Take everything you thought you knew about the taste of fresh strawberries and throw it out the window. You know nothing! Nothing at all!! Not until you have tasted an Alpine Strawberry can you speak to me about the amazing goodness of strawberry flavor. They’re like candy, but so much better. It’s strawberry, but like strawberry flavor on steroids. There is just no comparison.
So why, you may ask, don’t you ever see these delightful things in the grocery store? Well, like any other produce item, it would have to survive the shipping process. These strawberries are tiny, about an inch long, and very delicate. They also don’t last long once picked. Even within an hour they start to lose their flavor and become squishy. Your only solution then is to grow them yourself. You will want to. Trust me.
There are several varieties of Alpine Strawberries. I have two: red and yellow. The red ones are all volunteers. We don’t know where they came from, but we are very glad they are here. They seem to be the “Mignonette” variety, based on the description. They do not form runners, but have self seeded readily in my yard, probably due to birds dropping seeds (thank you!). The yellow is “Heirloom Pineapple”, and I started them from seed. They really do taste like pineapple! Both of these varieties are “ever-bearing”, and produce fruit year-round, even in zone 9 winter. The main crop, though, is in spring to summer.
Starting Alpine Strawberries from seed can be a little tricky and requires some patience, but once you have them, you will always have them. They self-seed easily, but not in a way that becomes invasive. You can start them from pre-started plants, but make sure that they were grown in sterile soil to avoid potential for spreading soil diseases.
These plants are amazingly hardy and can take quite a bit of abuse. They are drought tolerant, but regular watering will increase crop production. They can take cold temperatures down to zone 5-6, and they have weathered the 110+ F heat here every summer. In very cold conditions, give them a little protection or even dig up the bulbs to plant indoors. In hot areas like Central California where I am, they like a little shade in the morning or afternoon to help them out. They will also grow very nicely in the dappled shade of other plants.
Since the plants are small, they can grow in pots, but make sure to give them a large enough space. They do multiply each year by creating new bulbs and will appreciate space to expand. Also, if growing in pots or raised beds, make sure that their roots can stay cool. They are also lovely additions to a flower bed or garden walkway.
The main pests to watch out for are snails/slugs (or hungry little boys). The plants themselves usually aren’t touched, but the fruit will be. Ants and roly-poly bugs (aka sow bugs, potato bugs, etc.) like them, too. I have not observed any other critter bothering the plant, itself, but there is always the possibility that something will. Ours have just remained incredibly resilient.
One more thing to watch for, not all strawberry plants that produce small fruits are meant for eating. Some ornamental strawberry plants create berries that are more rounded and small and taste horrible. The seeds I linked to earlier are for sure the edible kind. The pre-started plants I linked to all claim to be Fragaria vesca (the scientific name for this kind of strawberry), but I am not personally familiar with their products. They are probably fine, but please look the information over carefully.
Other than just walking through your garden and nibbling on them, what can you do with them? If you have enough plants and are patient enough, you can harvest and immediately freeze them. Once you have gathered enough to use (it may take a while since they are so small), you can substitute them for any other variety of strawberry. One little difference, though, the Alpine Strawberry varieties tend to be a little drier than the other kinds, so you will need to be mindful of that in any recipe you use them in. You could also drop a handful into a glass of ice water for a little flavor boost, or even in some iced tea, lemonade, a spritzer, soda, you name it! Enjoy!
- Evergreen, but may die back in cold weather
- Flower Color: white
- Height: up to 1 foot
- Width: up to 1 foot
- Sun: full sun, or part shade in hotter regions
- Water: drought tolerant, but produces more with regular water
- Soil pH: 6.5 – 7.5
- Soil type: tolerates various soils
- Key nutrients: balanced, potassium for flowering/fruiting
- Planting time: early spring