Why grow strawberries at all, when there are so many plump, juicy ones available in the grocery store?
For me, that’s like asking, “Why grow tomatoes from seed when the stores have lots, even in winter?” Anyone who has enjoyed a home grown tomato will understand the inescapable truth about harvesting the fruits when they are truly ripe, and at the peak of their flavour potential. They do not compare to the relatively bland and watery tomatoes available in most grocery stores that are the product of a mass production greenhouse system.
The luxury of harvesting truly ripe fruits for maximum sweetness and flavour is the first case for starting strawberries from seed. But the other parallel they share with tomatoes has to do with choice and variety. The prospective tomato seed shopper is spoiled for choice with easily seven thousand varieties of tomato seed available in the world. Everything from old world heirlooms to high-production hybrid seeds are ready to order.
While there simply aren’t the same number of strawberry seed varieties available — but — there are quite a few more than the standard grocery store or U-Pick varieties. They vary in size, colour, sweetness, and overall flavour. Once established, strawberry plants remain productive for several seasons, and even if they begin to produce fewer fruits, they can be revitalized by propagating by cuttings.
Is it true that strawberry seeds have to be stratified?
In our How to Grow Strawberries from Seed instructions, we recommend stratification. This process of chilling basically simulates winter in an effort to break the dormancy of the tiny seeds. This leads to faster and more even germination: More of the planted seeds germinate more quickly.
Fast germination is part of the strawberry grower’s strategy, because the earlier head start the plants have in the year, the more likely it is they will produce fruits in the first season. It’s likely that most of the seeds would eventually germinate with no stratification, but two might germinate in the first week, and the rest might take months.
Also, strawberry seeds tend to be quite expensive. Most are the result of hybrid breeding, so they are costly to produce. The few open pollinated strawberry varieties that are available are extremely fussy and labour intensive to harvest. So the quick and even germination that results from stratification also gives the grower a better return on their investment.
Finally, if strawberry seedlings are sprouted and grown at the same rate, the process of potting them on and eventually transplanting them is just simpler. It can be done all at once.
How to Germinate Strawberry Seeds
Germination is the trickiest aspect to growing strawberries. Be patient, and try the tricks below.
Tuck your strawberry seed packet inside a sealed plastic bag or airtight container and place in your freezer for 3-4 weeks. When you remove the bag or container, do not break the seal until it (and its living contents) have reached room temperature. This may take several hours. Err on the side of caution. Opening the package too quickly may result in water condensing on the cold seeds, and this will reduce your chances of success.
Once the sealed package has “thawed” to room temperature, you’re ready to plant. Sow the seeds on the surface of pre-moistened, sterilized seed starting mix in trays or small containers. Place these on a piece of felt or other thick cloth that has its end sitting in water. The idea is to wick up water from below so that the seedling medium stays constantly and evenly damp until germination.
Keep your seeded trays under bright fluorescent lights at a constant temperature of 18-24°C (65-75°F). Germination may take twenty-one days. Be patient. Once germination occurs, increase ventilation around your plants to prevent damping off.
Once your seedlings have their third true leaf, they can be “pricked out” and transplanted into their own pots. Take care to minimize damage to the roots during this process. Be sure to harden your seedlings off carefully and gradually before transplanting outside.