Strawberries: plant facts, care & common problems


As a horticulture student I mainly studied crops and cultivation techniques. It fascinates me how many diverse plants can grow from small, nearly identical seeds.

Favourite fruit: blueberries, grapes, raspberries, pears
Favourite vegetables: mushrooms, peppers, kohlrabi, onions, garlic

The strawberry is such a well-known classic in our gardens and kitchens that it is rare to find anyone who does not love the delicious bright red fruit.

red and green strawberries on plant
Strawberries are the quintessential summer fruit – fragrant and juicy, there is nothing better [Photo: Mirko Graul/]

Each year, strawberry lovers of all ages hungrily await the start of the local strawberry season. And when the time comes for us to discover the juicy red fruits in our gardens and eat them straight off the plant, young and old become indistinguishable in their youthful delight. Read on to find out everything you need to know about strawberries (Fragaria), from plant care to harvesting and preventing pests.

Strawberries: origin and description

Strawberries are herbaceous perennials of the genus Fragaria, which belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae) and contains around 20 different species native to America, Europe, and Asia. Long before the larger American species came to Europe, the wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) was commonly grown here. Crossing the scarlet strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) with the Chilean strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) eventually gave us the garden strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa) that we know today.

The low-growing plant can grow up to 30 cm tall, and from its long trailing stems grow the classic strawberry leaves in groups of threes. The leaves are serrated and light to dark green. Strawberry flowers grow from the crown of the strawberry plant. Each flower has five green sepals and five white to pink petals that surround the pistil, which later forms into a strawberry. Although strawberry plants have both the male and female parts required for self-pollination, this usually produces smaller fruits than when the flowers are pollinated by insects. Strawberries are well-known for spreading their shallow root system via runners.

white strawberry flowers close up
Strawberry flowers are usually white and sometimes pink or yellow [Photo: Kristine Rad/]

Are there any poisonous strawberries? Luckily, no strawberry varieties are poisonous, and all of the red fruit is edible. The mock strawberry (Duchesnea indica) is readily confused with the wild strawberry, although both of these are perfectly harmless and edible, contrary to popular belief.

Are strawberries nuts?

Yes, strawberries really are nuts – at least from a botanical standpoint. Technically speaking, the red part is classified as an aggregate accessory fruit. The strawberry’s true fruits are actually the little yellow, seed-like bits on its outer surface called achenes. But the strawberry nuts are so tiny that they have no impact on consumption.

ripening strawberries
Botanically speaking, the strawberry is a nut and develops a red accessory fruit [Photo: Nick Pecker/]

Are strawberries perennial?

Strawberry plants are perennial and can be grown as perennials at home as well. Commercial strawberries are often grown as annuals because the fruits become smaller each year. As strawberry plants may not reach their full growth within one year, it is best to grow your strawberry plants at least biennially.

strawberry runner with roots
Strawberry plants produce runners that spread along the ground and take root, resulting in new plants [Photo: Olya Maximenko/]

When are strawberries in season?

The main season for strawberries is in June and July. Nowadays, there are many ways to harvest earlier or later in the year to provide fresh strawberries for as long as possible. Plant a mix of early season, late season and everbearing strawberry varieties for a longer harvest.

Strawberries: plant care

After planting strawberries, pay close attention to your plants. Water them regularly, as these plants need a lot of water. Depending on the weather, water fully grown strawberry plants every few days. Strawberries need more water during the growing season and dry spells, so water daily here. Avoid waterlogging at all costs. Remove weeds on a regular basis to prevent them from establishing themselves in your strawberry patch. Mulching strawberries also helps to keep weeds at bay. Proper strawberry care also includes fertilising the strawberries, which we cover in detail in a separate article.

gloved hands clearing strawberry weeds
Weed your strawberry patch regularly [Photo: Cozy Home/]

How to protect strawberries from rain?

Cover the strawberries during persistent rain in summer, as this can cause the plants and fruit to rot and invite slug infestations.

How to mulch strawberries?

Straw is an excellent mulch for strawberries because it keeps the soil from drying out, deters slugs and protects the strawberries from rot as they are not resting directly on the ground.

Tip: However, as straw reflects sunlight, wait until the soil has warmed up around mid-April to early May to start spreading straw in your patch. Otherwise, the soil will warm up less, resulting in less growth.

straw mulch around strawberry leaves
Mulching strawberries with straw is a great way to protect them [Photo: Firuza39/]

Diseases and pests

There are a variety of diseases and pests to look out for when growing strawberries. Here is a list of the most common ones. Generally, most diseases can be prevented by relocating the plant every three to four years.

Common strawberry pests and diseases:

  • Strawberry blossom weevil (Anthonomus rubi): The beetle’s damage is seen in broken off flower buds, which the female gnaws on after laying her eggs inside. To prevent the beetle from spreading, remove the eggs and attacked flower buds.
  • Strawberry powdery mildew (Sphaerotheca macularis or Podosphaera macularis): The fungus can grow on strawberry leaves and fruit. It is particularly common in perennial crops with weeds, so remove any weeds near your strawberries.
  • Grey mould (Botrytis cinerea): The fungal infection occurs more frequently in wet conditions and can be recognised by a layer of grey mould on the fruit. When planting, leave some space between the strawberry plants so that there is adequate air circulation, and the plants can dry off.
  • Verticillium wilt (Verticillium albo-atrum and Verticillium dahliae): A fungus that causes strawberry plants to suddenly wilt. Remove the infected plants from the patch as soon as you spot the first signs. Do not compost them, as the fungus is highly infectious and can spread to other plants.
  • Anthracnose (Colletotrichum acutatum): This fungus causes small brown or black spots on fruit or leaves. The fungus is often introduced into the strawberry patch via contaminated plant matter. Extended wet periods with warm temperatures are another contributing factor. Choose high-quality plants and ensure the strawberries are well aired. Once spotted, remove diseased plants immediately and dispose of them in the household rubbish.
  • Slugs: These unwelcome visitors are making themselves at home in our gardens, munching on anything from lettuce to veggies and even strawberries.
strawberry covered in grey mould
Remove mouldy strawberries from the patch as soon as possible [Photo: Floki/]

Take good care of your strawberries and you will soon have a bumper crop. Find out what you need to be aware of when picking and storing strawberries in our in-depth article.