Growing strawberries from seed is a great way to establish plants without spending a lot of money.
Honestly, it never occurred to me to grow strawberries from seed until a friend of mine showed me her beautiful heirloom strawberry seedlings. Strawberry plants are readily available for sure, but varieties can be pretty limiting. Unless a seed company can sell a field’s worth of bare-root plants, they’re not going to bother growing them out. That means the really unique, specialty varieties are becoming harder and harder to find.
In the past, anytime we want to establish new beds I order in a few bundles of bare-root plants. We grow a lot of strawberries you see, both for jam and fresh eating. You’d be amazed how quick my two and four-year-old can mow through a quarter acre of mature strawberry plants, leaving nothing but discarded strawberry tops in their wake.
This year we’ve planted some lovely heirloom strawberries to trial, and I may well hang most of these tender beauties in hanging baskets out of reach of my two strawberry monsters.
Do Strawberries Come True to Seed?
When something comes ‘true to seed’ it means that the new plants will have the same characteristics as the parent plants. Apples, for example, don’t come true to seed and when you plant apple seeds you never know what you’re going to get.
Cherries and stone fruits, on the other hand, come mostly true to seed and the offspring will be very close to their parents.
Strawberries do come true to seed, and strawberry seedlings will be very similar to the parent plants (with a few exceptions). Generally, strawberry flowers are self-pollinating, and unless you have many different varieties growing in a small patch the seeds will come true to the parents.
Some strawberry varieties are hybrids, and they’ve grown from seed that results from the cross of two specially chosen parents. After that point, they’re propagated clonally from runners. These days, most commercial strawberries you’d buy at the grocery store are hybrids.
When you grow strawberries from seed, it’s best to stick to old heirloom varieties or open-pollinated wild alpine strawberry varieties.
Where to Buy Strawberry Seeds?
Since you won’t generally find heirloom or alpine strawberries in the supermarket, where can you buy strawberry seed for growing?
There are a number of places that sell specialty strawberry seed, and they’re all either old heirloom varieties or wild alpine varieties. Either way, you’re in for a unique treat because you won’t find these varieties in the grocery store.
- Swallowtail Garden Seeds has 7 varieties, though at $6 for a pack of 10 seeds they’re a bit expensive.
- Johnny’s Selected Seed sells specially bred hybrid strawberry seed, mostly for commercial producers looking to plant a whole field. (They also carry bare-root plants, so pay attention to what you’re buying.)
- Urban Farmer has a number of heirloom varieties, including an heirloom alpine variety, and they’re relatively inexpensive for packs.
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has nearly a dozen rare and heirloom varieties.
- Renee’s Garden Seeds is where I purchased mine, and the germination rates were outstanding. They’re also relatively inexpensive with plenty of seeds to a packet. (They’re also where we bought our bulbs for growing saffron.)
There are also literally dozens of varieties of strawberry seeds for sale on Amazon.
The hardest part of growing strawberries from seed is getting the seeds to germinate in the first place. Most strawberry seeds require cold stratification to germinate, and they won’t break dormancy until they’ve gone through winter-like conditions.
This is a bit of an insurance policy for the strawberry seeds because there’s no point in sprouting in the fall right before a snowstorm.
You can mimic “winter” by simply placing the seeds in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks, which signals to the strawberries that winter is past.
To stratify strawberry seeds: Place the seed packet into a Ziploc plastic bag or tight-sealing jar. Place that in the sealed container with the seed packet into the refrigerator and leave it there for about a month.
Read carefully, this is important…
After a month in the refrigerator, take the whole sealed container out of the refrigerator but DO NOT OPEN IT. Allow it to come to room temperature while still sealed, which will prevent condensation from gathering on the cold seeds.
After about a day on the counter, the seeds will have warmed and they’re ready for planting.
(Some strawberry seeds do not require cold stratification, but it’s hard to know which you have. They may well germinate without this process, but even if they don’t require it, it won’t hurt them. Better safe than sorry.)
When to Start Strawberry Seeds
Start strawberry seeds indoors about 10-12 weeks before the last spring frost in your area. Planting strawberries from seed requires a good bit of advanced planning when you take into account the need to stratify the seeds. Strawberry germination can be an extended process, and takes somewhere between 1 and 6 weeks.
If the seedlings are going to reach planting size by spring, they’ll need to go into the refrigerator for stratification 14-16 weeks before the last frost, and to allow them to chill for 3-4 weeks before planting.
Planting Strawberry Seeds
Strawberry seeds are very small, and they should be planted at or near the surface of the soil. Start with pre-moistened seed starting mix in seedling trays. Place 3-4 seeds in each cell, directly on the top of the soil.
Gently press tamp the seeds down, but don’t cover them with soil. Mist the top of the soil with water, and keep it just barely moist until the strawberry seeds germinate.
Strawberry germination takes varies widely and can take anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks. (Mine took 2 weeks to come up.)
Be patient, keep the trays in a warm sunny space and ensure the soil stays just barely moist without being soggy.
Renee’s Garden, where I got my strawberry seeds, has similar instructions, and also recommends fertilizing to get them off to a strong start:
“In spring, sow seeds 1 inch apart and 1/8 inch deep in a container of fine seed starting mix. Maintain at 60 – 70° and provide a strong light source. Keep evenly moist but not soggy. Be patient, seeds can take 14 to 28 days to germinate. Feed young seedlings every 2 weeks with half-strength fertilizer. When they have several sets of leaves, transplant 3 inches apart into a deeper container or individual pots so root systems have room to develop. When 3 inches tall, gradually acclimate to outdoor conditions and plant 12 inches apart in fertile soil in full sun or partial shade in very hot climates.”
Transplanting Strawberry Seedlings
Once the young strawberry seedlings are 2-3” tall, and the last spring frosts have past, it’s time to think about planting them in the garden.
Strawberry seedlings are delicate, and they’re accustomed to the consistent light and temperatures in their indoor growing area. It’s important to harden off the seedlings by exposing them to the outdoors before planting.
Once the seedlings are hardened off, transplant them to a prepared garden bed with rich soil, spacing about 6 to 8 inches apart for alpine varieties and 8 to 12 inches apart for regular strawberries.
(Alternately, transplant the strawberry seedlings to containers or hanging baskets.)
Caring for Strawberry Plants
Depending on the length of your growing season, strawberries grown from seed may actually fruit in the fall of the first year. In short-season climates, you’ll have to wait until next spring.
Either way, keep the strawberry plants well-fertilized as they’re heavy feeders, and mulch with straw to keep the beds weed-free.
The parent plants will be productive for about 4 years before petering out, and during that time they’ll be producing runners and young clone plants. After 3-4 years, it’s time to thin the bed by transplanting strawberry runners to new locations (and removing the unproductive parent plant).
With this care, the strawberry plants will be self-perpetuating indefinitely, and you won’t need to start strawberries from seed again unless you want to try a new variety.
Once you’ve brought in your first harvest, here are some of my very favorite ways to preserve strawberries.
- Canning Whole Strawberries
- Strawberry Jelly
- Low Sugar Strawberry Jam
- Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
- Wild Strawberry Jam