By Bonnie Grant

Eating Alpine strawberries is like eating candy. Each tiny berry bursts with such sweetness, that it’s hard to stop snacking on the fruit. Alpine strawberries need to be planted in spring after all danger of frost has passed. These fruits are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9. In zones 5 and 6, you will not be able to plant until late May. In warmer zones (7 to 9), plant the berries at the beginning of April. You can purchase starts or begin the berries by seed. Seeds need to be started 10 weeks before the last expected frost date to ensure berries.

Alpine strawberries are small plants that grow into little mounds instead of spreading by runners. They have green serrated leaves and are excellent small ornamental plants. Some varieties that grow golden-yellow berries as well as the common red. The tiny pointed fruit are only 3/4 inch in diameter, and are a cultivated breed of wild or woodland berries. Alpine strawberries are perennial and yield a season-long harvest.

As the name implies, Alpine strawberries are mountainous plants. As such, they require a cold period to germinate. This is called stratification and can be mimicked in the home. The seeds are chilled for three weeks before sowing. They can be sown 1 inch apart and 1/8 inch deep in flats of moistened potting or seed starting mix. The plants will be ready to plant in about eight to 10 weeks. Seeds can be sown outside in fall in climates without freezing winters.

Strawberries need well-drained soil, bright full sunlight and plenty of organic matter. Till the soil to a depth of 12 inches and add 3 inches of compost and 1 or 2 inches of sand to create a nutrient-rich bed. Strawberry starts should be acclimated to the outdoors before you disturb their roots and stress the plants. Bring them outside for gradually longer periods of time over the course of one week. Outdoor nighttime temperatures should be at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit before you plant, and all frost danger past. Give the plants even moisture and two or three applications of balanced fertilizer in the growing season to produce a bumper crop of strawberries. A balanced fertilizer (5-5-5 or 10-10-10) gives you an equal ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Apply a bird netting over the berry bed if you want any of these juicy red fruits. Birds and other wildlife find them irresistible. The fruits begin to form shortly after planting and last all summer long. Alpine strawberries produce fruit for up to four years. The plants’ clumping habit makes it easy to divide them to start fresh clumps. The plants can be grown easily in pots or containers and even hanging baskets. The fruit should pull off easily when ripe. Seven or eight berry plants only produce a cup of fruit per week, but the delightful taste makes it worth the puny harvest.