Growing from small root rhizomes, barren strawberries (Waldsteinia fragariodes) are most often used by gardeners as a spreading groundcover in woodland settings or on a shaded hillside. They spread in the landscape by germinating seeds produced by the five-petaled yellow flowers in late spring. Native to the open woodlands across much of the eastern United States and southeastern Canada, this perennial is suitable to grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 7. In cold weather the green leaves turn bronze.
Barren strawberries grow in full sun exposures as well as partially shady conditions, such as under large shade trees. If grown in full sun (more than 8 hours of sun rays daily), the soil should be consistently moist to prevent wilting or leaf browning. Moreover, barren strawberries grow much better where summers are cooler; in the American South, the Missouri Botanical Garden recommends more shade to prevent the plants from faltering or being short-lived.
Although barren strawberry tolerates a wide range of well-draining soil types, its best growth and appearance occurs in a moist, humus-rich soil that is acidic in pH. Crumbly soils that have lots of organic matter incorporated are ideal, especially if kept evenly moist during the growing season. The plants will grow well in drier soils, such as those under trees or in sandy soils, if sunlight and heat are not too intense.
For fastest establishment, growth and even spread (with seeds quickly germinating), provide 1 inch of irrigation to a planting of barren strawberries during the growing season. Supplement natural rainfall when necessary. Keep in mind that the plants are tolerant of drier soil conditions once established and may not need irrigation unless a sever drought is occurring. Plants growing in sunnier or sandier soils need more water than those growing in clay soils rich in organic matter or in more shady locales.
For the most part, no fertilizer application is warranted for barren strawberries if the soils are already rich in organic matter. Sandy soils may benefit plants if a granular slow-release fertilizer is applied in spring according to product label directions. Barren strawberries do not require a highly fertile soil to survive, but abundant fertility does increase growth and can cause plants to invade other parts of the landscape.
Barren strawberry plants will be nearly evergreen (retain their leaves) in mild winter regions, where the leaves will attain a bronze-green color across the winter. In colder winter areas, this bronze color is seen only in fall before subfreezing temperatures kill foliage fully. Allow this leaf litter and other falling leaves to decay on the soil to become beneficial humus. In spring, when the plants send up new growth, consider raking back any remaining large pieces of leaf litter to allow light to reach and warm the soil. Pull or hoe seedlings of barren strawberry when they are small to prevent further expansion of the mass of plants in the garden. A thick barrier of mulch can contain the spread of plants if grown as a low edging in the front of a perennial border.