Monday, February 24, 2014

Propagating strawberry plants from runners is easy

Propagating strawberries from runners

What are runners?

I looked at one of my strawberry pots last week and saw that it had several runners cascading over its edges. These 'runners' are one method that the strawberry plant uses to reproduce. Towards the end of the season the plant will start producing long stems that shoot out away from the main plant body. At the tip of these stems (or upon several points of the stem depending on how long they have been growing) you will see some green leaves or perhaps even some green leaves and a small root system beneath them. The technical term for the longs stem the plant produces is 'stolon' and the technical term for the leafy growth is 'plantlet'. The plantlets are infact a small version of the mother plant and you can use these to propagate several plants from the one mother or host plant.

Those long stems that you see shooting from the main plants are what are commonly known as strawberry runners.

Why propagate strawberries from runners?

After 3 years a strawberry plant will start to lose its vigor. It will fruit less and basically become weaker. Your options include;

  • Replacing the plants with newly purchased ones
  • Growing new plants from seed
  • Propagating new plants from crown division
  • Propagating the runners of the plant
Growing the plantlets on the runners into new plants is by far the easiest and safest option. Growing from seed is a little more difficult than most other edibles and propagating the crown by division can compromise the mother plant if not done correctly. The plants should actually naturally propagate by runners but if you give them a little help they can be even more successful. In the method described below I grow on the plantlets into small pots but you could actually grow them on in the ground next to the mother plant if you wish. Growing the plantlets in pots however gives you the option of planting out the new strawberry plants anywhere you wish. If you take the effort to help the runners then you possibly may never have to buy new strawberries again.

Runner propagation method

Propagating the runners is quick and easy to do. The steps are as follows;

1. Identify the planlet on the runner

Look for the leafy growths (plantlets) on the runners. You may have one plantlet on the tip of the runner or several along the one runner. If you have several generally the best one to propagate is the one closest to the mother plant as it probably has a root system.

A plantlet with no root system

A plantlet with a small root system

2. Create some pegging material to secure the plantlet

You could use any type of pegging method but I choose to use sticks that I break in the middle to create a pegging device. Its easy and doesn't cost anything.

A quick, easy, cheap and environmetally friendly pegging system (aka a bent stick).

3. Peg the plantlet into the potting mix

Make sure to peg it down roots down and leaves up. Even if there are no roots then they should develop if you peg the plantlet with the leaves up. The idea is for the roots or base of the plantlet to have constant contact with the potting mix until the plants roots develop a strong grip.

The picture below shows how the bent stick is used to peg down the plantlet. I deliberately haven't pushed it down all the way so you can clearly see how it is initially pushed into the pot.


Here is another plantlet that has been pegged down all the way (even though you can't see the peg believe me it is there holding down the plantlet). Make sure the base of the plantlet (roots or no roots) is touching the potting mix.

4. Cut the remainder of the runner

Snip off any remaining section that is growing past the plantlet that you choose to propagate. Make sure you cut off the correct end (ie not the end that attaches the plantlet to the mother plant). You do this to make the plant concentrate its energy on the plantlet that you have pegged down and not the remaining ones.

Note I am snipping of the stem on the side that is not attached back to the mother plant.

5. Water in the plantlet

Pretty self explanatory. Keep the potting mix in which the plantlets grow nice and moist until the roots take hold.

6. Detach the plantlet you are propagating from the mother plant

Once the plantlet has developed a strong enough root system you can separate it from the mother plant by snipping the runner that joins the two. You will know the root system is strong enough when you feel some resistance when you gently pull on the plantlet (with the pegging removed). If you can feel some sort of anchorage of the plantlet to the potting mix then the plantlet should be able to support itself from thereon.

7. Care for the new plants

If you care for them the new plantlets may even produce fruit assuming you have done this early in the season. Don't worry, if you propagate the runners late in the season the new plants should overwinter and produce fruit (and runners of their own) the next season.

Five little plantlets that should grow into strong new plants and produce fruit of their own next season. These new plants will be genetically identical clones of the mother plant.

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