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How to Tell if Your Strawberry Plant is Dead

A collage of strawberry life cycle.

Are your strawberry plants dead? That’s a good question that doesn’t always have an immediate answer. I think it’s worth taking the time to test your plants to find out if they can still produce edible fruit if you notice at least a few signs of life yet.

Brown leaves don’t mean the plant is dead.

A strawberry plantation with plastic mulch.

Even if all your strawberry plant leaves have turned brown, that doesn’t mean the plant is dead. If that were true, then what about all the deciduous trees that lose their leaves every fall?

I’m not sure why I never made the connection before. However, I at least now know not to assume a plant that has all brown leaves on it – or no leaves at all — means that it’s dead.

Is There Hope for Your Strawberry Plants? How to Find Out

A withered strawberry plant with new sprout.

“If both the stems and roots are brittle or mushy, the plant is dead, and you will simply need to start over,” advises Heather Rhoades of Gardening Know How.

If all you see is stubs coming up from the dirt, it’s the stems and roots that will give you the answer. Don’t worry if you don’t see any leaves on your strawberry plants right now. Checking the overall condition of each plant will help you regrow its foliage and make fruit appear on them again.

How to Check The Stems and Roots

I suggest that you cut off a little bit of the stem, preferably at a slant, the same way florists might cut flowers to place them in a vase. Once you do this, examine them with your eyes and feel around with your fingers for signs of moisture in and around the stem.

If it feels like the inside of the stem has some liquid, it’s still possible for your strawberry leaves to grow back and for you to yield some fruit. On the other hand, you don’t want the stems to feel too wet and soft.

A similar principle applies to the roots that you would use for the stems. If the roots are completely mushy, chances are your strawberry crop has seen better days.

Concerning dry and brittle stems or roots, these vital plant parts may start to look and feel like petrified wood. If so, that means your fruit crop most likely has no life left. At this point, I usually throw the brown foliage and stems into the compost, or I set it alongside the road with the yard clippings for the city to come pick up on bulk pickup day.

So, now What? Additional Strawberry Examination and Maintenance

Let’s say you have found a few “live ones” amongst the dry, brittle, practically decomposed foliage and roots. This is good news, right? It is, but now, it may leave you wondering, “Now what?”

You’re not quite done yet testing out your strawberry field condition, which unfortunately is not “forever” like the famous Beatles song may imply. (I’m sure the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” is metaphorical – just saying.) Still, at least you have some hope after all that you’ll see red fruit on your patch’s runners.

Step 1: Thin out Brown Foliage

Strawberry plantation with plastic mulch.

If you remove the dead branches and leaves, you can make way for the newer plants to reach maturity. I would pull the entire plant out from the roots if I were you. This will make room for your remaining plant’s roots.

Step 2: Transplant Remaining Plants

If your strawberry plants don’t seem to be doing well, they might have gotten too much sun. That’s because not all strawberry species need direct sunlight for more than six to eight hours a day.

If you’re not sure what type of strawberries you have, I suggest placing the strawberry offshoots that you dig up in a spot near a tree. That offers some shade but still allows sunlight to shine through and won’t burn out your strawberry leaves. This should offer enough shielding from the midday heat and help you maintain healthy plants in the future.

Step 3: Water Them

Watering strawberry plant using a water pot.

Sometimes, strawberry leaves might wilt if the soil doesn’t have enough nutrients in them. However, plants usually go brown if not watered enough. Spray the leaves that still have at least some green on them with a mist, and water as much as possible.

Step 4: Watch For New Sprouts

A dead strawberry plant with new sprout.

After you have transplanted your strawberries, watch for new sprouts. If they do start to grow again, that will provide you with some relief. To increase the chances of strawberry yield, you’ll also want to provide your plants with nutrients.

Step 5: Feed Your Transplanted Strawberries

I’d be careful about using commercial fertilizers. Some of them harm the soil and your plants more than they help them grow. The simplest way to nourish your strawberries is to add a little bit of new potting soil and compost mixture to them.

In some cases, it’s not about the fertilizer ingredients, however. Even mass-produced plant “foods” used on agricultural crops have the nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous and calcium or magnesium strawberries need.

However, you have to make sure the fertilizing mixture you choose has the correct amount of each vitamin and mineral your plants need. You may want to check out the soil nutrition table that Oregon State University provides when considering what to feed your strawberry plants.

Step 6: Watch for Signs of Fruit, Check Fruit Condition When Harvesting

Wild strawberry with small fruit.

Healthy strawberry crops turn a medium red color when ripe. They have a sweet taste with just a hint of tartness. They also are soft enough to bite into but hold their structure.

Overripe or rotten strawberries, on the other hand, you can barely hold them in their hand. That’s how mushy they are. They also may have lost their flavor.

Everyone has their strawberry ripeness preferences, however. I personally like them right after their “peak” ripeness stage – before they start to turn and become overripe. That’s when I ate some of the sweetest strawberries, unlike when they still have some white and green near the stem.

Signs of A Strawberry Life Cycle End

I will tell you this: I don’t see much difference between an overripe strawberry and a rotten one. Either way, they both taste bitter, may appear mushy, and will turn from red to brown. Note, however, that a discolored strawberry still on its stem in your garden may have a disease. You could possibly treat it, but this would require more work than just planting a new crop.


Q. What if my strawberries are brown but the leaves are green?

Withered strawberry fruits on the soil.

Brown strawberries sometimes indicate the presence of a disease called “leather rot.” It usually infects strawberries during long periods of humid and rainy weather mixed with warm temperatures.

Q. Are my strawberry plants worth saving?

It’s hard to tell sometimes unless you act like a doctor and take steps to find out if they still have enough life. If they do, it may take some time spent giving them “life support” before they come around. In some cases, you might have less work cut out for you if you just decide to grow a new crop. In the meantime, it’s best to focus on the remaining strawberry plants that do produce sweet-tasting fruit.

Q. How long is a strawberry plant supposed to live?

Some plants will come back year after year, and they usually will produce offshoots called “runners.” Because of this, it may seem like strawberries can live forever. However, they often live an average of about 3-5 years.

Q. Are strawberry plants supposed to come up year after year?

They do come up year after year in their younger stages. However, they will sometimes die after a maximum of six years. Still, you more than likely have some runners (offshoots) of the original strawberry plants that will produce fruit for you.