Are Strawberries Considered Annual or Perennial Fruits?
Thinking of planting some strawberries but aren't sure if they are annuals or perennials? In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey breaks down all the details of what to expect with this famous fruit, including what to expect with different varieties of strawberry. You'll learn everything you need to know about these popular fruits coming back year after year.
Perennial garden fruits are like the gift that keeps on giving in your garden. You plant them once and they yield tasty sweet berries for years to come. Strawberries are usually perennials that continuously replicate and renew themselves, but strawberries can also be grown as annuals that you replant each year. The decision on how to grow these plants depends on your setting and your goals.
Although strawberries can come back year after year in temperate climates, they are most commonly grown as annuals on a commercial scale. This is because weeds and disease issues often increase with time, while the vigor of the plants slows down as they age.
In a home garden, strawberries are much more suited to their natural perennial nature, but they require winter mulching, pruning, and more weed control. The choice is yours: you can grow strawberries like an annual vegetable or as a perennial fruit shrub. Let’s dig into the differences!
Are Strawberries Perennials or Annual Fruits?
Strawberries are technically herbaceous perennial plants. In the wild, they go dormant in the winter to prepare for budding and flowering in the late spring, and then fruit in the summer.
As opposed to annuals that need to be replanted year after year (like most vegetables), perennials are somewhat cold-hardy and can grow back again after the winter. Strawberries can handle down to 10 or 20°F if they are properly insulated and in their dormant state.
Strawberries: Herbaceous Perennials
Strawberries are considered herbaceous perennials because they don’t have any woody parts like an apple tree or grape vine. During their dormant phase, the herby green strawberry foliage dies back to the ground, but the crown remains below the soil surface building up sugars and strength for the next year of fruiting.
Unlike long-lived fruit trees or blueberry bushes, strawberries are short-lived perennials that typically stay productive for 4 to 5 years. The plants won’t necessarily die after this time period, but they will significantly slow down their fruit production and need some revival.
This is why many gardeners plant this edible ground cover plant for one, two, or three seasons, and then remove them to start over.
Hardiness Zones for Strawberries
Strawberries are small fruit plants that are perennial in USDA zones 5 through 8. This means that they can handle winters down to about 10 to 20°F.
In these zones, bare root strawberry crowns can be planted once and harvested throughout the summer, then their green leaves die back during the winter. In the spring, the plants re-emerge and fruit again like true perennials.
Like many plants, the lifecycle of strawberries is predominantly determined by temperature and sunlight. In the hot southern zones, strawberry plants may exhaust more quickly because they aren’t exposed to the cold temperatures that trigger dormancy. This is why Florida strawberry farmers mostly grow day-neutral varieties as annuals (we’ll explain how to do this below).
On the flip side, northern growers in zones 4 through 7 can typically overwinter strawberries without issues. However, problems can arise if a late spring frost or early fall frost arrives before the strawberry plant has had time to suck its energy down into the crowns and drop its leaves.
Cold hardiness comes down to the variety of strawberry, the timing of frosts, and the amount of protection (mulch or row cover) that the plants have.
Dormancy and Mulch in Cold Regions
Certain varieties of strawberries can be overwintered in USDA zones 4 and 5 if they are provided some mulch and frost protection during their dormant state.
The dormant phase is when strawberries drop their leaves and die back to the ground. While they may appear dead from the surface, the crowns actually remain in the soil concentrating their sugars and energy to prepare for spring.
Right after the plants enter dormancy is the best time to mulch your strawberry plants with a thick helping of straw or leaves to insulate them for a long, cozy winter. You can also use a row cover to add some extra heat to the strawberry mounds. This may help them come up earlier in the spring.
Growing Strawberries as Perennials
Perennial strawberry plantings can be left in place to grow back year after year in USDA zones 6 through 8. Gardeners in colder climates (USDA zones 4 and 5) will need extra mulch or row cover to properly overwinter strawberry plants.
Growing strawberries as true perennials is fairly easy and straightforward as long as you maintain the patch. These wild plants have a tendency to get pretty tangled together because they are constantly putting out stolons (or runners) to produce new baby plants.
If you want your perennial strawberry patch to remain productive for a couple years, you will want to prune off the stolons as much as possible. This way, the plants put their energy into producing flowers and fruit. This will also keep plenty of aeration between the plants to help prevent disease.
Strawberry diseases are actually the main reason why many growers avoid perennial plantings of these tasty red fruits. Most strawberry plants are unfortunately quite susceptible to pathogens like fruit rot, early and late blights, powdery mildew, and botrytis. Pulling the plants out and restarting each year helps many gardeners deal with this issue. However, a perennial planting will require a little more attentiveness to maintain the plants in place.
The easiest way to prevent disease is to maintain a healthy soil biology (beneficial microorganisms), do regular pruning, and avoid overhead irrigation (which leads to water sitting on the leaf surfaces). You can also apply compost tea, diluted neem oil, or horsetail (Equisetum spp.) sprays as organic preventative measures against strawberry diseases.
Lastly, perennial strawberries require regular mulching to keep the weeds down. Perennial plants in general make weeding more troublesome for the organic gardener. You can’t just pull them out and run a hoe through the soil. So, you have to be more clever with mulching, hand-weeding, and reducing the weed seed bank. Never let weeds go to seed in your strawberry patch!
Before planting a perennial strawberry patch, be sure that you choose an area of the garden that you don’t mind getting taken over. Strawberries are surprisingly aggressive plants once they get established. Removing a well-rooted perennial strawberry patch can be pretty tiresome, so don’t plant them in your vegetable beds if you plan to leave the crowns in the ground for a while.
Pros of Growing as Perennials
- You don’t have to replant each year
- Berries are extra large and abundant for 2-3 years
- Only buy crowns once
- Only plant once
- Potentially earlier harvests in the spring
Cons of Growing as Perennials
- Usually require more pruning
- Need to keep the plants thinned
- Potential disease issues
- Harder to weed
- Need mulch and/or frost protection in cold climates
- Can’t rotate them around the garden
Perennial Strawberry Varieties
- Everbearing types
- ‘Ozark Beauty’
- ‘Fort Laramie’
- June-bearing types
Growing Strawberries as Annuals
While it is a little more work to grow strawberries as annuals, it usually pays off with greater yields of larger berries. I always recommend growing day-neutral strawberries as annuals, regardless of climate. This has worked extremely well for many fellow organic gardeners and farmers I know from California, Texas, Montana, all the way to New Hampshire, and everywhere in between.
Annual strawberries are planted and grown the same way as annual vegetables. They can be planted in early spring, producing yield in just a few months. They are then harvested throughout the summer and fall, then removed from the garden before winter comes. Simply yanking up the crowns and disposing of them is the easiest way to get rid of old strawberry plants.
If you are growing strawberries as annuals, it’s best to throw away or compost old strawberry crowns each winter. This way you can start fresh in the spring. The crowns can harbor lots of diseases and pathogens if they are left in the ground or you try to save them to replant. Plus, strawberry crowns are quite cheap and widely available, so there is no use in risking it.
Keeping annual strawberry patches weeded is also much easier because you don’t have long standing plants rooted in the ground. Once you remove the plants in the winter, you can hoe, add compost, and mulch the bed (or plant it with some winter greens). When you go to plant your new strawberry crowns in the spring, you can start with a pre-prepared weed-free bed. An added bonus is the increased vigor from less competition, more aerated soil, and proper spacing.
Annual strawberries still need to be pruned. However, they are less likely to cause the tangled mats that perennial strawberries do. An added bonus to growing annual strawberries is that you can move them around the garden each season as part of your crop rotation.
Keep in mind that annual paintings of strawberries need to be day-neutral varieties. These types of berries were specifically bred to fruit in the same year that they are planted.
Pros of Growing as Annuals
- re vigorous plants
- Larger first-year fruits
- Easier to control weeds
- Can move strawberries around your garden each year
- Less pruning
- No winter protection is necessary
Cons of Growing as Annuals
- Have to replant each spring
- Have to pull out the crowns in fall and dispose of them
- Cost of buying new crowns every year
- Only works for day-neutral varieties (types that fruit in the same year as planting)
Annual Strawberry Varieties
- Day-neutral types
Strawberries are unique fruits because they are technically perennials in the wild. However, humans have figured out ways to grow them as vigorous annuals in domestication. Whether you prefer to let your strawberries run wild and overwinter, or to sync them with your veggie crop rotations, you’re sure to enjoy tasty berries straight from your garden all summer long.