Looking for an easy to grow plant that provides edible fruit, and holds it own next to flowering container and bedding plants? Try Alpine strawberries. I grew Fragaria vesca ‘Semper-florens’ (hardy to zone 4) for the first time last year as part of my continuing integration of edibles into a new – fenced in, deer protected – planting area. I’ll not go without these prolific beauties again.
I purchased three good-sized (6 inch pots) nursery plants and potted them into a large shallow planter, but could just as easily have put them in hanging planters or mixed them with flowering container plants. Since they were new to me, I kept my Alpine planters in a sunny spot (at least 6 hours) on my deck to ease observation.
My plants supplied enough half-inch-inch berries to dress many morning cereal bowls, and continued producing berries intermittingly throughout the summer – well after traditional strawberries had gone by. The plants looked good into August, when I moved them into the ground. Both while potted and in the ground, they required no more care than any other perennial.
Unlike traditional strawberries, which send out numerous runners in all directions after fruiting, Alpine strawberries grow in mounds, about 8 to 10 inches tall. The photo above shows one Alpine strawberry plant in early May, after one season in the ground.
The mounding growth habit, combined with Alpine’s intermittent white flowers will make them a nice edging accent for my four established blueberry bushes, which is their planned permanent home. The fact that Alpines attract butterflies only makes them more visually pleasing.
Alpines have similar scent, but slightly different flavor from traditional strawberries. But Alpine berries are smaller and softer, making them best used immediately after picking. The trick is to get to the berries before the birds. I thwarted a fair number of thefts last season by picking ripe berries early. It was a simple pleasure to watch visiting birds fly off, empty-beaked, as I enjoyed fresh picked berries on my morning cereal. I hope that planting Alpines around my blueberries will ease netting them both from flying marauders.
Two weeks ago I dug up two plants – one pictured above – which now serve as early container accents on my deck. These red-berry producers will soon go into the ground around the blueberries. But I may choose some yellow-bearing varieties to see if their fruits are as luscious tasting as their red-fruited cousins.