Strawberry tree: the best varieties & tips for growing in the garden

Patrick
Patrick
Patrick
Patrick

I am currently working on my master's in agricultural sciences, specialising in plant sciences. In my free time, I am passionate about growing my own fruit and veg. I find a real sense of balance gardening at my parent's house. When I'm not in the garden, I like to go hiking to discover amazing photo ops.

Favourite fruit: currants and blackberries
Favourite vegetables: carrots, mushrooms and onions

The fruits of the strawberry tree look very similar to strawberries grown in the garden We will introduce you to the best varieties and show you how to plant and care for strawberry trees in the garden.

Strawberry tree full of flowers and ripe fruits
Especially when in bloom and bearing lots of ripe fruit, strawberry trees look beautiful in gardens [Photo: lenic/ Shutterstock.com]

Are those strawberries on the tree? Even though the fruits of the strawberry tree resemble the red berries, the two plants are not related. We will reveal what this strange tree is all about.

Strawberry tree: origin and properties

The strawberry tree (Arbutus) is originally from regions such as the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands and even North America. The plant has impressed people for a long time, as shown by its mention in the poems of Virgil and Ovid. However, this plant is a real insider tip in Central European gardens today.

The tree is characterised by its fairly slow growth, with a maximum height of about 5 to 40 meters outdoors depending on the species. The leaves of the evergreen tree or shrub resemble those of the laurel tree. The trees can be expected to bear fruit after around five years. Strawberry trees blooms in winter or spring, depending on the species, displaying white to pink panicle-forming bell flowers, typical of the heather family (Ericaceae), to which the tree belongs. Then, in spring, the namesake red-orange strawberry-shaped berries form and can be harvested the following autumn. This makes the strawberry tree an ideal eye-catcher in both small and large gardens.

Closer view of Arbutus unedo fruits on the tree
Strawberry trees bear their fruit in spring [Photo: hallojulie/ Shutterstock.com]

The best species

The eleven different species of the strawberry tree are divided into old-world and new-world varieties based on their origin. Within the old-world species, Arbutus unedo, Arbutus andrachne, and Arbutus canariensis are most notable. As a representative of the new-world species, the Arbutus menziesii is best known. The strawberry tree species are visually distinguished mainly by their colour and shape of flowers, as well as different growth heights and frost-resistance.

Arbutus unedo

This strawberry tree is most common in the western Mediterranean region, but is also found sporadically along the Atlantic coast as far north as Ireland. While most fruit trees bloom in the spring, the tree is an autumn bloomer, making it a real eye-catcher in the autumn garden. Between October and December, the plant then displays white to pink panicle-forming bell flowers.

The tree is dependent on cross-pollination. Therefore, to allow pollination of the flowers, either a strawberry tree must be located in a neighbouring garden or you must plant two of these extraordinary trees in your garden. The two to three-inch fruits ripen the following year and can be harvested in the autumn during the next bloom. This species reaches a growth height of three to five meters. Relatively little breeding work has been done on the varieties of Arbutus unedo, so a few special specimens are waiting for us here:

  • Arbutus unedo ‘Integerrima’: the peculiarity of this variety is a particularly shrubby growth. It shows brilliant white flowers in late autumn.
  • Arbutus unedo ‘Rubra’: this variety offers a special play of colour with pink to light purple flowers when it blooms in the autumn.
  • Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’: this variety is ideal for those who want a small strawberry tree as a container plant. It is characterised by particularly small growth with a maximum height of one to two meters.
Strawberry tree fruits in wooden box
After about five years, you can finally harvest the first fruits from your strawberry tree [Photo: deata/ Shutterstock.com]

Arbutus canariensis

This species is originally found only in the Canary Islands, where it reaches a growth height of up to 15 metres. Fragrant and, unlike Arbutus unedo, self-pollinating flowers appear in February in a white to reddish hue. The fruits are ripe in late autumn to winter and are two to three centimetres in size.

Arbutus andrachne

This strawberry tree is native to the eastern Mediterranean region, such as Greece or southern Albania. The tree reaches a maximum height of twelve metres and the mostly white flowers appear from February. The orange-red fruits, about one centimetre in size, can be eaten in autumn.

Arbutus menziesii

The natural range of this species extends along the Pacific coast of North America. Due to the strong temperature fluctuations in this region, the strawberry tree can withstand temperatures between -20 °C and +45 °C without any problems.

With a height of up to 40 metres and a trunk diameter of up to 150 centimetres, the new-world species is the largest representative of the strawberry trees. Unlike old-world trees, Arbutus menziesii blooms between April and May, producing spike-like inflorescences over twelve centimetres tall with small hermaphrodite white flowers. The fruits are one centimetre in diameter but smaller than the fruits of Arbutus unedo.

Wide shot of mountainous region with strawberry tree in view
A large American strawberry tree in its natural habitat in North America [Photo: Sundry Photography/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting strawberry trees: location, timing and procedure

The recommended time for planting your strawberry tree is mainly spring or autumn. Summer is less suitable because the tree is sensitive to drought after planting. Unfortunately, strawberry trees are not suitable as houseplants as they need the sun in your garden or on a balcony. Varieties such as Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ can thereby be cultivated outdoors even in a planter. To avoid waterlogging, it is advisable not to use a saucer when cultivating in a pot.

The right location

Most strawberry trees are best kept in the open ground. Since the tree is very drought-resistant, it will feel especially at home in a dry and sunny corner in your garden. In winter, the Arbutus menziesii tolerates temperatures from -15 to -20 °C. All other species require winter protection and can only be planted in sheltered locations. For young strawberry trees, it is recommended to cultivate them in pots and to overwinter them frost-free until the tree is sufficiently hardy at the age of five and can be planted out.
The strawberry tree is not very demanding in terms of soil and thrives even in less fertile soils. The substrate should be sandy and humus to slightly loamy and well-drained.

How to plant a strawberry tree

To plant your strawberry tree, dig a hole one and a half times the size of the ball. Especially for trees over one and a half metres tall, we recommend using a wooden stake to provide support. A tree tie made of coconut rope can be used to fix the tree to the wooden stake. However, the stake and tree must not be adjacent to each other, otherwise the bark will be damaged by the rubbing. After planting, water the sapling abundantly, preferably with the help of a watering border. Particularly over the next three weeks, pay special attention to ensuring a good water supply. Our Plantura Organic Flower Compost is ideal for cultivating a small strawberry tree in a container or improving your garden soil and can promote the flowering of this little tree.

Tip: Due to their limited winter hardiness, we recommend protecting the trunks and branches of all types of strawberry trees with a jute bag or similar during particularly cold nights or locations – this is especially true when the trees are still young.

Organic Flower Compost, 40L
Organic Flower Compost, 40L
  • Perfect for all flowering plants in garden beds & pots
  • For beautiful blossoms & healthy plant growth
  • Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition

Summary: Planting strawberry trees

  • Outdoor cultivation or cultivation in planters possible
  • Sunny to partial shade
  • Warm location, sheltered from wind
  • No temperatures below -15 °C
  • No waterlogging
  • Loose, slightly acidic soil
  • Planting in spring or autumn
  • Support tree after planting
  • Water abundantly at the beginning
  • After two to three weeks, fertilise with Plantura Flower Food.

Plant care

Strawberry trees are very drought-resistant, making them a low maintenance feature in your garden. Pests are not a big issue for the strawberry tree. Only aphids can occasionally be observed on the tree. However, any infestation is usually kept within limits. If not, you can send useful insects to tackle the aphids. Learn more about controlling aphids by using beneficial insects here.

Since the plant also thrives in low-nutrient soil, a fertiliser application in spring and summer, for example with our Plantura Flower Food, is sufficient. This provides a long-lasting supply of essential nutrients.

Flower Food, 1.5kg
Flower Food, 1.5kg
  • Perfect for flowering plants in the garden & on the balcony
  • For healthier plants with beautiful & long-lasting blossoms
  • Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly

The tree is best watered using collected rainwater. This is good for the environment and contains less lime compared to tap water, which benefits the strawberry tree.

Pruning your strawberry tree

Young strawberry saplings can have their shoot tips shortened slightly in the spring to encourage denser growth. Here, sharp secateurs should be used to avoid crushing the wood. A smooth cut surface provides less surface for fungi to attack and helps keep the tree healthy. Older trees develop best without intervention in their growth. Heavy pruning into old wood should be avoided if possible. Old wood should be removed from the crown and the branch cut back to green, that is, still living tissue.

Propagation

Both vegetative propagation via cuttings and generative propagation of the strawberry tree via the seeds in the fruit is possible:

Propagation by seed is a little more complicated: the seeds swell in water for a few hours and are then stored in the refrigerator for two months, where they begin to germinate. The germinated seeds can then be planted.

Cuttings of the strawberry tree can be taken in the autumn from woody, but not too old shoots. The leaves of the cuttings, about ten centimetres long, are removed except for the top two and put in soil. The cuttings are then covered with a transparent cover and placed at room temperature in a bright place. New strawberry trees then grow from the cuttings.

Are the fruits of the strawberry tree poisonous or edible?

The fruits, which look like strawberries, can be harvested in the autumn. The fruits of the strawberry tree are edible, have a sweet and sour to sweet taste and a slightly floury consistency. They can be snacked on raw or made into a very special jam in the kitchen.

Close-up of strawberry tree fruits, one cut open
Strawberry tree fruits can also be eaten raw [Photo: Blank Photostudio/ Shutterstock.com]
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