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While you may not easily be able to harvest enough of the berries at any one time to adequately go with your shortcake, our native strawberry (Fragaria spp.) is nevertheless a worthy member of the garden if you’re looking for an easy-care, vigorous groundcover for most any setting.
Virtually care-free and energetic growers, strawberries spread by far-reaching runners carrying new offsets that can be left in place or easily transplanted to other spots in the garden. Left alone, it will form a lush, textured surface to the ground. But give it room to move, because it will spread its territory, moving around or over other plants in its path. In the right setting, this makes it the perfect carpeting groundcover or companion plant for other sturdy specimens.
Because of this underlying webwork of runners, Fragaria is useful as a soil-binding groundcover in coastal gardens as well as inland, especially the coastal F. chiloensis, which is evergreen. Since the others are not typically evergreen, they stop short of being as good for year-round serious erosion control, but work well in less-extreme situations as well as in tandem with other, more effective ground stabilizing plants.
There are three native species of Fragaria with a couple of additional, adaptive varieties, depending on environmental conditions where they are found.
All are low growing (2-8” in height) with the recognizable leaf structure: 5-petal white flowers in spring and small red berries in the early summer.
All require good drainage and will spread happily by runners. They are different enough from each other however, to be able to provide the groundcover solution in a variety of garden settings:
F. chiloensis (Coastal Strawberry) - As the common name implies, this strawberry is found along the northwest coast, thriving on sand dunes and beaches and in sandy, gritty soil. The leaves are bright green and leathery, the berries tasty, and can thrive in full sun to partial shade, the leaves taking on a reddish tinge in the winter. It is one of the parent species of the cultivated strawberries.
F. vesca (Woodland Strawberry) – There are two varieties of F. vesca, a taller one found in open woodlands (var. bracteata), and the smaller (var. crinita) found in more open, rocky places west of the Cascades. In both cases the leaves are softer, in both texture and color, than the coastal strawberry.
F. virginiana (Wild Strawberry) – The varieties of F. virginiana are distinct from the other two species by the somewhat elongated gray-green leaves, finer textured like the woodland strawberry, lower growing like the coastal. This species is found in drier meadows and open woodlands east of the Cascades, and so can take somewhat harsher conditions than its west-of-the-mountains cousins.
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Common Name: Wild Strawberry
Origin: North America / Eurasia (depending on species)
Characteristics: Characteristic trifoliate (clover-like) leaves, just like commercial strawberry plants, spreading by runners. All are low growing groundcovers, with simple 5-petal white flowers and diminutive, edible berries.
Culture: All Fragaria do best in well-drained soil, but depending on species can take conditions from full shade to full sun.
Pests/Diseases: In general, wild strawberries are prone to the same pests and diseases as cultivated strawberries, though they are by far less vulnerable to attack. They are considered easy to grow and care for and provide a lush native groundcover!
Similar to commercial strawberries, too much retained moisture can cause powdery mildew. On the other end of the spectrum, too dry and dusty conditions can attract spider mites.
Occaisionally, the leaves are home to Strawberry leaf rollers which are not necessarily a bad thing. Presence is linked to that of beneficial parasitic wasps -- planting native roses and strawberries in orchards in Washington state is proving to be an effective tool in pest management! Read more at the Golden Harvest website
Occasionally earwigs, aphids, slugs and wasps can do damage to strawberry plants. However, these plants are such vigorous growers it seems they may be able to tolerate a bit of interference without much negative effect.