Strawberries cover a couple of species, the ones usually cultivated in the garden being a complicated hybrid between the Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) and the non-hardy Chilean strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) to give the large berries of Fragaria ananassa we’re used to.
I have the wild Virginia strawberry selection “Intensity” from Oikos which is very tasty, although about dime sized and only fruiting about two weeks in June. It’s the one I planted in the bed featured in the group and conquer update.
As a groundcover I’ve been less than impressed. It filled in, but seems to have an affinity for grass really. In the beds it seems to step aside, welcoming the grass in, and run out of the bed to frolic among the grass where it produces even less fruit.
Much better for groundcover is the musk strawberry. It has bigger leaves more like our modern type, and makes a thicker patch.
This fruits even less than the ‘Intensity,’ and you need male and female plants to get that small amount of fruit. I have eaten only about five between my and my neighbor’s patches, but there is no comparison to its flavor. Complete euphoria. A buggled up mis-shapen little thing, half green the other half a dark, blood red, but amazing flavor right down to its little core.
Best overall strawberry, with a happy medium of groundcover and fruit, is the Alpine strawberry (Fragaria vesca).
Alpine strawberry doesn’t run, it clumps. This helps in planning because you know where they will make the cover, unlike the running kind that shoot of in any direction and leave the original spot empty.
It may sound counter intuitive, but when planting for groundcover, don’t go with the four to six inch spacing recommendations most nurseries give. According to Michael Wellick of The Strawberry Store they produce best at one foot spacing. I find they fill this space to exclusion of weeds very well and make loads of berries. I pick about every other day, from June to September, and often get a descent handful of fruit off five established plants if I don’t eat them as I pick.
‘White Soul’ is my most successful variety. It’s very healthy and makes lots of fruit. ‘Alexandria’ has a very rich flavor in comparison, but I get less fruits, usually smaller. There’s a golden leaved cultivar of this that is very pretty.There are a ton of varieties though. Alan over at Of Plums and Pignuts has a nice review of them.
Main drawback here is they don’t make new plants. In theory, they could seed around; but I have yet, after several years of growing them, to find a volunteer seedling.
If you buy seed, they need some stratification, and often must be covered to slightly block light (an exact science, I know). I have had success covering with a clouded piece of greenhouse plastic to block light, stratifying in potting soil in my unheated greenhouse beginning in February.
My prefered method of getting plants has been to just buy them, as they sell for a buck or two a piece at a greenhouse I often visit. This was a more worthwhile endeavor a few years back because the greenhouse started these in cell flats with multiple seeds per cell and potted them up without separating. I could get three to five plants from one pot.
I went there last year expecting to get several, but on inspection for the fullest pots, found none of them were multiseeded. They were all single. Cheapskates.
I have since cut back on covering the food forest with alpines and began leveraging other groundcovers, such as mache. What is covered with alpine strawberries is well kept though. I really recommend you try them.