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Groundcover With Fringe Benefits

May 31, 2018

strawberry groundcoverWhen I was designing and planting the side slope that runs from my house’s front entrance down to the driveway, I had just read Rainer and West’s Planting in a Post-Wild World (see Favorite Garden Books: Planting in a Post-Wild World), and I decided to implement their idea of planting a groundcover layer under the “design layers” of perennials and shrubs. Buying enough plants or landscape plugs to establish a groundcover can be expensive, so I looked around my property for likely candidates that could be transplanted. When I did, the wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) that grow everywhere in my poor sandy soil, called “Look at me; look at me!”

The strawberries had a lot to recommend them in addition to being free. They have shallow roots that won’t compete with the deeper roots of most garden perennials, and they send out runners that root themselves in uninhabited patches of soil between other plants. In addition, they have charming white flowers in May and delicious (albeit tiny) red berries in June. I popped strawberry plants out of the ground from places they would not be missed (like the gravel outside the entrance to my basement), tucked them into spaces between plants on the side slope, and waited to see what would happen.

strawberry leavesSome plants that flourish in poor soil will do poorly if transplanted into rich garden soil, but that is not the case with these strawberries. In their second year growing on the side slope, the little transplants have grown into big clumps with much larger leaves than they had growing in the wild, and they have sent out many daughter plants. They are doing admirably the job for which they were recruited – covering ground and suppressing weeds. As an added bonus, this year they are also sporting masses of strawberry blossoms. I’m curious to see whether the berries, like the leaves, will be larger on plants growing in richer soil. Whatever their size, I’m looking forward to a bumper crop of delicious strawberries in the coming weeks.

side slope strawberry flowers

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2018 2:24 pm

    Jean, Thank you for posting this! So many people look at our wild wonders as weeds. I have native plants growing all around me including the wild strawberry that I hope will take over a slope of my own. After Alberto just washed out a good part of the slope, I’m thanking my lucky stars that Mother Nature had a few wild strawberries already installed. Great post. K

    • June 17, 2018 9:31 pm

      Kathy, It sounds like you took quite a hit from Alberto; happily, he missed us. Right now, I have ripe wild strawberries everywhere; I just need to find the time to pick them.

  2. May 31, 2018 4:58 pm

    What a charming volunteer!

    • June 17, 2018 9:32 pm

      It is. I particularly welcome delicious free native berries!

  3. janesmudgeegarden permalink
    May 31, 2018 6:26 pm

    What an excellent idea. And it’s bearing fruit, so to speak!

  4. May 31, 2018 11:46 pm

    That’s a charming addition. We’ve got a native strawberry here that survives in our sandy soil, popping up here and there with its tiny berries (Fragaria chiloensis). Coincidentally, I came across a flat of the plants at my local garden center earlier today and briefly considered whether I should encourage more to take hold in my own garden. Now, I found your post. It feels like a cosmic nudge…

    • June 17, 2018 9:33 pm

      Kris, Our native strawberries are tiny, too, but their flavor is so amazing that it is worth the effort to pick them.

  5. June 1, 2018 4:00 pm

    That is one terrific idea, Jean. You get a ground cover, plus blooms and berries. And the strawberries get to thrive too. Thank you for telling us about this.

    • June 17, 2018 9:36 pm

      Sarah, I love those tiny wild strawberries. Now I just need to make the time to go out and pick them.

  6. June 4, 2018 7:29 pm

    Love the idea of ground cover and have many around the garden….I move clumps around too and your idea of a wild strawberry is perfect Jean.

    • June 17, 2018 9:38 pm

      Donna, The strawberries are working out beautifully as a groundcover. The jury is still out on the dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis) that came with them; that one may turn out to be a little too aggressive to play well with others.

  7. Nell permalink
    June 11, 2018 2:09 pm

    Given how the non-native strawberry weed (Duchesnia/Potentilla indica) thrives here, I should get some starts of wild strawberry to replace it and the equally enthusiastic ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) as I weed them out of the borders.

    Planting in a Post-Wild World is such an instructive and inspiring book. What I’d love to accompany it is a set of region-specific booklets on native ground layer plants, with photos of them in garden settings.

    • June 17, 2018 9:40 pm

      Nell, I agree with your assessment of Rainer and West’s book; it has transformed my thinking about garden design. I love your idea of region-specific booklets with groundcover plant suggestions. Ideally, that booklet would indicate what kind of root system the groundcover plants have.

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