along roadsides and in open meadows. The flowers are white and the berries are rounder, smaller, and sweeter than cultivated strawberries.
Prairie Plants of Iowa. University of Iowa.
Plant Database. Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, University of Texas Austin.
Plant Database. Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, University of Texas Austin.
Fragaria virginiana. North Carolina State University Extension Plant Toolbox.
Plant of the Month: Wild Strawberries. University of Tennessee Knoxville.