When most of us think of strawberries, we think of the plump, juicy fruit in the late spring and early summer. Large, sweet strawberries are highly prized, and strawberry plants are often a desired addition to a garden. However, wild strawberries are a different story. They are low trailing plants that spread by both seed and runners and can strangle out turf or desired growth quickly. It is a winter broadleaf perennial weed that may be difficult to eliminate from turf, lawns, and landscapes if not managed well.
Wild strawberry belongs to the family Rosaceae, which is the same family as both roses and cultivated strawberries. The scientific name is Fragaria virginiana. They go by several different names including Virginia strawberry, woodland strawberry, Alpine strawberry, and Carpathian strawberry, just to name a few. Wild strawberry plants look similar in appearance to the cultivated strawberry plants. Leaves are often light green in color, and are trifoliate meaning there are three leaves per stem. The leaves have toothed edges, and stems are covered in tiny hairs. Flowers may appear anywhere from April to June. Each flower contains five white petals surrounding a bright yellow center made of stamens and pistils. Fruit may begin to form in August for parts of the northern United States to December for the southern portions of the country. Fruit is a miniature version of the cultivated strawberry, though it is not as sweet or juicy.
This viney weed can be found in most of the northern hemisphere. In warmer climates, it requires shady areas to grow. The plant is much more tolerant of the sun in the northern part of the United States. These broadleaf perennials can be found in many locations including along roadways, paths, woodlands, embankments, and even stony or gravel paths. In areas where there is extreme shade, plants may never bear fruit, but they will continue to create new runners that produce more plants. They are able to thrive in almost any climate except extreme drought or extreme moisture. They are even able to survive fires and will re-emerge as new growth.
The weedy wild strawberry reproduces in a couple of different ways. Often, the fruit is consumed by wildlife. The seeds remain undigested and are often excreted in other areas where they may germinate and form new growths. Additionally, they reproduce through underground runners. These runners attach to root nodes of other plants and can then strangle out the growth of desired greenery. Although wild strawberries are generally undesired in lawn and landscape growths, their fruit can be highly prized for a number of culinary uses. Whether it’s jams and jellies or a topping on a salad, the fruit is edible, although it is not as sweet as the regular cultivated strawberry we purchase from supermarkets.
The underground runners of the wild strawberry plant make it extremely difficult to remove from established turf. In loose soil, pulling out a single plant is not difficult. However, the runners may go several feet in any direction and attach to the roots of turf, landscapes, and garden beds. When physically removing the weed from undesired areas, it is important to get all parts of the plant, or they will re-emerge. Using broadleaf post-emergent herbicides can kill these weeds when applied to early or late growth. However, these herbicides will often kill all growth in the area where it is used. Often, a combination of mechanical removal and weed control applications will work best to eliminate the stubborn weeds. Proper turf management will help prevent wild strawberry from overrunning lawns and landscapes.