Strawberries are a great plant to grow, as there’s nothing quite like a truly ripe (not picked sort of ripe so they ship well) strawberry from your own garden. When most people think of strawberry plants, they think of what I’ll call “regular” strawberries–they grow big berries and send out lots and lots of runners, from which new plants grow. They’re not that difficult to grow if you have a good sunny spot, but they take up a lot of space, and you have to keep up with the runners.
Several years ago I read about what are known as alpine or woodland strawberries (Fragaria vesca) and thought they sounded interesting. They’re not like regular strawberry plants that set out runners and have big berries—these don’t ever get runners, they grow in clumps, and the clumps just get bigger over time. One thing that’s not big is the strawberries themselves–they’re quite small, but are more flavourful than any of the “regular” strawberries I’ve tasted. Alpine strawberries taste like the wild strawberries I used to pick every summer with my family–I didn’t like picking them as it was always hot (they grow in full sun) and the berries were so small that it took a long time to pick enough to fill my bucket. They were more fun to pick than wild raspberries–another tiny but flavour-packed fruit, unfortunately accompanied by nasty thorns and stinging insects.
But back to the alpine strawberries. Having read about them one winter I bought a packet of seeds* and grew some plants. The variety I grew was Mignonette, a traditional red alpine strawberry, but there are many varieties available, including white and yellow types.
I loved the taste but it was rare to end up with more than a handful of ripe berries from my little patch. Then I ran across instructions for dividing them in the excellent book, Making More Plants* and I’m almost up to enough berries for a full bowl now! (I’m kidding–they never make it into the house. They, along with most of the fresh peas, are the gardener’s snack.) But ever since I read that book I’ve been working at increasing my own patch of strawberries and also potting up plants to sell at my annual horticultural society’s plant sale.
How to Divide Alpine Strawberries
The first thing to do is to dig up a plant–which is actually a clump containing many individual plants.
Immerse it in a bucket of water and swish it around to wash all of the soil off of the roots.
Before and after washing the soil (and bits of straw mulch) off:
Once the soil is gone you’re able to see how the clump is actually made up of many individual plants.
For illustration purposes, I pulled this smaller clump off the plant I dug up, so that you could see the three plantlets in this handful of plant:
The next step is to gently wrestle the plants apart. I could cut in between each plant with a sharp knife, but I will get far more roots if I pull it apart. It’s difficult to describe exactly how to pull the plants apart (I should’ve made a video!) except to say that I firmly grasp the clump with one hand and then, with my other hand, twist the one plant I’m trying to get off, back and forth, until it loosens and comes free. I’m more untangling it from the roots of the main clump than ripping it apart, although I am none too gentle with it.
Eventually, it will come loose, and I keep repeating that process until the clump has been broken down into many individual small plants.
Please note that I shot this tutorial on a cool spring day, and keept the roots in the shade, working fairly quickly. If it was a hot day or I had to work in direct sun, I’d throw the individual plants back into the bucket of water as I dislodged them, in order to keep their roots moist.
That one original plant that I dug up turned into 12 individual plants:
I could plant these directly into my garden at this point–I like to put them on the edges of beds, and mulch around them with straw in order to keep the berries up off the ground. Or, I could pot them up for our plant sale.
When potting them up, I need to put them in a pot that’s tall enough for the roots to hang straight (and if my pot is too short, I could trim the roots a bit–better to do that than try to cram them into a tiny pot and have them wrap around and around as they grow.)
And that’s how you turn one alpine strawberry plant into a strawberry patch! Every couple years, I can repeat this process with each plant if I wish.
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