How to Transplant Strawberries in Your Garden
Are you thinking of transplanting strawberries in your garden, but aren't quite sure where to start? Whether you are transplanting crowns, or moving strawberries around your garden, there's some important steps you'll need to follow. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey examines each step you'll need to take in order to successfully transplant strawberries in your garden.
Strawberries are one of the most fun and rewarding fruits to grow in your garden. These juicy red jewels are a decadent smoothie ingredient, cereal topping, healthy dessert, or simple snack on their own.
Thanks to their wild ancestry, strawberries are among the easiest fruits to grow and proliferate around your garden. However, to grow high-yielding strawberry plants, it helps to understand how and when to transplant them.
There are two main scenarios when you will transplant strawberries. You are either starting a new strawberry bed, or you are thinning out the runners on an existing strawberry patch. If you are planting strawberries for the first time, you may want to use strawberry plugs (starts) and transplant them in the garden instead of dealing with the complexities of bare root strawberry crowns.
But if you already have an established strawberry patch, you probably need to transplant young plants to other parts of the garden in order to thin them out. You can also use this as an opportunity to propagate your extra strawberry plants into containers and share them with friends. Let’s dig into how and when to transplant strawberries in both scenarios.
- 1 How to Transplant a New Strawberry Patch
- 2 When to Plant Strawberries
- 3 Transplanting Strawberries into Your Garden
- 4 Transplanting Runners From an Existing Patch
- 5 Final Thoughts
How to Transplant a New Strawberry Patch
Starting a new strawberry bed is an exciting and somewhat daunting endeavor. If you’ve never gardened before or you’ve only tried your hand at growing vegetables, you may be wondering if strawberries are super difficult to establish. Actually, strawberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow for beginning gardeners.
Given the prized price tag of organic berries in stores, you’d think that strawberries are hard to grow. Fortunately, that’s not the case at all! You can save lots of money and enjoy fresher, more flavorful strawberries by growing your own patch of these bushy red fruits.
If you don’t want to start from scratch, transplanting is the easiest way to get going with minimal effort. You can establish a new strawberry patch by planting bare root strawberry crowns or by transplanting pre-rooted strawberry plugs. The latter (strawberry plugs) is the easiest option for beginners.
What Are Strawberry Plugs?
Strawberry transplants or plugs are basically strawberries that have been rooted in a soil mix inside a 6-pack, small pot, or other type of container. These “plugs” are very similar to the vegetable seedlings you find at garden stores.
Unlike growing from seeds or crowns, strawberry transplants don’t require a ton of precision. They are easy to handle and not too fragile. Planting them is an accessible project for people of all ages.
Strawberry Plugs vs. Bare Root
Strawberry plugs are the easiest way for beginners to get started with fruit gardening very quickly. As we mentioned, these transplants are very similar to vegetable seedlings and can be treated as such. The strawberry plant has already been rooted in a container at the farm or nursery where it was raised.
Once you get past the hardening off and bed preparation phase, transplanting strawberry plugs is as easy as putting them in the ground, backfilling, and watering. As long as you plant at the proper depth and provide them with the right resources up-front, strawberry plugs are a breezy way to get your berry patch going quickly.
Alternatively, bare root strawberries are the soilless strawberry “crowns” (vegetative propagation material) that need to be planted in a special way. Bare root crowns are cheaper and open up a wider range of available varieties, but require more skills to get started.
Once you get the hang of it, bare root crowns can be quite simple to plant, however, there is a greater barrier to entry for beginners who are used to planting seedlings from their local garden store. You have to understand the anatomy of the ground and be careful not to plant it too deep or too shallow. Below is a good overview of plugs vs. crowns.
|Strawberry Plugs||Bare Root Strawberry Crowns|
|Easiest for beginners||Require more skills|
|Establish more quickly||Take an extra few weeks to break dormancy|
|Already rooted in soil||Roots are bare (soilless)|
|More expensive||Much cheaper|
|Limited varietal selection||More varieties available|
When to Plant Strawberries
Day-neutral strawberries are often grown as annuals that are planted in the spring, harvested in the summer, and removed in the fall. June-bearing varieties for perennial plantings can be transplanted in the spring or fall, and they won’t typically fruit until their second year. Everbearing varieties are ideal for spring plantings in most climates.
Generally, in northern zones (6 and colder), it’s usually best to plant in late spring so that the strawberries have plenty of time to get established before winter.
In southern zones (7 and warmer), strawberries can be grown in spring or fall.
In subtropical zones (10-12), it’s best to plant in the fall because strawberries can struggle in too much heat.
|Type of Strawberry||Planting Time|
|Day-Neutral||Spring (northern zones) for same year harvest or Fall (southern zones) for next year harvest|
|June-Bearing||Spring (northern zones) or Fall (southern zones) for next year’s harvest|
|Ever-Bearing||Late spring for same year harvest|
Transplanting Strawberries into Your Garden
Transplanting strawberry crowns is extremely straightforward. It’s time to get your hands dirty and gear up for a delicious summer of fresh berries!
Harden Off the Starts
Just like vegetable seedlings, strawberry plugs need some time to adjust to the climate extremes outside of the greenhouse they were raised in. Most nurseries and garden stores have already taken care of this step by the time you purchase their plants. However, just to be safe, you should set your strawberry plants out for a few nights to adjust to temperature fluctuations before they get transplanted into the garden.
Strawberry beds can be prepared much like your vegetable beds. These herbaceous plants love an abundance of organic matter and compost. Loose, aerated, rich soil is ideal. They like a slightly acidic pH that can be created with additions of pine needles, straw, or small amounts of coffee grounds.
To prepare for planting, thoroughly weed the bed, add compost, broadfork (optional) to loosen lower layers, and then rake the surface flat.
Grab a tape measure to pre-measure the spacing for your strawberries. If you are planting with kids, it can be easy to cut foot-long sticks that they can use to measure between plants.
Most varieties prefer 12-18” between each plant. Decide if you want the plants to be grown in a grid or staggered apart from each other. Either way, ensure that the strawberry transplants will have a minimum of 12” of space in each direction. These crops grow to about a square foot and spacing that is too close may result in reduced yields.
Use a hori hori planting knife or a garden trowel to create a hole slightly larger than the strawberry plugs. Grasp the plant at its base and gently wiggle it out of the container, checking that the roots have thoroughly established themselves.
Place the rooted plug into the hole and lightly backfill the soil around the base. Avoid pressing down or compacting the soil too much (remember that soil aeration is always a good thing). Keep the top of the strawberry plant aligned with the original soil level.
It’s important to water-in your strawberry transplants right away. Those new plants are akin to babies graduating from the cradle. They need some extra support as they move into the next phase of life.
Use a watering can or hose on a light setting to deeply water the new plants, ensuring that the water passes into the lower layers and doesn’t pool up around the base (pooling could signify a lack of drainage in the soil that may cause problems down the line).
If you want to help your plants establish extra quickly, consider adding a diluted liquid kelp to the water to stimulate fast root development and provide extra trace minerals.
The best time to fertilize strawberries is at the time of transplanting. I prefer to use bone meal or fish meal as a slow-release organic fertilizer that will nourish the plant throughout its establishment. Strawberry plants require a lot of nutrients to fuel their fast growth and abundant fruit production, but it is important to find the happy medium between under-fertilizing and over-fertilizing.
Be sure to check that the nursery or garden store didn’t already add a synthetic or organic fertilizer to your strawberry plugs. Over-fertilizing strawberry plants can result in an excessive amount of foliage growth instead of fruit and flowers. This is especially problematic when there is too much nitrogen. Don’t fertilize strawberry transplants that were already given a slow-release or synthetic fertilizer while in their containers.
If you live in a cooler climate and want your strawberries to get established more quickly, it’s best to put a row cover over the plants right after planting. This will add extra insulation while simultaneously protecting them from any pests. Young strawberry plants need some time to establish and the row cover acts as a buffer against cold nights or windy conditions.
Transplanting Runners From an Existing Patch
In an alternative scenario, you may have already planted and established a strawberry patch that is now getting a little crowded or overgrown. If you want to continue harvesting big juicy berries, you probably need to prune and transplant out some of the strawberry runners to give your plants enough space to thrive.
What are Stolons or Runners?
Strawberry plants naturally want to propagate themselves by producing baby plants on “runners” or stolons. These are the long stems you see coming from the base of a mother plant. Think of them sort of like “umbilical cords” for new baby strawberry plants. At their ends, they begin to grow new strawberry plants that root themselves in the ground.
While it feels awesome to have a bunch of free young plants, leaving them in place can significantly lower your fruit yields. The plants are channeling their energy into growing new plants rather than producing berries. This is considered “vegetative” propagation because it is purely asexual, meaning the mother plant is basically cloning itself.
Sexual reproduction involves flowers, fruits, and seeds that are cross-pollinated to produce new plants. This is less common in strawberries.
Pruning and Transplanting Runners
In a farm production setting, it is usually recommended to prune off the runners as often as possible. This is what I do in my garden to ensure that my strawberry plants focus their energy on growing more fruit.
However, if you forgot to prune your strawberries, it’s not a huge deal. On a pleasant sunny afternoon, you can take an hour or two to thin out the patch by transplanting the baby plants to other areas of your garden. You can even put them in containers and give away your own strawberry plugs to your gardener friends!
How to Thin Out a Crowded Strawberry Patch
Thinning out your strawberry patch is a bit like dividing flower bulbs like daffodils and tulips. Your goal is to remove the smaller, new root systems so that more established plants can thrive. This limits overcrowding while also providing you with new plantain material.
However, the main difference between thinning strawberries and dividing flower bulbs is that strawberries can be divided in the late spring after growing their leaves, whereas bulbs are usually divided during their dormant phase in the fall. It is much easier to thin out and transplant strawberries while they are actively growing because you can clearly see where all the plants are spaced and easily dig them up.
Identify the Most Established Plants
The most established strawberries are probably the ones you initially planted in the bed. Sort through the plants and clearly identify which ones are the most mature. Years 2 and 3 are often the most productive for strawberry plants. Older plants begin to lose vitality and may benefit from being removed as well.
It’s important to leave these established plants untouched so they can continue producing the highest yields of berries for you this summer. By removing all their runners, you will also help them direct their energy toward growing more flowers and fruit.
Prune Off All Runners From Your Core Plants
Use a pair of sanitized scissors or pruners to begin cutting any extra runners from the base of your plants. These long, slender, leafless stems typically extend out 4-8” from the original plant.
When teaching with kids, I like to refer to them as the umbilical cords that connect the mother plants to the baby plants. Since you are seeking to transplant out the baby plants, they will need to be cut off from the supply of nutrients from the mother.
Begin Digging Up Any Rooted Runners
You will begin to notice that most runners are in different stages of development. Some of them may have fully grown and rooted new plants, and the stolon itself has begun to die off. Others will be in the process of rooting or may just have small buds on the end. Dispose of any runners that haven’t actually grown a young plant yet.
Next, use a trowel or hori hori knife to begin digging up rooted runners. Strawberries are really resilient plants, so you don’t have to worry too much about disrupting the root system. Just try your best to keep the soil attached to the roots. You may want to keep your pruners handy to cut off any parts that have gotten tangled together with nearby plants.
Transplant Into Containers
If you are going to give away your strawberry transplants, or you want to move them to containers, prepare pots to transplant the rooted runners into. You can fill the pot about halfway with a quality well-drained potting mix, then place the strawberry transplant inside, and fill the rest of the way with soil until only the top of the crown and leaves are exposed. Be careful not to transplant the strawberry too deep or it may suffer from crown rot.
Water in these containers just like you would when up-potting another seedling. There is no need to bring them indoors or into a greenhouse since the plants are already used to the outdoor climate. Simply move them to a sunny or partially shady area and maintain consistent watering until they root in their new containers.
Transplant to Another Area of the Garden
If you want to establish a new strawberry bed, you can return to the initial steps above to transplant your runners just as if they were plugs you purchased. However, you don’t need to go through the trouble of transplanting into containers if you already have a new bed prepared.
Simply take those runners you dug up, place them in a bucket with as much soil attached to the roots as possible, and transplant them right away in the new garden area. Simple as that!
By the time you are done, your strawberry patch should begin to look like a nice newly planted grid again. Large bushy plants are spaced 10-12” apart and have all their runners removed. The baby plants are ready to be transplanted in another area or they have been moved to containers to give away.
You have successfully reduced overcrowding, pruned your strawberries to encourage more fruit production, and created a bunch of new baby plants! It’s a win-win situation for you and the plants.
Transplanting strawberries in or out of the garden doesn’t need to be a daunting task. These plants are resilient, fast-growing, and eager to please. Unlike tender melons or cucumbers, strawberries aren’t super sensitive to transplanting. Their crowns and roots can handle some movement and they will re-establish quite quickly.