by Erin Harper, University of Illinois Extension
Strawberries can make an excellent groundcover for your planting beds. The plants get 8 to 10 inches tall and are just a beautiful shade of green which is lighter than most plants used as a ground cover. There are two types, Junebearing and everbearing. Junebearing plants typically produce larger fruit than everbearing. Everbearing plants produce fruit once each in the spring, summer, and fall; Junebearing produce fruit for 2-3 in the spring. Different varieties will have different fruiting times. The Junebearing plants will produce runners and could be hard to control as a landscape plant. Most everbearing types do not produce runners and are more suitable for landscaping.
Plant strawberries early in the spring (mid to late March). Strawberry plants tend to have long, 4-8″ roots with a small crown on top. Be sure to completely cover the roots and leave the crown exposed. Also, do your best to dig a hole deep enough so the roots can be elongated. During the first few weeks, the plants will not grow much, they are focusing their energy on stretching out their root systems and getting cozy in their home. During this time be sure to keep the area around them free of weeds. After 4-6 weeks the plants should be showing growth. At this point, you can mulch around the plants.
During the first year, it is recommended to pinch off the flowers. This will help the plant focus its energy on root growth which will be important for winter survival. In late fall you can mow the strawberries. This will help keep them in their desired landscape spot. Be sure to rake any of the mowed material out, this will help prevent disease. Then, before the really extreme lows, it is recommended to cover strawberries with a straw mulch, a row cover, or a sheet or blanket to protect the plants. In recent years in Illinois, our winters have changed to be warmer and wetter. Because berries are susceptible to disease airflow is important. Therefore, only cover the plant if and when the temperatures get to be 25° F and remove it as soon as possible. Also, try to purchase plant varieties that are resistant to verticillium wilt.
Strawberries can be eaten raw; always wash your produce before you eat it. Remember these are growing on the ground outside. When you wash your produce you aren’t just washing away chemicals but also any evidence left behind by animals wandering through or flying over your yard. You can freeze strawberries for use in smoothies or pies (https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze.html). A trick to freezing is to wash and let air dry, cut off the tops, put in a single layer on a baking sheet, and freeze. Then remove from the freezer a few hours later and put in freezer-safe containers (not saved old yogurt containers but canning jars approved or freezing or new freezer plastic bags, etc.). You can also can the berries in juice, syrup, or water or make jam with the berries (https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/usda/GUIDE02_HomeCan_rev0715.pdf). For jam making, it is always good to have some of the fruit be under-ripe because underripe fruit has more pectin. This is also helpful for picking the berries before the birds get them.