How to Grow Alpine Strawberries
Learn how to grow, harvest, and store delicious Alpine Strawberries, and fill your garden with these tasty little everbearing treasures!
These heirloom berries will provide wild-flavored strawberries all summer long. Here in US Zone 7, they’re quite prolific, even providing fruit into November, weeks after the first heavy frosts arrive.
Alpine Strawberries differ from the typical garden strawberry in a handful of ways. They’re short, dense little plants, that tend to grow in ‘mounds’ as time passes. These mounds tend to bush out to be little 1-foot rounds. If these mounds are dug up in the spring or fall, you’ll find they’re actually a cluster of plants you can divide as you so desire! The plants don’t tend to send out runners, instead staying self-contained.
They make for good border or edging plants, and can be grown both planted directly in the ground or in pots.
The fruits are bright red, seedy, and have an intense strawberry flavor with just a hint of something ‘wilder’ to them. (Hence their nicknames of ‘wild strawberries’ or woodland strawberry’.)
They’re also tiny! The fruits each only weigh about 2-3 grams. The skin is very fragile, and rough handling while picking will quickly end up resulting in smashed fruit. Luckily, the smashed-up fruits are still just as delicious as the whole ones.
This is one of those plants that you’ll never be able to know the taste of if you don’t grow them for yourself- the berries are incredibly fragile, and they’re best eaten as soon as possible after picking, ideally within the hour, or else frozen immediately. Leave them on the counter overnight, and when you wake up in the morning, you’ll likely find them spoiled!
- Plant: Alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca)
- Type: Everbearing, Day-neutral
- Color: Green foliage, red, white, or yellow fruit
- Frost-hardy: Yes, down to zone 5a
- Lifespan: Short-lived perennial
- When to plant: Start indoors 8-12 weeks before estimated final frost date
- Edible: Yes
- Part Eaten: Fruit
- Requires support: No
Where to buy
We bought the seeds for our Alpine Strawberries from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and they have done beautifully in the years since. Excellent germination rate, healthy plants, and tons of fruit!
There are, of course, other sources you can buy these seeds from online. Look around and see what you can find!
How to grow
Starting Seeds Indoors
Start alpine strawberry seeds inside 8-10 weeks before your estimated final frost date.
While some patience is required, the seeds are easy to start: simply scatter and press the seeds onto the surface of a container filled with pre-moistened potting soil. You can lightly cover the seeds with the barest scattering of soil, or leave them uncovered: we have had success with both methods.
Keep the seeds evenly moist and under growlights, but don’t let them get too hot! They germinate better in slightly cooler, spring-like temperatures, rather than the tropical-summer levels of heat that tomatoes and peppers crave.
Seeds should germinate in 8-14 days, but may take a few days longer: the seeds may take up to 21 days to sprout. If your seeds have still not sprouted after 21 days of being kept evenly moist, it is likely a good idea to toss out that batch and try again.
Continually pot up seedlings as they grow. When they are 4-6 inches tall, they’re ready to be hardened off and transplanted!
Alpine strawberries can tolerate a wide range of soils, but they have a preference for the rich and decadent sort of lifestyle: spoil your alpine strawberries with amending your soil with plenty of well-rotted compost and organic matter for them to feed on.
Make sure your soil can drain, and doesn’t stay waterlogged! Soggy soil leads to rot and disease in alpine strawberries.
As for spacing, make sure to give each plant about 12-18 inches of space from each other. Good airflow between plants is important!
Alpine strawberries are at their happiest in full sun- and happy alpine strawberries produce lots of lovely fruits, so find these little babies a nice, sunny spot!
The numbers given for alpine strawberries essentially amounts to giving these plants about 1″ of water a week. However, once the plants are established in the ground, they are capable of surviving some amount of drought conditions without additional watering, especially if mulched.
Alpine strawberries in containers will require more frequent watering, and should be checked regularly. If your strawberries are wilting, they need a drink!
The main note for fertilizing alpine strawberries is to watch your nitrogen levels- if the plant’s leaves go yellow, it needs a good dose of fish emulsion (or other liquid fertilizer)! On the other hand, if you’ve got lots of bushy green growth, but no blossoms or fruit, you’ll want to leave off on the nitrogen for a bit.
When planting alpine strawberries, a small amount of granulated fertilizer can be mixed in with the soil of the planting hole to give them a boost of nutrition.
If keeping in pots, you will need to fertilize your alpines regularly- when they begin to struggle, or turn color to, say, yellow, then dose them up with a good bit of liquid fertilizer! If that doesn’t do the trick, then consider repotting them to fresh soil, mixing some granular fertilizer in when you do for slow-release nutrients.
Mulching around the base of the plant will help with water retention and keeping your berries cleaner. It is optional, but a nice touch, and is especially helpful in very dry, drought-heavy climates.
You will want to divide your Alpine strawberries every 3 years or so, to help them get some air circulation and create new plants.
They’ll likely be getting quite dense at this stage, and the center strawberry plant- the one you started with- may be dead, the mound itself formed of all its many, many offspring.
RELATED ARTICLE: How to Divide Alpine Strawberries
Moist and dense mounds of greenery may attract slugs. Dividing the plants should help with that! If that’s not enough to keep the slugs away, employ your favored method of slug traps, repellants, or barriers here. Sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the plants is a good one to try, but make sure you’re not trapping the slugs in with the plants, instead of keeping them out!
A ripe alpine strawberry is bright red (or may be white or yellow toned, depending on the variety), and easily detaches from the plant with the barest amount of encouragement. It practically falls into your hand as you pick! The berry will cleanly detach from the green stem and top when ripe, leaving you with a perfect berry ready to pop directly into your mouth.
A handful of ripe berries is sweetly fragrant, as well: collect up a handful, and give them a sniff before you eat them! The next recommended action is to take the entire handful and cram them in your mouth, feasting upon your delicious, delicious bounty.
If you have to force the alpine strawberry off the plant, or it comes off with part of the stem or green top attached, it’s not ripe, and probably won’t have a very satisfying taste or texture! Overripe berries tend to mold on the plant before you end up picking them, but if by some chance you come across an overripe one, your tongue will tell you- if it tastes like an overripe strawberry, or has an unpleasant texture, just spit it out. You missed that one, but better luck next time!
Odds are, you’ll need to keep trying and picking at different stages of ripeness for a while until you finally get one that’s perfectly ripe: you’ll know it when you taste it! Remember what the feel of that berry was like when picking it, and practice: you’ll have all the way up until frost to refine your skills!
What do alpine strawberries taste like?
The berries, when properly ripe, are essentially strawberries, but condensed and intensified. They have the slightest hint of their own flavor- a bit of wildness- and they’re just overall deliciously sweet and incredibly flavorful. They’re not dry, but they don’t drip with juice, either.
Texturally, they do have a lot of seeds. When frozen, these seeds tend to fall off the fruit easily with the rub of a finger, or even just by tumbling against other frozen alpine strawberries.
Eating them fresh is the first, and easiest way! Simply pick off the plant and put them directly in your mouth. They make a great out-in-the-garden snack!
Of course, alpine strawberries are too fragile to wait too long after picking to eat: for best texture and taste, I recommend eating within 10-20 minutes of picking. Some say 30 minutes to an hour is fine, but the taste and texture just seem like they’ve lost something, at least to my mouth.
See ‘Storage’ below if you want to know how to keep your alpine strawberries for longer than just a few scant minutes!
As for other ways to use your alpine strawberries: you can add them to pancakes and muffins, put them in smoothies and ice cream, make a strawberry sauce or jelly out of them, use them to decorate cakes and cupcakes… You can try all kinds of things!
Just remember their fragility and size: you’re not going to get perfect slices if you try cutting them up, like if you were trying to treat them like a store-bought strawberry. They seem to work best if smashed up, or used whole.
If the berries aren’t dirty, try not to wash them- they absorb water and tend to start shredding when rinsed.
Alpine Strawberry Ice Cream
Want to make a delicious, hot-weather treat, using your homegrown alpine strawberries?
Try out our Alpine Strawberry Ice Cream recipe!
If you want to store any of your harvest, you’ll have to freeze it- and you’ll want to do so as soon as humanly possible after freezing, so as to have the best possible taste and texture.
RELATED ARTICLE: How to Freeze Summer Berries
Pop the strawberries into a freezer-safe bag or container, and lay it flat in your freezer until frozen completely. Use the berries from this bag frozen as you desire, adding them to muffins, ice cream, smoothies, or making strawberry sauce or what-have-you with them as you will.
You can do this daily: what I do is take one bag, and write the month on it. I then go out and pick my berries every day, adding the handful I get to the bag as soon as I get inside. You’ll be surprised at just how quickly your collection grows with just a few plants!
Alpine strawberries spoil so quickly that if you leave them out overnight, you’ll wake up to find a sludgy, molded mess where your pretty cup of berries once were. They don’t keep in the refrigerator, either- I’d recommend freezing anything else you make with them that you’re not going to eat right away, actually, heating up in portions as you want them. They’re simply not made to last fresh.
On the bright side, they freeze beautifully! Expect your berries to be good for 6 months to 1 year after freezing, or as long as they still taste good and have good color. Toss away any faded or freezer-burnt berries. And make sure to restock your supply every year when the harvest starts!