Fruit trees and small fruits Sowing Seeds

Strawberries From Seed in Just One Year

Who knew you could sow strawberries and get fruit the first year! Photo: allmanhall.co.uk & walmart.ca

Growing strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa or F. × rosea) by seed is probably not a project for a novice gardener. Young plants tiny are very delicate and germination is not always that great. And you will need a grow light. If you’re just getting started with growing plants from seed, it’s better to practice with easier varieties, such as tomatoes or marigolds, first. But when you do get the hang of producing plants that way, growing your own strawberries from seed can be a nice little challenge … and costs far, far less than buying plants!

Start Early

If you want to plant strawberries for harvest the first spring, you have to start them early. Really early. Between December and the end of January, if possible, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

Tray of strawberry seedlings in the refrigerator.
The seeds germinate best after cold stratification. Photo: pinetreegardenseeds.wordpress.com

Sow the seeds in a pot of moist potting soil, just pressing them into the potting soil without covering them. Now seal the jar inside a plastic bag or dome and place it in the fridge. 

After one month in the cold, take the container out of the refrigerator and expose it to light and moderate heat: about 60 to 75˚F (16 to 24˚C). Germination is slow, usually 3 to 6 weeks, and also irregular, so always sow more seeds than the number of plants you really need, as not all will sprout. 

When the seeds do germinate, place the young plants under a fluorescent or LED grow light rather than just in natural light. This isn’t really optional, because on a windowsill in midwinter, the days are short and too gray to stimulate adequate growth. It’s not before the spring equinox (around March 20) that days are long enough for you to really consider growing strawberries in natural light only. And you do need to keep the plants growing fairly quickly if you want a first-year harvest! Under a lamp, you can offer a 14 to 16-hour days that will encourage the young plants to grow their very fastest. 

Place the seedlings about 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) from the lamp, raising it as the plants grow.

Ideally, you’d also keep the seedlings rather cool at this stage of their growth: 58 to 65 °F (15–18°C): this results in denser, more compact plants.

Pot of strawberry seedlings soaking in a tray of water
It’s easiest to water strawberry seedlings by soaking them in a tray of water. Photo: ekara, reddit.com

When the seedlings begin to produce their first true leaves, it’s time to remove the plastic bag and thus ensure better ventilation. From this point on, you’ll also need to start watering as soon as the soil begins to dry out. To this end, it is often easier to soak the seedling pot in a tray of water (discarding any excess water after half an hour) than to pour water over the surface of the potting soil with a watering can, otherwise the force of the flow can disturb the soil, digging up or burying the still fragile seedlings.

Transplant the plantlets into individual 4-inch (10 cm) pots about when the third true leaf appears. Do so carefully, with the crown of the plant flush with the soil. You don’t want to bury the crown to any depth.

Fairly early in the season, in early May in most climates, while the nights are still cool, start acclimatizing the young plants to outdoor conditions: a few days in the shade, then a few days in partial shade before placing them in full sun.

Planting Time

Garden trowel and your strawberry plants, ready for planting in the garden.
Transplant the strawberries into the garden when there is little risk of frost. Photo: Espoma Organic

Finally, transplant the plantlets into the garden (or into a container) when there is no more risk of frost. True enough, strawberries can tolerate frost, but … why stress them unnecessarily just where you’ve almost reached your goal?

Strawberries prefer full sun. They’ll tolerate partial shade, but won’t be as productive. The soil should be rich and well-drained. Don’t hesitate to incorporate plenty of compost into it when you plant. Surround the plants with mulch, but without covering the leaves. Mulch will reduce weeds and help maintain a more even soil humidity. It even reduces slug damage to the berries.

For most varieties, a spacing of 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) will be adequate. Strawberry plants will produce runners (creeping stems) carrying baby strawberry plants and these will quickly fill in any empty space.

By the time this is happening, though, your strawberry plants will be starting to bloom and the first fruits quickly follow the flowers. Yum yum!

Later Sowing, Later Fruiting 

Red strawberries on a strawberry plant surrounded by mulch
Strawberries do best when protected by mulch. Photo: plantinstructions.com

If you are more patient, you can also sow strawberries in March or April, even May, and then won’t need a grow light, but then the first harvest will probably take place only the 2nd year. Sometimes, though, late-sown everbearing strawberries will produce at least a modest harvest in late summer or fall of the first year.

Three Years, Then Repeat

Strawberries are perennial and are very hardy, usually to hardiness zone 3, and therefore come back from year to year. However, they produce best during their first three years. So, at the end of the third year, pull them out and start new seedlings from December to the end of January to ensure another three years of abundant harvest.

Where to Find Seeds?

Most vegetable seed catalogs seem to offer strawberry seeds. A quick search on Google should give you plenty of sources.

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Best of luck with your home-sown strawberries

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

7 comments on “Strawberries From Seed in Just One Year

  1. Looking at the way the world is with covid I was just saying that I need to grow more plants from my own saved seeds! As ever you have inspired me to collect my own wild strawberry seeds in the spring.

  2. That seems like more effort than it is worth. Bare root plants are so easy to grow and inexpensive. I have seen strawberry seed for sale though, so someone must be growing them.

  3. I’ve tried growing strawberries so many times I’ve lost count. The squirrels and chipmunks always get them first. Last year I put them in metal wash tubs about 5′ off the ground, and they still got them. I sadly call ‘uncle’ on strawberries, but this process is pretty interesting.

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