Tag Archives: grow strawberries from seed

How to ensure maximum germination of Alpine Strawberry seed

Although I’ve touched upon this earlier, I think this topic is important enough to warrant it’s own specific article.

Strawberry seedling

Wild strawberry seedling

Maybe you’ve seen seeds for sale of alpine strawberry varieties, maybe you’ve come across warnings on the seed packets that “germination may be sporadic or take a long time”. I’ve grown various varieties of alpine strawberry from seed, and I’ve not had any problems. Certainly I don’t expect 100% germination (I wouldn’t with any other type of seed either). But it’s definitely not been unreliable for me, or slow.

Requirements to help your chances of good germination:

  • fine seed compost, whether or not you want to use peat based compost is your own choice
  • misting bottle
  • something to use as a propagator; this can be as simple as a plastic bag or some see through foil tied over the top of the pot, or one of those cheap windowsill propagator set ups they seem to be selling all over the place.
  • Indoor growing space (you have to be able to keep the seeds around room temperature)
  • Strawberry seeds (best is prepared ones – this means they have been “stratified” by keeping them in cold temperatures such as a fridge for a couple of months to simulate winter temperatures outdoors)

I have not tried this outdoors, because all the information I’ve found for growing strawberry seeds successfully says you need about 18 degrees Celsius for germination to take place. Ideally you’ll want to sow strawberries in autumn or early spring and so it will be much colder than 18 degrees outdoors. If you have a heated greenhouse to your disposal, perhaps you’d be able to try growing strawberry seedlings in there, but unfortunately I do not. So far I’ve also just planted strawberry seeds in Autumn or early spring, I might just do an outdoor growing experiment in the summer…

Strawberry seedling success – step by step:

  1. Put the fine compost in your propagator tray / pot. Make sure to get rid of solid lumps of compost, the texture of the soil should be loose and thin. If required, water the pot so the compost is moist.
  2. Sprinkle the seeds lightly over the top. Make sure they’re not clustered together or you will have a lot of trouble transplanting germinated seedlings out into separate containers.
  3. Mist with water and cover your growing container with a clear lid or clear plastic foil. There is no need for airing holes.
  4. Keep the container on a bright windowsill (not direct sunlight though, that will most certainly dry out the compost too quickly).
  5. Until germination takes place it is vital that you do not let the soil dry out. Your clear lid should have condensation on it and you might need to mist the soil with your spray bottle once a day or whenever you remember.
  6. Once seedlings appear, you can take the lid off but keep misting every so often to ensure they don’t dry out. Ideally at this point you’ll want the roots to get moisture and the green tops not to be too moist or they might rot, but strawberry seedlings are so delicate that watering them might crush them so misting is OK as long as you keep them uncovered and in a relatively airy room.

Note: if the strawberry seed you have has not been stratified already, you will have to keep it in the fridge for a while prior to planting or the seeds may not germinate. But that being said, every batch of seeds I’ve tried came up just fine without any special treatment, so I’m assuming most sources sell the seeds already pre-stratified.

 


Strawberry seedlings

Apologies for the particularly ugly photographs I’m about to upload but my phone had a really hard time focussing on such tiny plants!

As I’ve detailed elsewhere (How to grow strawberries from seed) I have never had any issue germinating strawberry seeds, no matter what other websites or people say. In fact, nearly all the seed packets of alpine strawberries that I’ve ever bought came with some notice or other that they may be tricky to germinate. Same was the case with the packet of Yellow Alpine strawberry seeds I sowed in late February. Look at them now! I think the vast majority of seeds came up without any problem, and it only took about 2 weeks.

yellow alpine strawberry seedlings

Yellow Alpine Strawberry seedlings

Last autumn I sowed some wild strawberry seeds (fragaria vesca) these were not a fancy named variety, just the good old woodland strawberries which the much more modern named varieties are derived from. And once again, no germination trouble at all (following my trusty procedure of simply sprinkling seeds on top of the compost, misting it and keeping the propagator top on until the seedlings came up). However what  I did note was that I didn’t get quite the headstart I was hoping for, many many months after sowing, that’s what my seedlings look like (last week). The longer days are causing more growth now than they have put on all winter, but still they’re not even an inch tall…
Strawberry seedling

Wild strawberry seedling


Why are my seedlings flopping over and dying?

If you’ve ever tried growing plants from seed you may have come across certain common issues that may cause you to lose hope.

Although seeds have an extremely impressive hardiness to ensure their species survives, the resulting seedlings can be quite fragile. Depending on whether you’re trying to grow plants from seed indoors or outside, you may have encountered the following problems:

1. Seedlings disappear – This has caused me a lot of frustration when trying to grow outdoors. Whenever the packet says something is easy to grow and you should just scatter seeds on the ground and water it, more often than not I’ve had seedlings simply vanish on me. This especially with lettuce and other greens.

Possible causes: Birds, slugs and other animals who have a taste for succulent new growth.

How to avoid: To ward off birds, consider putting netting over young plants, if slugs are your problem (there are slimy tracks all over your seed bed), look into the various methods of slug control before trying again. Or sow in pots instead and transplant into soil when the plants are bigger.

2. Seedlings flop over and wilt away – quite a common problem when growing indoors or outside under glass. Your seeds germinate, and tiny plants appear. You get very excited and can already picture them once they’re big, but all of a sudden they stop growing, leaves wilt and they fall over and shrivel. You will see that the stems of the seedlings have become thin and darker at or just above the soil level.This problem is called “Damping off”.

Cause: various fungi present in the air or soil attack the seedlings. This problem is made worse when seedlings are in a very humid environment with not enough air circulation.

How to avoid: If you have to start your seeds indoors, for example for early sowing of tomatoes before the last frosts, let the seedlings breathe! You might be using a propagator with the lid on to help seeds germinate, once they appear, take the lid off! Your seedlings do NOT need a very humid environment and it just makes them more vulnerable to fungal problems.

Closely related: If you’re seeing seedlings fall over and dying but the stems look ok, you could be dealing with “Root rot”. Confirm by lifting the seedlings out of the soil, if the roots look manky and brown, that means they’re rotting. Ideally you want the roots to look white and healthy.

Ensure that the containers you’re using to grow the seedlings in has sufficient drainage. Not everything is a bog plant and consequently although most plants need enough moisture, they don’t like sitting in water.

3. Seedlings become very tall and fall over – You need 3 basic ingredients for a healthy plant: light, water, moisture. If the seedlings are getting very long and stretched until finally the stems cannot support their weight (aka: they’re getting “leggy”) it means there is not enough light and they’re struggling to reach the light by growing longer.

Cause: lack of light

How to avoid: Put the seedlings in a sunnier place, but be careful not to allow the sun to scorch them. Or if they’re already in the sunniest spot and lack of light is simply due to the weather or season, you might want to use artificial lighting. Also, if your seedlings are already leggy and you don’t want to sacrifice them, try supporting them with a bit of wire until they get stronger.

4. Seedlings wilted and died – If the seedlings have just suddenly wilted and look quite dry, chances are they’re not getting enough water. A lot of seedlings start off small with very small roots. People make the mistake of trying to water them by misting them and keeping them in a humid environment (as above, this is wrong and might cause them to rot), instead they’re meant to get moisture from their root system!

Cause: Seedlings are not getting enough water / or they’re being dried to a crisp on a sunny windowsill.

How to avoid: Water the soil, not the plant. Ideally you have grown your seedlings in seed trays sat on top of an undertray so when you water the soil, the excess can drain off. Don’t water too much though or you’ll get other problems. Keep your seedlings in a light place but remember that a sunny windowsill can get very hot on a bright day!


Growing strawberries from seed

January is almost over and although it’s been pretty cold overnight, it seems as though we haven’t had a winter at all this year. And yet it looks like spring is coming quickly!

So that means you can start thinking about all the exciting things to grow in your garden this year, and even get your first seeds planted indoors for early crops.

There are a lot of different varieties of Strawberry out there. I have previously explained already that I’m quite disillusioned with all the main stream “commercial” type strawberries. It’s very difficult achieving good flavour when the plant has been bred specifically for other qualities. The most common strawberries people grow in their garden are hybrids which means you can’t reliably grow them from seeds. It is simply a matter of luck what you end up with if you do plant their seeds. The results could be amazing, or quite underwhelming.

So let’s leave those regular strawberries and focus instead on what I built this site for: Gourmet varieties of strawberry, specifically Alpine Strawberries. These are not hybridised and therefore many come true from seed. In fact they are very hard to find ready grown so your only option really is to grow from seed.

If you have enough indoor space (and not necessarily a set up with grow lights, although this would help!) you can start your strawberry seed indoors now. If you take good care of the little plants, they should start to grow quickly enough during spring so perhaps towards the end of the season you could expect to see some flowers and fruits. Don’t worry if they are a bit slow, generally strawberry plants are known to be most productive in their 2nd and 3rd year, so the first is bound to be a bit slow.

How to grow Alpine Strawberries from seed

Plants are meant to reproduce by seed, so this is not supposed to be a very difficult process. Just like any other seed, it needs light, moisture and nutrition to grow.

The easiest way of ensuring that the seeds get enough of all three, is to get a little propagator with a lid, like this. It need not be heated since you’re going to put it indoors anyway. Put it on a bright window sill away from direct sunlight. An east or west facing window is best. Or if you do have grow lights then you’ll probably want to use those.

Put some compost in the tray, keep it reasonably fluffy and light, don’t press it down too much. If it’s very dry, you might want to water the compost to get it moist (not muddy!). Then take your strawberry seeds and sprinkle them over the top. Don’t sow them too densely, but perhaps 30 seeds for a full size seed tray.

Strawberry seeds are tiny so I don’t feel they need to be covered with a thick layer of compost. If you’re worried that they’re too exposed, just swish them around with your finger tip so they get embedded in the compost a little.

If necessary mist with some water and put the propagator lid on.

And wait.

My seeds sprouted within about a week or two, fairly standard in comparison with many other plants I’ve grown from seed. I’ve read on other websites that growing alpine strawberries from seed can be tricky and germination rates are low, but I didn’t find this at all. Perhaps I got lucky and bought very high quality seeds?

Anyway. Keep an eye on the tray so it doesn’t dry out (you’ll want to see water droplets hanging from the clear lid. Once the seedlings come up you can take the lid off and let them grow to a manageable size for pricking out and potting on.

I started mine in autumn and although they haven’t done much over the winter, I hope this will give me a little head start on this year’s crop!