Strawberries are a delicious addition to any garden. The taste of fresh homegrown strawberries is nearly always better than anything you find in your local grocery store, but sometimes your strawberries don’t look like they are supposed to.
When you see a weird looking strawberry you might ask:
Why are my strawberries deformed?
For the most part, deformities in strawberries are caused by poor or incomplete pollination in the spring, but other causes are linked to the plant getting a frost injury in the spring, an infestation of tarnished plant bugs, or Lygus bugs, or even a boron deficiency.
Keep reading as I continue to dive into deformities in strawberries and learn if these berries are safe for you to eat.
Today, I have ventured into my strawberry patch in the hopes of a bountiful harvest. Among some great looking berries, I also find some that look pretty odd.
These deformed berries develop in the gardens of even the most experienced gardeners. For those of you wondering what is causing these issues, you will find there are several causes for these deformities.
In this section I will discuss the most common reasons you are finding deformed strawberries in your garden.
– Poor Or Incomplete Pollination
Pollination is such an important part of agriculture because while some plants can self pollinate, others cant. Many plants require assistance from bees, birds and other insects to carry pollen from one flower to another to provide what they need to develop fruit.
When it comes to strawberries, they are able to self pollinate because they have both a male and female part in their flower, but fruits produced this way are often small and deformed.
This is because for strawberries self-pollination doesn’t fully pollinate all the ovules. A strawberry has multiple ovules for every receptacle. A receptacle is where the fruit is formed and developed. The more ovules that are pollinated the larger the berry will be.
When a strawberry has to self pollinate, it isn’t able to pollinate very many of the ovules. And the ovules they do pollinate might not be evenly distributed. This leads to small or deformed berries.
When bees move from flower to flower, carrying pollen with them, complete pollination is far more likely. This will result in larger and better formed berries.
You are far less likely to see the misshapen strawberries when you have bees helping to push full pollination.
Poor pollination occurs when bees are not prevalent, or if they are unable to access the flowers.
Some gardeners use row covers in an attempt to protect their plants, but leaving them on into the period of time when the flowers are blooming will limit the ability of the bees to land and pollinate them.
Weather also plays a factor here. When temperatures are cold, and rain and storms are prevalent, the pollinators won’t be as active and the lackluster berries that later develop will show it.
– Frost Injury
Related to pollination issues, frost often causes deformed berries and may also cause damage to the flower and leaves of the plant.
A heavy frost will likely destroy the entire flower, but a light frost could only destroy part of the flower. When it is partially destroyed, berry deformities are very common as ovules are damaged and seeds remain small.
Not only is there danger to the flower when it is open or when it is just starting to open, but there is also danger to the unopened bud if the frost is heavy enough.
Growers who are worried about a frost may add a row cover as protection. Others will implement irrigation practices to prevent frost damage.
– Lygus Bugs
Another common problem causing deformities in the berries on these plants ins the Lygus bug, also known as tarnished plant bugs. These bugs feast on the flowers of the strawberry plant. As we discussed above the damage to the flower causes the deformities as your berries develop and grow.
Adult Lygus bugs will survive the winter and lay their eggs in the spring. Lygus bugs in the nymph stage do the most damage to strawberry plants.
– Boron Deficiency
Another reason for the development of deformed strawberries is a boron deficiency. Just like with most plants in your garden, if strawberries do not get the right amounts of the nutrients they need, the fruits and plants will have issues. When it comes to deformed strawberries, a lack of boron is sometimes the culprit.
Boron deficiency can also be identified because it causes stubby roots and asymmetrical leaves in the plants.
Is It Safe To Eat Deformed Strawberries?
Now that you understand what may have caused the deformities in your garden’s strawberries, you’re probably wondering what you should do with them. Are they even safe for you to eat and share with your family?
Deformed strawberries are quite often safe for eating and won’t do any harm. They often are just unattractive when they are deformed, but not harmful in anyway.
You might think about cutting off the deformed, underdeveloped portions of the berry before eating and after you give them a good washing.
Deformities in strawberries are most commonly caused by poor or incomplete pollination.
But there are other issues coming into play like frost, insects and nutrient deficiency. While you might feel a sense of frustration as some of these issues are next to impossible for you to fix, you can take some control.
If bees are not prevalent in your area, look into adding a hive to your garden space.
Watch the weather for frost to try and protect your plants and look into ways to control the Lygus bug population. Soil tests help you identify deficiencies in your soil so you can add what is needed.
There are always ways to minimize the damage to your plants. You might not be able to prevent every deformity, understanding what is causing it is always helpful to develop a strategy.