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The Native Strawberries

Here’s another view of the woodland strawberry planting I showed on bloom day. The strawberries have been rather mealy this year. Two years ago they were good, last year they were okay, but this year they aren’t much good at all. I’m guessing that might be because of all these April and May rains. Also, the leaves are looking somewhat chlorotic up close, so they might need to be thinned out to refresh them. We originally put these in as a cheap, low-water groundcover, but after a big harvest of berries the second year we started to think of them as an edible deserving of more attention and respect. If anyone has a suggestion for getting fruit production back up, please let me know.

This planting started with three 2″ stubbies and had full coverage within two years. Normally, I’d be afraid of a groundcover that can spread this fast, but it’s pretty easy to control because it does all its running above ground. California Native Plants for the Garden uses a photo of it to illustrate the potential ‘weediness’ of some natives, but personally I like the look of the strawberry with the irises and alliums rising out of it. Any drought-tolerant, evergreen, native groundcover that produces berries is okay with me.

Allium, Fragaria, and Iris

Allium, Fragaria, and Iris

Sidalcea bloom, Sisyrinchium and Fragaria foliage

Sidalcea bloom, Sisyrinchium and Fragaria foliage, in February

The sidalceas disappeared into the strawberry patch a couple of years ago, with only their flowers showing unless you hunt for the leaves. I like its ‘What plant are those flowers coming from?’ effect.

Blue Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bellum

Blue Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bellum, last month

Mostly Fragaria vesca

Mostly Fragaria vesca

We put in a single Beach Strawberry, too, which is now the dominant plant in its own corner of the planting. It has sent out runners through the rest of the planting that send leaves up for a bit of textual contrast. Before growing the two strawberries, I used to get them confused, but side by side it’s not hard to tell the difference. The beach strawberry has a harder, darker, thicker, glossier leaf. Flowers are bigger and often set deeper within the foliage. I’ve never seen a berry on it. Woodland strawberry unsurprisingly prefers part shade, while beach strawberry is happiest, again unsurprisingly, in coastal full sun, but both plants have worked in pretty much every situation we’ve tried them.

Fragaria chiloensis and Fragaria vesca

Fragaria chiloensis and Fragaria vesca

Fragaria chiloensis on the left, Fragaria vesca on the right

Fragaria chiloensis, on the left, Fragaria vesca, on the right

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7 Responses to “The Native Strawberries”

  1. May 22nd, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Brad says:

    Great pics and great post. I really like the sidalcea and sisyrinchium blooms peeking out. The side by side shot is great too. Easy to compare now.

  2. May 22nd, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Town Mouse says:

    Interesting. I actually had a strawberry groundcover, and found it looked ratty for a lot of the year unless I watered quite a bit. Now I’m letting the salvias cover that area…

    I like your photos, though. Maybe one day I’ll rethink the strawberry question.

  3. May 23rd, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    ryan says:

    Both the sidalcea and the sisyrinchium have done well surrounded by the strawberry.

    Our strawberry looks a bit rougher in the fall, but not too bad. Maybe I should add a photo to this post then. Our garden stays cool in the summer, so that might be why our strawberry doesn’t get so ratty. We water the blueberries and a couple of other plants in that bed, but the bulk of the planting doesn’t get any water.

  4. May 26th, 2010 at 8:26 am

    lostlandscape (James) says:

    When I grew modern mutant monster strawberries in the veggie garden they were good for a couple of years and then really went into decline. I’m not sure whether they’d exhausted the soil or the plants just have a certain lifespan. The commercial strawberry guys in town seem to yank out and replace all their plants every year. In between crops you’d never guess it was a strawberry field (so much for strawberry fields forever…) I’d hate to have to do that around your house if you’re using them as an ornamental.

  5. May 26th, 2010 at 8:42 am

    ryan says:

    That’s a good point about commercial strawberries, and kind of along the lines of what I’m thinking. I’ve found that alpine strawberries (also F. vesca) are only productive for a couple of years. Maybe it’s the same with the wild ones. I think I might drastically thin them and add compost. It was only about $6 worth of plants initially, so I don’t mind yanking them and starting over if that will get production up. They were really good the first year.

  6. May 31st, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    chuck b. says:

    I planted F. chiloensis when I first started gardening and they made lots of little strawberries that were quite sweet. But they were never as productive as the horticultural varieties. I found F. chiloensis also went from ripe to unpalatably over-ripe very quickly.

    I’d like to get some of the white strawberries talked about here, http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-marketwatch-20100416,0,4470304.story Apparently, birds leave white strawberries alone.

  7. June 2nd, 2010 at 10:33 am

    ryan says:

    I’ve grown the white strawberries. They were interesting and pretty good, though it was sometimes harder to notice when the fruit was ripe. I would think the birds wouldn’t bother them, but I don’t know for sure since we don’t lose berries on white or red ones because of all the neighbor’s cats.