The Advantages of Alpine Strawberries

, written by gb flag

Alpine strawberries are small in size but big on flavor

Alpine strawberries cause confusion, as sometimes they’re considered wild, and sometimes they’re not. They’re generally of the genus Fragaria vesca, which grows wild in northern Europe, but various strains have been created, which means they’ve been cultivated to an extent.

In the States, the wild strawberry is likely to be Fragaria virginiana, or Mountain Strawberry, similar to Fragaria vesca. What makes both these strawberries different is that neither of them bears much resemblance to the plump modern garden strawberry, which resulted from an accidental cross of Fragaria virginiana and the South American, larger-fruited Fragaria chiloensis.

Alpine strawberries are much prettier than the beefy modern garden varieties, with small white flowers and fruit held high, often above the leaves. They bear fruit throughout the summer months, with production peaking in mid-summer, and are tough little plants that can tolerate a variety of soils and withstand drought (although treating them badly won’t help the harvest). But do you grow them from seed or runners? Do they really taste good? Are they worth growing? Opinions vary on all of these questions.

The first is the easiest to answer, as some alpine varieties produce runners and others don’t, while all can be reproduced from seed. As for taste and value – well, it depends on what you want.

Many sources will tell you that alpine strawberries are simply delicious straight from the plant, and that birds (and children) devour them avidly. I guess there are alpine varieties like that out there, but I’ve never tasted them. I know I’m not alone in my experience that the berries (at least, of the unknown variety in my garden) smell delicious when freshly picked, but are very small (if one grows to the size of my thumbnail, it’s a bruiser), very light, a bit seedy and quite dry. And now you’re wondering why on earth I’d recommend them, aren’t you?

Trio of alpine strawberries

How to Eat Alpine Strawberries

Well, I was of the "useless-but-pretty" opinion of alpine strawberries until I came across instructions on how to eat them. If you’ve found them sharp but otherwise tasteless, with barely any juice, then try putting a handful in a bowl, sprinkling them with sugar, crushing gently and leaving to macerate for as long as you can bear it.

Within ten minutes the juice has burst out, apparently from nowhere, and you’ll have a mouthful of superb flavor, with a hint of sharpness that sets the taste-buds humming, not to mention an interest and depth that modern varieties really don’t possess. It’s no wonder that they are said to make the best jam.

The fact remains, though, that you really need an awful lot of plants to produce a large crop. In fact, if you want to make jam, I wouldn’t look at less than fifty plants, preferably more.

Strawberries as Ground Cover

I don’t have a lot of space, so jam is out, but one of the reasons I grow them is that they make excellent ground-cover. I’ve let mine run rampant in various places in the flower beds, where they suppress weeds extremely well (some would say "other" weeds) and protect the soil from erosion. Allowed their head, they send out runners with abandon, criss-crossing themselves and producing a deep mat, hiding the feet of taller, bare-stemmed plants.

Alpine strawberries make excellent ground cover
Alpine strawberries make excellent ground cover

Once they’re in situ, you just need to check over the bed every so often for any that look diseased and remove them. It’s also a good idea to weed out the plants that are more than a couple of years old, as fruit production tends to fall off with age.

Growing Alpine Strawberries Conventionally

Growing alpine strawberries from seed can be a bit fiddly, so I’d buy in plants to begin with. They make very attractive edging to any vegetable bed or you can grow them in rows, like ordinary strawberries. If wanting them for edging, I’d recommend a runnerless variety, as it’s easier to hoe out seedlings between them, and they tend to make larger plants. They should be planted 12 inches (30 cms) apart, and if you want them in rows, these should also be 12 inches apart. They should go into well-manured soil that you keep damp until they’ve settled in and are growing away.

Alpine strawberry
Alpine strawberry

Getting a Bigger Harvest

There are ways to encourage larger berries. Alpines are very hungry strawberries, more so than their more popular cousins, and research shows that they need a soil that is rich in humus and slightly acidic (remember they’re primarily woodland plants). So, adding bucket-loads of well-rotted compost to the soil every year will please them no end.

They’ll also appreciate the wood ash from your bonfire for the potash content, though don’t overdo this as wood ash is alkaline.

If you really feel like a challenge, you can remove all but one or two flowers on each truss, to ensure that the strawberries that form are larger.

Most of us, unless we dedicate a large amount of space to a large number of plants, are never going to get more than a handful of fruit at a time, but I still think they’re worth it. You can squeeze them into slightly shady places that are often difficult for vegetable crops, they’re ornamental enough for the flower bed and, for a burst of high flavor that sings of summer, they can’t be beaten.

Try them as a dressing on vanilla ice-cream!

By Helen Gazeley

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Comments

 
"These just grow wildly rampant in my yard, so much so that I have to pull them up. They will just pop up in unexpected places. I haven't taken the time to figure out if they are good or not, but now I will go look for some ripe berries. I have also heard that you can make a tea out of the leaves. "
Krisha on Friday 6 July 2012
"Wow! We must then have the Virginiana variety growing in our back yard in Northern Virginia, US. We had so many this year, the whole of the back was overrun with them. My father and I were trying to figure out if they were poisonous or not. My dad searched google, and got conflicting reports. Well now we know! Wish I'd have seen this earlier, as I think I could've made some jam, or at least my 3 year old daughter would've had a blast picking and sugaring and eating them! There is always next year :-) Since there isn't much information available on this, I am going to put this link on my blog's gardening section I am composing @ www.tempestuality.com/blog "
Kelly Ryder on Saturday 14 July 2012
"There's also the false strawberry or waterberry, Kelly, of which there's a picture here http://juliefletcher.hubpages.com/hub/wildstrawberries. I've never tried one, but hear that they're tasteless, so wouldn't be any good for jam."
Helen Gazeley on Saturday 14 July 2012
"I thought I had Alpine Strawberries but now am not sure because when mine are ripe they are a golden colour instead of the red colour shown in the images above."
John Armida on Tuesday 11 December 2012
"John, I haven't come across golden coloured strawberries. I wouldn't assume these are edible until you've found more out about them. "
Helen Gazeley on Wednesday 12 December 2012
"i found a plant in my garden last year which just appeared. i had never heard of alpine strawberrys and just set to it with the strimmer but it is back again and just starting to get berries ."
jamie baker on Monday 6 May 2013
"I have been surfing online more than 3 hours lately, but I by no means found any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is lovely price sufficient for me. In my view, if all webmasters and bloggers made excellent content as you probably did, the net can be much more helpful than ever before."
Walter on Sunday 7 July 2013
"Alpine strawberries definitely come in a range of colours, white that ripens to a pale gold is normal and edible. So are the odd combinations with pale red skin and white seeds, or vice versa and red pigment around the seeds on a white fleshed strawberry. In my opinion the white ones taste better - vaguely bubble-gum like! I have a range of colours in my garden in New Zealand and eat them all. Very different texture to shop strawberries but I like them. They don't reproduce by runners very well, but they have fertile seeds that give me plenty of new plants each season."
gem on Tuesday 16 December 2014
"I have grown them for 4 years in UK .They self seed easily and taste delicious .The taste varies with how ripe they are,unripe ,though red are tastless.Almost impossible to transport because they disintegrate asoon as you pick them ,so I eat them straight from the plant .They crop continuously through the summer ,but a very small yield.I grow them because the seeds where given to me ."
Eric Sharman on Monday 23 February 2015
"Hi Eric. They do indeed taste very delicious - definitely the highlight to growing them!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 23 February 2015
"I have been growing and collecting alpine strawberry cultivars for over 25 years. If you treat them like cute little ornamentals that's what you'll get. If you plant them 18 to 20" apart in rows with fertile soil and a good acid fertilizer you can get a bountiful harvest. My research has shown productive cultivars can produce nearly a pound of fruit per plant and the spring and early summer only. I'd call that productive. "
Michael Wellik on Sunday 12 April 2015
"These are amazing plants. I have had the same plants and their seeded offspring for over thirty years. I don't do anything with them except pick the fruit. I make jam with fruit. Since only small amounts of fruit are collected at a time I freeze the berries until I have sufficient to make a batch of jam in the microwave. The berries makes delicious ice cream. Make a purée of the fruit and mix into the ice cream custard before churning. You make a strawberry ripple version as well."
Lesley Tan on Sunday 2 August 2015
"I noticed that if I left the fruit on the plants they were not so good as taking them the moment they were ready, they sort of go mushhy if left on."
R Burgess on Thursday 31 December 2015
"Hi R Burgess. Thanks for the tip. The fruits would always be best enjoyed as soon as they're ripe and ready to eat."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 31 December 2015
"Happy New year to you Ben, thank you for a reply and very informative site, which I have of course booked marked.I am English and live in the center of France."
Robert on Thursday 31 December 2015
"I just planted some, so I am happy to learn about this. Also, I planted some raspberry type plants found in Alaska that stay on the ground, more of a ground cover than a caning berry. I planted them together. Plans are to plant groups of bulbs among them later this fall, then the tulips and daffadills will pup up as a surprise among the ground cover. It ought to be a beautiful scene next spring."
Russell Bowman on Sunday 27 March 2016
"Hi Russell. What you describe sounds like it will be a very beautiful scene indeed. Let us know how it works out."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 30 March 2016
"Very informative article, and even the comments make a really good read. What surprises me is the general lack of familiarity with this little precious fruit wherever I go, even here in the UK. Back in Croatia, where I lived part of my childhood, going wild strawberry (we call them 'forest strawberries') picking was a most anticipated event for us kids. No one ever really bothered growing them at home, as we would just forage for them at the edge of the woods, their favoured habitat. We would eat them exactly as someone suggested in previous comments: mashed up in a cup with a generous amount of sugar. There is only one characteristic of omitted in your article, and that is their most wonderful scent when ripe. Next time you have a chance to pick a handful, cup your hands and bring them close to your nose; it is a heavenly experience! We never made jam with them, but we did prepare wild strawberry tarts, covered with thin layers of meringue and baked, or without it. Ice cream was a favourite too, but you can easily add a cup of wild strawberries to two cups of your regular strawberries and the scent and flavour will still be incredible. Syrup or cordial you can then add water to for a drink, or use neat do drizzle over ice cream of other desert is another great way to use wild strawberries. Prepare the same way as regular strawberries, but be mindful to preserve the wonderful scent. Enjoy! "
Sneshka on Wednesday 11 January 2017
"Several making comments mention making jam with alpines. They do make a phenomenal jam. inOne hint, add some lemon juice to maintain color. Without it the jam will turn brown. Still tasty but not so appetizing."
Michael Wellik on Wednesday 11 January 2017
"Hi Sneshka and Michael. Thanks so much for sharing your tips. Alpine strawberries do indeed have a heavenly scent!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 12 January 2017
"Any idea how these would do being grown in a strawberry jar?"
Mary on Sunday 2 April 2017
"alpines will grow in a strawberry jar. The size of the pocket determines the size of the plant. Small pockets will prevent number of stolons from expanding. You will get fruit but they won't be as productive as they could be in just a plain 12" or larger container. I've grown them for years in a half barrel. A couple of plants in the barrel in the spring and by the next spring the barrel is filled with a lot of productive plants."
Michael Wellik on Sunday 2 April 2017

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