On June 7, 2011, Diane asked:
We have strawberries in raised beds. We are getting smaller and smaller berries every year. I think I need to thin the plants. Is there a way to tell by looking at them which plants are oldest? I need to know how old are my strawberry plants. We also need to fertilize and water them. We were really just letting nature take it’s course. With a fair amount of success until now. The berries are just mostly really small this year. Thanks for this site. It was very helpful. I’m also wondering if when you create new plants from runners are you supposed to pinch off the blossoms on those or just on new bare root plants? If you are supposed to pinch them off the new runner plants, how can you tell which plants are new in the Spring? They all look the same to me in the bed. Thanks.
Answer to: How Old Are My Strawberry Plants?
It can be very difficult to tell which plants are oldest after the first year (until the old ones start dying off). You can, however, often gauge which plants are oldest by the size of the crown. Older strawberry plants will often have larger or multiple crowns at the base, while new runner plants will have a single, smaller crown. What you are experiencing sounds like a classic case of strawberry plants losing their vigor and vitality. Even though strawberry plants are much longer-lived than a typical annual garden plant like squash or watermelons, their perennial nature only can keep them going for so long. The maximum optimal productive years you can expect a strawberry plant to have is only around 4. After year four, the plants may cling to life, but the quantity of strawberries they produce typically starts to decline rapidly, and the size of the strawberries also drops precipitously.
As for pinching the blossoms off the new runner plants, you should pinch them off if they flower in the same year the runner plants root. That helps their roots develop. But, after the plants have an established root system, you don't have to pinch the next-year's spring blossoms. It is fine to let them set fruit and harvest as much as you can!
All in all, to keep your plants healthy and vital, and to prevent overcrowding and depletion of your soil's nutrients, you might want to adopt the system described here: Transplanting Strawberries. And, if you are interested in the 3 main ways strawberry plants propagate themselves, you can see here: Propagating Strawberries). Good luck with your strawberry endeavors!
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