What Causes Small Strawberries?

small strawberriesQ: Why Are My Strawberries Small?

On July 18, 2015, Michael Johnson asked:

Hi, I was hoping you could help me with a problem I have.  I need to know what causes small strawberries.  I planted my strawberries last year during September, and they put out some greenery before dying back for the winter months.  This spring they came up and looked to be doing pretty well.  They put out flowers on stalks that started to grow, but the size of the fruits that are produced are all tiny.  They are only about half an inch big, give or take a little.

I've done my best to water them, and follow the instructions for what should give a good crop, but I'm still stuck wondering what causes small strawberries after doing everything I can to make them big.  Can you tell me why are my strawberries small instead of big and plump like they are in the store?  Any help would be appreciated! Thank you.

Answer to: What Causes Small Strawberries?

Michael Johnson,
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes small strawberries without being able to visualize your setup and without knowing all that has gone into their care up until this point.  There are a number of things that can cause your strawberries to smaller than the ones you may be used to buying at the store or from farmers markets.  So, let me point out some of the most common causes of small strawberries:

what causes small strawberriesGenetics Cause Strawberries to Be Small

Especially for individuals that have done everything correctly, small strawberries may be a normal result of the genetic expression of the strawberry variety you planted.  June-bearing strawberries are known for their large fruits.  The strawberries for sale in the grocery stores and farmers markets are almost always of this type.  They simply produce the largest berries, and big sells well.  However, there are numerous heirloom or “true species” of strawberries that can be found in nurseries or garden stores for sale.  These are often referred to as Alpine strawberries or Wild strawberries.  If the small strawberries you have picked have a deeply aromatic nature and are intensely flavorful, AND there is no other sign of pathogens or pests, you likely have a healthy true species of Fragaria, either vesca or virginiana.  Both of those produce naturally small strawberries.

Stress Dwarfs Strawberries

Both heat and drought are particularly unfriendly to strawberry plants.  Strawberry plants are herbaceous forbs lacking woody tissue.  That means they are not only dependent on water to grow (like other plants), but they also are dependent on water to keep their shape through turgor pressure.  If they become dehydrated, they will wilt.  Likewise, strawberries are temperate plants by nature.  They don't like extreme heat and fare extremely poorly in tropical environments.  If the temperature rises enough to heat the roots of the strawberry plants, the heat will stress the plants and cause a diminished strawberry size.  Not enough water will also result in small strawberries.  With both heat and drought conditions, however, the strawberries will often be bitter or not as flavorful as one would expect, even if they are red in color.

Adverse Weather Leads to Smaller Strawberries

Strawberries are dependent on pollination in order to reach their maximum size.  Excessive rain or prolonged periods of high wind will keep insects and bees grounded and away from your plants strawberry flowers.  Cold weather can also keep helpful insects away from your patch.  If your strawberries are not well-pollinated, the final strawberries will be smaller than they otherwise would have been had they been thoroughly pollinated.

Bad Bugs Bugger Berries

There are a host of creepy crawlies that can feed on strawberry plants and strawberries.  Any parasitic infestation that sucks sap, damages stems and foliage, or directly feeds upon the strawberries can and will produce pint-sized or deformed strawberries.  One such common devil is the tarnished plant bug, also known as the lygus bug.  These devils actually feed upon the pistils (female parts) of the strawberry flowers.  Lygus bug infestation and feeding results in damaged, usually miniaturized strawberries, often with hardened tips.

Over-Fertilization Can Stunt Strawberry Growth

Strawberries grow best with a little extra help.  So, either organic or conventional fertilizers are often (and appropriately) employed to aid growth and production.  However, strawberries can reproduce either through the formation of seeds (inside the achenes studded to the outside of the red accessory flesh) or through cloning themselves through stoloniferous reproduction.  If excessive nitrogen (the N number in the N-P-K fertilizers) is added to the soil, the strawberry plants will likely be quite lush…but the unintended result will often be small strawberries as the happy plants see less need for reproduction via seed.  Excessive foliage can also inhibit insects finding the flowers as well, which results in poorer pollination.

Crowding Causes Small Strawberries

Each strawberry plant requires adequate soil and water resources to produce plump strawberries.  If the strawberries get crowded out by other plants, their strawberries will be small.  Weeds are the most common cause of this, but strawberries themselves can overrun their allotted space as they put out runners.  It is important to make sure you know how to grow strawberries correctly, the steps to take to keep your strawberry patch happily producing for you, and avoid as many mistakes as possible.  Be sure to weed your plants frequently and only allow an appropriate number of runners to root and establish themselves.

Old Plants Produce Smaller Strawberries

You can count on strawberries producing well for you for 3-4 years at the most.  When strawberries start to get some age on them, they lose vigor and simply can't produce like they used to produce.  You can expect strawberry plants that are 4 or more years old to start producing fewer and smaller berries.  Adopting a transplanting system can help mitigate this problem.

Errant Planning Yields Small Strawberries

Planting strawberries isn't hard, but a few key things must be observed.  The crown of the strawberry must be at soil level (not to high or low), the location needs to have appropriately acidic and clean soil, the location needs to drain well to prevent standing water, the location needs to be mulched, get full sun (at least 8 hours per day), and the plants must be watered adequately (but not over-watered).  If you plant your strawberries where they don't get enough sun or where they won't be happy with their home, you will likely get small strawberries.

Now you know what causes small strawberries!  Good luck!

[ what causes small strawberries ]

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12 comments to What Causes Small Strawberries?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Toppy,
    It could be a number of things, but my guess would be transplant stress and/or root damage from the multiple tranplantings. It is stressful on a plant each time it is transplanted, and the very fine tips of the roots are often damaged by even the most careful gardener. Watering too much or too little can also cause a problem with plant growth as can a pest infestation or the presence of a pathogen. From your report, however, transplant stress is the likely culprit. Continue caring for the plant, and it can eventually recover, though! Good luck!

  • Toppy

    I’m wondering why my strawberry plants are not leafy like how it was when I bought it the leaves are 3 times smaller than normal size and it has been transplanted twice first time was after a few weeks after I bought it I saw its root is healthy but bound so I transplant it into a bigger pot but after another few months I transplant it again but this time the root is kinda brown and I’ve only seen a few new roots growing after the first transplant I have given it n p k booster already but it has shown a slight recovery only.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    graci,
    I’d recommend starting with this page. Good luck!

  • graci

    Where should I put my strawberries? I live on Oahu in Moanalua. Also, are Seascape strawberries Juneberry or Ever baring kine strawberries?
    ALOHA and MAHALO,
    Graci

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Kim,
    Yes, it is normal. It is part of the normal growth/reproductive phase of most strawberry varieties. When the weather is favorable and nutrients are plentiful, the plants will start producing the runners. Good luck!

  • Kim

    Hi! When are runners produced and what causes it? My plants have fruit on, still green, yet already producung runners, is this normal?

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Missy,
    With their present layout, I would try to thin them a bit and then adopt this system. Good luck!

  • Missy

    Hello,
    I am in S.E. Wisconsin. Time for planting here. I have tons of strawberry plants, June bearing and Ever bearing, in the same garden. I wanted to transplant them into seperate plots, but at this time of year, I can’t tell the difference between them. They have been in the same plot for 3 years. Never get more than about 3-4 quarts of berries.
    What would be your suggestion as to what I should do with them?
    Thank You.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Monica Peters,
    You may want to consider Tribute, Tristar, or another day-neutral variety for indoor growing (see here). They produce smaller strawberries than the June-bearing varieties, but will produce steadily in a controlled environment. Good luck!

  • Monica Peters

    Do you recommend a specific strawberry variety for indoor gardening / potted plants in a controlled organic environment? Even our soil from plants is composted indoors with a patent mix that creates the kind of nutrients our grandparents enjoyed before the environment got as polluted & depleted as it is today.

    I am learning how to grow organic indoors and plan to start a few experiments & measure the results with strawberry plants from seeds and cuttings.

    I live in an area where the environment is so polluted that I can no longer eat anything that is grown outdoors because the air, soil and water is awful.

    I can’t find much of anything organic, non-gmo and pesticide free in the stores either.

    I’ll share the results for growing time and berry yields as soon as I can.

  • Mr. Strawberry

    Laurie,
    You can probably do either and get a good harvest, but I would keep the plants thinned to a maximum of 3-4 per square foot if you want to maximize the size of the berries. Good luck!

  • Laurie

    I planted my strawberries last spring(2015), picked all the blossoms off but let the runners run freely. I let them spread all summer long and did not renovate (thinking I did not need to since I just planted them). Now it is coming up on spring and I do not want small Stawberries. My 12×4 Box is fairly full of strawberry plants and runners that are already staring to green up in the 50 degree weather. should I thin my plants now? Or should I just leave them alone. This is my second attempt at strawberries. I am hopeful and want a great harvest. Any advice would be helpful. I have June bearing strawberries.

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