What Are Strawberry Runners? (Stolons)

Most of the commonly cultivated varieties of strawberry plants (Fragaria x ananassa) will produce “runners” as a means of propagating themselves. Anyone who grows strawberries is probably familiar with the term and, at some point, probably experienced at least a twinge of curiosity regarding them. You may have even asked yourself, “Exactly what are strawberry runners ?” Be curious no longer, for you are about to find out!
strawberry plant runners

Background Information about Strawberry Runners

Strawberry runners are properly called “stolons.” The word “stolon” comes from the Latin word “stolo” meaning a shoot, branch, or twig springing from the root. Stolons are produced by virtually all June-bearing strawberry plants and most everbearing and day-neutral strawberry varieties. By definition, stolons are horizontal connections between organisms, and they can arise from the organism or its skeleton. Animal stolons are usually formed from exoskeletons, and are outside the scope of a post about strawberry plant runners.

Strawberry plants produce runners. These stolons are horizontal stems that run above the ground and produce new clone plants at nodes spaced at varying intervals. Since strawberry plants possess stolons, they are considered “stoloniferous.” The long, leafless stems between the mother plant, plant-growing nodes, and growing tip of the stolon are called “internodes.”

Adventitious Roots on a Strawberry Runner

Most plants have a root system that consists of a primary root or primary roots with root branches forming and growing from the primary root. Strawberry plants have this arrangement for the majority of their root system. However, they also have a special advantage: adventitious root formation at the nodes of their stolons.

Adventitious roots manifest away from the primary roots of a plant, originating instead from the stem, branches, leaves, or old and woody roots. As the name implies, this gives certain plants somewhat of an advantage over other plants. In the case of strawberry plants, they are able to propagate themselves laterally in different directions via runners to find more suitable growing locations for their clone offspring. This allows them to find better soil or areas of better sunlight.

As the strawberry plant runners are sent out, the nodes will develop the adventitious roots, sent them downward, and establish the new clone plant once contact with soil is made. Once established, the intermodal runners will dry, shrivel, turn brown, and eventually separate leaving two independent plants: the original and the clone. These special roots make it easy to start growing strawberry plants from a runner.

Benefits of Strawberry Runners

For the gardener or farmer, strawberry runners can offer significant benefits. For perennial strawberry beds, matted rows that will produce bumper crops of strawberries can be established (see the Growing Strawberries page for additional details) using only a few purchased or transplanted mother plants. This saves money as well as time (the farmer has to plant few plants!).

If planted in ideal conditions with regulated and appropriate amounts of water applied, most strawberry plants will produce abundant numbers of runner plants. Under ideal conditions it is not uncommon for a single plant to produce between 30 and 50 runners, depending on the vigor and qualities of the variety.

For nurseries or commercial operations, the constant production of new strawberry plants yields a return on the initial investment as the new clones are sold. A nursery or gardener can also make use of the adventitious roots. Since the strawberry plant runners are fairly flexible, the nodes can be positioned above pots, plug trays, or other growing medium. Once the root touches the soil, it will grow right where placed. Once established, the new clone plant can be separated from the mother plant and carried off in its new container, pot, or plug tray. This makes them easy to transport, sell, or re-plant elsewhere to establish a new strawberry patch.

Drawbacks of Strawberry Runners

All is not rosy in strawberry runner world, however. There are a few drawbacks to the production of strawberry plant stolons. The strawberry plants don’t understand the desires of a gardener. They only want to eat, grow, and reproduce. As such, they don’t stop sending out runners when you would like them to do so. Because of this, strawberry beds have to be thinned and renovated in order to maintain maximal production and vigor.

The prolific runner production of many of the different Strawberry Varieties also makes them somewhat invasive. Without having a dedicated area for growing strawberry plants, many cultivars will take over a garden and can choke out other plants. Runners facilitate this lateral, invasive spread.

Additionally, it takes productive energy for a strawberry plant to send out runners. The propagating energy used up in stolon production does not go into production of strawberries. Since most people grow strawberry plants for the strawberries and not the runners, it may be necessary to prune the runners so that more productive capacity is manifested in more and bigger fruits.

Strawberry Plant Runners: Conclusion

As with most things, there are positives and negatives when it comes to the runners on a strawberry plant. Should they stay and grow, or should you prune them? There is no answer that is correct for every situation. But, hopefully, you understand strawberry runners well enough now to make an informed decision that will be best for your specific cultivar and your garden!

(If all you are getting from your strawberry plants is runners and no strawberries, see this post to understand the top 10 reasons why that may be happening: Strawberry Plants Producing Runners but no Strawberries?)

Hooray for strawberry runners!

130 thoughts on “What Are Strawberry Runners? (Stolons)”

  1. Mr. S., thanks for the information. Today I experienced another issue and that was I believe I am getting bugs in my patch. one of the plants has wholes in the leaves and one of the only strawberries that grew has a chunk eaten out of it. May I have some more advice please? Again, thank you for your prompt advice.

    • justcallmemister,
      Often, slugs will eat on the fruit and create a missing area or a deep groove. Diatomaceous earth will keep them at bay without harming the strawberries or plants, and can be a natural deterrent for other insects as well. You may want to order some and sprinkle it generously on the plants/berries. It washes off, and, if you get the food grade DE, it is safe to consume for humans in small amounts. Good luck!

  2. I am uncertain as to which forum to use, but this one seemed to be monitored very closely and efficiently as well. My question is I don’t know how to “pinch” off the plants and when the runners start running, some articles say to maneuver them to where you want them to grow but then keep them in place using rocks, clothes pins or sticks. I am very new at planting and I am just seeking advice for how to care for my plants properly. Thank you in advance for any help.

    • justcallmemister,
      You can use your thumb nail pressed against your forefinger to sever the runner, you can use pruning shears, you can use scissors, you can use anything with a sharp edge. Just don’t try to rip the runner as you can potentially do damage to the plants themselves. More information on your other question here.

  3. Mr. Strawberry,
    I had 3 rows of ever-bearing strawberries last year, I pinched off the blooms and cut off runners. Kept it well weeded. However, this year there are no rows, they’ve covered inbetween the rows too. They’re also loaded with berries but, I don’t know if the ones in the middle will ripen. Please tell me what to do! Also, I have found evidence of snail activity. Is there anything I can make or buy to get rid of them? One more question, How do I keep rabbits out of my strawberries too.

    • Kathy,
      Angela,
      Rabbits, birds, and squirrels are a true menace to strawberry growers. Once they find your bed, they’ll feast day after day until you literally have zero strawberries left. Birds usually will leave strawberries half eaten. Squirrels and rabbits will usually eat virtually all of the berry, leaving only the green leafy calyx at the top of the berry (where it attaches to the stem), unless they get frightened off during their meal. The less expensive way to keep birds (and squirrels/rabbits) out is with bird netting. A more expensive but less cumbersome way to keep the feathered fiends from your strawberries is with a bird repellant device. Many pick-your-own operations use the latter as it will keep birds away without blocking access to the berries. As for the strawberries themselves, it sounds like they have produced a nice matted row for you. The middle berries will ripen as well, just give them time. As for snails and slugs, diatomaceous earth is a good option to keep them away. Good luck!

  4. Hey
    I grow strawberries and I have heaps of runners all of a sudden they go through the rest of the garden, I am picking them of and transplanting them is this the right thing to do, I also wate a while until I think they are ready

  5. Can you root the runners with rooting hormone? Do strawberry runners have to be rooted in soil while still attached to the mother plant?
    I’m thinking of planting strawberries in hanging planters, which does not lend itself to rooting in soil after a certain point.

  6. I have planted strawberry plants in a wine barrel. There are 18 holes each with a plant and i follwed the instrctions when planting.The lower plants do not appear to be doing well yet he soil is moist and they appear to be getting enough water. Any ideas what could be wrong?

  7. I planted strawberries last yr behind r well house..which was very sandy..i know NOTHING bout strawberries but they did FANTASTIC.. who know..lol the deer didn’t even find them..if i don’t do anything except maybe clean bed will they b ok?? Cause I’m not really sure what a daughter looks like & don’t want to cut the wrong thing..i do better with pics than words…lol thanks 🙂

  8. I am very tempted to try propagating from the Snow White runners. I know it’s a risk, but my garden is fairly large and I have a couple of underutilised cold-frames, so I should be able to keep any daughters relatively isolated (from any new plants).

    I’ve already decided to dispose of the Malwina plants at the end of the season too. They’ve a fair few non-Phyllody strawberries setting and ripening right now. Once I’ve pulled them, it’s to the bonfire with them. Thankfully the suppliers have offered to replace these plants with a different variety. I’m not sure whether they’ll stretch to replacing the Snow White plants. Here’s hoping they will.

    The current plants are in planters (those three-armed stackable ones). Do I have to sterilise these containers if I plan to reuse them for new strawberry varieties. If so, how? I know enough not to reuse the soil of course (not that I would want to; too much organic matter, too little drainage), I’ll probably re-purpose this for potatoes or brassicas next season.

    A slight aside, if you will humour me.

    I’ve heard that strawberry plants decrease in productivity after 3 seasons and should be replaced with fresh plants. Does this mean that I should dispose of any daughter plants after three years (dated with respect to the parent plants age), or will such daughter plants themselves last three years after separation from their parent? I suppose that this links back to my previous question as to whether diseases can be transmitted across runners.

    Thanks for the advice, I’ll certainly be wearier than I would have been without it should I decide to risk propagating from runners.

    P.S.: I swear that these Snow Whites (of which only a few have set given the poor health of these plants) are Pineberries. They look identical, and have the same pineapple notes.

    • anubeon,
      To sterilize your https://amzn.to/2FE3WAs, it might be sufficient to rinse them thoroughly with a hose and them wipe with sodium hypocholorite (wear gloves!) and then rinse well again. To ensure sterilization, you should fill a bucket with sodium hypocholorite solution and immerse the planters completely for about twenty minutes or so (follow the instructions on the bottles of those made for sterilization for appropriate mixing instructions).

      As for the production decrease of strawberry plants with age, it applies only to the original plant. If a new daughter plant is rooted, the year count starts anew for that runner, regardless of how old the parent plant is. So, it is good to replace the plants on a regular basis, but replacing “old” plants with “new” runners is perfectly acceptable. See the Transplanting Strawberries page for more on this. Good luck!

  9. I’ve started growing strawberries this year, unfortunately of the two varieties I bought, one variety (Snow White) seems to be suffering from black root rot and another (Malwina) from mycoplasma induced Phyllody. I’m reliably informed that the later (Malwina) variety is affected by a genetic anomaly which will be transferred to any daughter plants, so propagating from these plants is obviously out of the question. However, would the fungal/bacterial infections causing black root rot in the former variety (Snow White) necessarily be transmitted to any daughter plants? There are a fair few runners (though obviously fewer than one would expect from healthy plants) emanating from these (Snow White) plants, and presuming that the runners remain healthy and, that I’m able to avoid soil cross-contamination and the excessive damp which I believe triggered the black root rot in the parent plants, I would like to salvage what I can from this years plants by propagating any daughter plants I can for next year.

    • anubeon,
      Honestly, I wouldn’t risk transplanting apparently healthy runners to a new strawberry patch. Being in such close proximity to active infection, you would likely just contaminate your new strawberry bed after you transplant the runners. I’d order new plants from a reputable nursery that certifies their stock as disease-free. Plant the new plants in a new bed. Of course, you could try the runners from the infected mother plants, but I personally wouldn’t take the chance. Good luck!

  10. I propogate my clone plants in small (ex yoghurt) pots. I burn (with a soldering iron) a hole in the bottom of each pot to allow me to push out the new plant with the minimum soil disruption when re-planting. Would you please help me as to when I can cut the internodes and not damage either plant? Also, I would like to leave the clones in their small pot as long as possible, again in order to keep the soil as bound as possible when replanting; would you please tell me the signs that indicate I HAVE to transplant the fledgling node before it becomes pot-bound? (I once transplanted a very healthy looking node about 10cm tall that had comparatively short roots – not out of a pot – and within a couple of hours it wilted, drooped and headed straight to its death! I’d like to make sure THAT doesn’t happen again). Many thanks to you.

    • Hippers,
      The best time to cut the internodal connectors is when they have shriveled and become brittle. Until that point, they are functioning and carrying nutrients to the cloned daughter plants. As it is best to allow the transplants to develop and establish themselves where they will be living, I would recommend trying to move the yogurt cup plants to their new dwelling places as soon as they are free of the connection to the mother plants. But, with appropriate water and temperature, they can actually live in the pots for a while (although bigger cups would work better). Your plant wilted, most likely, because it didn’t have sufficient roots established. You can be relatively sure the roots are established when the runner connections have begun to shrivel, as mentioned above. Good luck!

  11. i recently asked a question and didn’t see a reply wrote on this page to find out the answer to my question and i was just wanting to know when do runners appear on your strawberry plant, because i thought they came out after your strawberries grew but i haven’t had any strawberries yet?

    Thanks

  12. QUESTION. I have rooted a lot [about 100] runners in cups of water and they have developed
    very nice root systems in the cups. If I take and bundle them up in groups of 20 – 25 plants
    and wrap the roots in paper towels and keep them wet / damp and overwinter them in the crisper
    drawer of my refrigerator will they last through the winter and grow when planted in the spring?
    I did this to some about a month ago, keeping them wet / damp and so far they seem to be doing great, leaves still green and the roots look excellent.. [Whopper variety]

    • John Long Island,
      If your refrigerator doesn’t get below freezing, your plants likely won’t move into their dormant phase if they are kept there. This will shorten their life span and reduce the benefit of their perennial nature. However, if the roots/soil are kept slightly moist, they just might survive in there. It is much more likely, however, that the cool and damp environment inside your refrigerator will facilitate the plants succumbing to fungal infection/mold at some point. If you go through with it, let me know how it worked out and if they survived. If it works, I’ll add it as a potential (albeit less-than-ideal) alternative the the more normal and natural ways of overwintering strawberries.

  13. hi – I think I planted too many plants in a single bed (i.e only 4-5 inches apart). I now have a think mat of plants and runners. I read your info about transplanting runners. Can I also tranplant the mother plants so as to thin out the existing beds or just concentrate on the runners?

    • Dean,
      You can transplant both the runners and the mother plants. Just be careful, and remember that the mother plants will likely lose their vigor a bit earlier than the daughter plants. But, if you read the transplanting info, you are already aware of all that. Good luck!

  14. We have mulched with grass clippings between our new plants. Will the runners be able to “put down and root” through the clippings?

    • Alice,
      Some likely will if the mulch is thin enough. It will be better, however, to clear a hole in the mulch so that the root of the runner plant will contact the dirt. That will greatly increase the probability that the new plant will be established. You can use rocks to hold the runner plant in place, if need be.

  15. I planted June-bearing and everbearing strawberries this spring. I have notes from a Master Gardener class that says to cut off the granddaughters and leave the daughters, but other sources say to cut all runners the first year. I was thinking the mother plant might be stronger and produce better fruit if she doesn’t have to send nutrition to the off-spring. I’m not sure what to do this year. I really liked your method of transplanting from bed to bed in the fall, but should I plan to do that the first year of the mother plants?
    Thanks for a great site.

    • Stephanie,
      If you plant in the spring, it is generally best to remove the blossoms for the entire growing season. Also removing the runners will help the plant devote its full energy to becoming a strong, well-established plant. However, if you want to see the number of actual strawberry plants grow, you can allow some of the runners to root and transplant them to increase the number of plants you have that will produce the following year. The initial plants begin losing their vitality after a few years, so allowing a moderate number of runners to be established each year keeps your beds fresh for the long term. Also, I wouldn’t transplant the mother plants. Each year, the plants that should be moved to a new bed are the runners. The runners then become the established “mother” plants for the new bed, and the process can be repeated indefinitely (at least in theory!).

  16. after the stolon has taken root can i cut it from the mother plant and transfer it somewhere else so as to spread around to where i need them to grow

  17. I have just one strawberry plant which looks like it will produce a good yield of strawberries. When should I expect runners so I can prepare pots for them, and how does one over winter them?
    It is a Fragaria x ananassa or Florence variety.

    • Jason,
      Runners will usually be sent forth throughout the season, but begin forming in earnest toward the end of the strawberry production of your plants. For overwintering, see this reference page: Growing Strawberries

  18. I am starting to plant Strawberries for the first time. I understand that i need to Plant them in “runners”. Should I plant more than 4 plants? How many strawberries grow on one plant? I am going to create a garden just for them. Also, do you have any tips about growing strawberries in NC red Clay?

    • Kristy,
      See the Growing Strawberries reference page for help on how to plant or grow your strawberries. A good strawberry plant for poor soils is Surecrop. In general, you can expect most varieties of strawberry plants to produce about one quart of strawberries per plant (see here for more). The care given to the plants in both August and September (when the perennating buds are developing that will turn into the following spring’s strawberries) and during the strawberry growing season (late winter through spring) also has a big impact on the quantity of strawberries produced. Generally speaking, for fresh consumption only, 30 to 35 well-cared-for strawberry plants should feed a family of five. If you plan on freezing strawberries, 50 to 60 strawberry plants would be more advisable.

  19. I recently started growing strawberries (Sri Lanka), I have approx 1000 plants, I would like to know how many runners should I leave per plant so as not to affect the harvest? Also should I prune the plants if so is there a number of leaves that I should leave? or should I just remove the older leaves. I would appreciate you assistance.

    • SARA,
      It depends on which method you used when planting. See the Growing Strawberries page for some graphical layouts for the various growing systems. Don’t worry about pruning the leaves. Just remove any dead, diseased, or dying leaves. If the leaves are healthy, let them be.

  20. The deer have just eaten all the tops on my everbearing strawberries. Is this going to be a problem and will this hurt the runners.

    • Tom,
      Forgive me for chuckling when I read that. But, to answer your question, it should not hurt your strawberry plants for the deer to eat the leaves. Unless you just bought and planted strawberry plugs or strawberry plants, the roots should be well-established on the mother plants and sufficiently established on the runner plants. So, see the information on the Growing Strawberries page about overwintering the plants, and you should have healthy plants again next spring when the warmer temperatures call them forth from dormancy.

    • Rena,
      Yes, most runner plants that are planted in the fall (if overwintered properly), will produce a healthy harvest of strawberries the following spring. Planting your strawberry plants in the fall is generally the best approach for a first-time planting as well. If you already have established strawberry plants and just want to move the daughter plants, see the Transplanting Strawberries page for some tips. If you are planning a first-time fall planting, you can order plants from these suppliers of Fall Strawberry Plants. Hope that helps!

  21. if a person grows strawberries in a container, will they grow back the next year or do you have to replant them every year. will you get many berries if using a container? thinking about next year
    thanks
    Marilyn

    • Marilyn,
      As long as you take proper care of them, they will come back. You should not have to replant them. The number of berries you get depends on the amount of nutrients the strawberry plants get. If they are tightly packed in a container, they won’t do well. If they are in good soil with appropriate water, they will produce just as well as any other planting modality.

  22. thank you, just wanted to make sure I didn’t have some kind of hybrid plant that was going to revert back to something from it’s past.

  23. I have a few strawberry plants that have sent out some runners but the new plants don’t look much like the mothers? is this normal? should I remove the new plants? will they look more “normal” later?

    • j fox,

      Thanks for stopping by Strawberry Plants .org! It is fairly common for young runner plants to look different from the mother plants at any given age. Often, the leaves will be a lighter green and will look more “jagged” than the older, more mature leaves on the mother plant. However, the runner plants are exactly the same as the mother plants genetically. Because of this, if you let them grow, they will carry the same genetic material and manifest all the same traits as the mother plants (and will eventually look almost identical). Remember, the mother plants usually have a good bit of growing done ahead of the clone plants. Because of this, the clone plants will look like the mother plants used to look when they were that age, and the mother plants will look like the clone plants are going to look when they get to be that age. So, to be more direct: Yes, slight appearance variation is normal, and they will look more “normal” later on. As to whether or not you should transplant them, that depends. You can read the page on Transplanting Strawberries for help there!

  24. In all of your excellent information on strawberries, you failed to mention or I somehow overlooked as to the best time to take the runners (stolons) and transplant them elsewhere. I also want to move the bed somewhere else and need to know the best time to transplant the rest of them.

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