Strawberry plants are a wonderful forb. Their life cycle is much more complicated than the simple appearance of the humble strawberry plant implies. The growth cycle of strawberry plants spans the entire year and repeats annually. The life cycle of strawberry plants begins either from seed or from runner plants, and continues until senescence. This post is an overview of the life of a strawberry plant from germination until withered, brown leaves signify the passage from life unto death.
The Growth Cycle of Strawberry Plants
As with any cyclical scenario, it is difficult to choose a starting point (which came first, the chicken or the egg?). For the purposes of describing the life cycle of strawberry plants, a dual starting point will be considered as a sprouted strawberry seedling and a new strawberry runner. While both of these starting points require the existence of prior life, a discussion of the origins of life is outside the purview of this article.
Life Cycle of Strawberries: Beginnings
The strawberry seed, as with all seeds, contains the genetic material necessary for the continuation of the plant species (see the Strawberry Seeds page for more details). Upon sprouting, the roots are sent downward into the soil, and the transformation of nutrients into plant matter proceeds as the life cycle of the plant is perpetuated by resources obtained from the plants surroundings. These seedlings are genetically varied from the parent plants. Alternatively, established strawberry plants multiply themselves by means of clone or daughter plants extended from themselves by means of stolons to root some distance away from the mother plant and be established as an independent, but genetically identical, strawberry plant (see this page for more details: Strawberry Runners). Strawberry seeds will usually sprout in the late winter or spring after a period of cold stratification during winter months (but this isn’t required for all strawberry varieties) while runner plants are generally established later in the spring through the fall during warmer temperatures.
Growth Cycle of Strawberry Plants: Maturation
Once root growth commences, plant growth begins in earnest for both seedlings and runner plants. This allows all parts of the strawberry plant to grow and mature. The runner plants have a distinct advantage over seedlings. They start out larger and have a more fully formed support system providing the energy needed for development. But, by the time late summer and early fall rolls around, both seedlings and runner plants are usually established. In the process of growing, the plants will have sent forth roots and produced a canopy of photosynthesizing tri-lobed leaflets sitting atop non-woody stems. Both roots and leaves extend from the hub of the strawberry plant, the crown.
Growth Cycle of Strawberries: Multiplication & Expansion
Once the plants have matured, they are ready to multiply and expand. They do this by means of the runner plants that have already been mentioned. The runners (stolons) are usually between 8 and 18 inches long, depending on the strawberry variety. These extensions serve to spread a strawberry plant’s range and find areas more favorable to growth, whether through higher soil quality or increased exposure to sunlight. Most strawberry varieties are adept at multiplication in this fashion, and they are even considered an invasive weed in some situations.
Life Cycle of Strawberry Plants: Seeds
While strawberry plants produce runners, they don’t put all their reproductive eggs in the same basket. Each strawberry plant devotes significant energy to genetic diversification through seed production. Strawberry seeds come from strawberry flowers which come from strawberry buds which are formed in the crowns of established strawberry plants. There are some variances of flower bud, flower, and strawberry production depending on which type of strawberry plant is considered (see the Strawberry Variety page for more details). The most common of these types is the June-bearing strawberry, and it will be considered here.
During the late summer and early fall, strawberry plants begin forming flower buds within their crowns. During this period, adequate water, light, and nutrients are critical. The flower buds form prior to winter and then move into dormancy (along with the rest of the plant) as the temperature drops. When temperatures again warm in late winter or early spring, the plants revive and immediately begin the transformation of the flower buds into flowers sitting atop stalks. These flowers, like most flowers, are then pollinated by insects and other pollinators. The result of pollination is a large mass of (usually red) accessory tissue studded with individual seed-containing fruits (there are also white strawberries, however). These achenes are attractive to birds and other creatures (including humans!) and are eaten. They are then digested. The remains, including many viable seeds, are then deposited in different locations to sprout and begin the life cycle of strawberry plants again.
Life Cycle of Strawberries: Life Span
The life arc of strawberries begins with the establishment of a new plant, peaks two to three years later, and then proceeds toward senescence and death two to three years following its peak. Under ideal conditions, a strawberry plant can live up to 5-6 years. After 3 productive years, however, they usually begin to lose vigor, and the production of strawberries begins to decline rapidly. Eventually, as age progresses and the strawberry plant weakens, strawberries usually succumb to ubiquitous opportunistic fungi or other environmental pathogens. The death process usually commences with spots, defects, and browning of previously healthy plant tissues and ends with a brown, withered, decomposing mass.
How Strawberry Plant Reproduce Themselves
Strawberry plants are perennials. They can reproduce by seed. Home gardeners find growing strawberry plants from seed notoriously difficult.
Strawberry plants also grow by runners. Runners are long stems with leaves that can develop their own root system where they touch moist soil.
A runner is the same plant as its parent until it is no longer connected to the crown, the central mass of roots of the strawberry plant. But even after the runner is cut off and transplanted somewhere else, it remains a clone of the mother plant. It is just a younger version of the strawberry plant you have been growing for one, two, three, or more years.
Strawberry plants grow runners late in the season.
Strawberry plants don’t put their energy into producing runners until after they have produced fruit. After the plant has produced strawberries with their tiny seeds and as summer days begin to wane, a strawberry plant senses it is time to put out runners.
There is a beginning and an end to “runner season” for strawberry plants. Summer-bearing strawberry plants put all of their energy into producing fruit as the days are getting longer. Strawberries are coated with tiny seeds that can reproduce the plant, and, in nature, red, sweet strawberries encourage animals to spread strawberry seeds far and wide.
After producing fruit, the plant devotes its energy into producing runners. Long days trigger the production of a hormone called gibberellin that causes stems to grow longer. (You can buy gibberellin to force strawberry plants to grow long stems, but you don’t need to, because the strawberry plants will do this on their own.) After producing fruit, the plant’s energy is focused on making runners.
Scientists have discovered that the strawberry plant has to finish producing its runners before temperatures average about 10 degrees Celsius (52 degrees Fahrenheit). Cool and cold weather cause the plant to go dormant. Dormant strawberry plants have to survive on stored energy through the winter until next spring.
Life Cycle of Strawberry Plants: Conclusion
Throughout their life, strawberry plants provide many times their own weight in harvested strawberries. They are one of the most productive plants when what is produced from the weight of the plant is considered. Strawberries begin to ripen four to five weeks after the first flowers open and continue to ripen for about three weeks. Have you considered growing strawberries yourself this year? If so, there are a host of suppliers from which you can find multiple strawberry varieties for sale. Simply see this directory: Strawberry Plants for Sale.
Understanding the growth cycle of strawberry plants can help you in your strawberry growing endeavors. Good luck!