Wild strawberries spread quickly by runners.
© George Weigel
A relative of the strawberries sold in grocery stores and a strawberry look-alike aren’t quite as beloved when they show up uninvited in lawns. Usually called “wild strawberries,” these plants send out wiry above-ground runners that creep and root prolifically. They can quickly overtake grass, flowers, and even beds of groundcovers.
Two different plants are nicknamed wild strawberries. One is a U.S. native (Fragaria virginiana) that produces small, tasty, red fruits. The other is an Asian native (Potentilla indica) that produces hard, tasteless, red fruits and isn’t a true strawberry at all. The latter is sometimes called “mock strawberry” or “false strawberry.” Both are winter-hardy perennials that grow in ground-hugging mats with toothy-edged green leaves that grow in sets of three. Both also creep and root where each set of three-leafed clusters touches the ground.
One way to tell the difference is by the flower color. True wild strawberries flower white; mock strawberries flower yellow. Another way is by the fruits. Wild strawberries have cone-shaped, button-sized fruits that are soft and sweet like their larger cultivated cousins. Mock strawberries have rounded, button-sized fruits that, although edible, aren’t very palatable.
If you don’t want either in your lawn, both of these are shallow-rooted and pull out easily – especially when the soil is wet. Be vigilant to yank each rooted section because missed ones will start a new creep. Another option is killing the unwanted creepers with a broad-leaf weed control. Preen Lawn Weed Control is a granular product that kills both wild strawberry and mock strawberry growing in lawns without harming the grass. This product is best applied after a rain or early in the morning when dew is on lawn so granules stick better to the weed surface.
Once existing plants are gone, put up a good defense to prevent new wild strawberries – or other weeds – from seeding in. Weeds are opportunists that love bare soil. In the lawn, add new grass seed to thicken the turf and fertilize regularly to encourage dense growth. Be sure to reseed barren areas after appropriate wait period if you’ve used a broadleaf weed control product (see use direction on product label) to rid the lawn of wild strawberries.