I have wild strawberry growing throughout my lawn in my backyard. It Appears impossible to get rid of as it grows underneath the grass and just creates an entire interconnected system. Once it has developed as it has is there anyway for me to remove it without chemicals and pulling up all the lawn. It seems no matter what I do it always comes back.
Controlling unwanted plants when they have taken over an area can be an undesirable job. I, more than once, have felt like throwing my hands in the air and walking away from these situations. Take a deep breath and keep reading!
There are two types of similar strawberries that you could be dealing with. You may very well have wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana. Also known as Virginia strawberry, this plant is ground-hugging and rises from a fibrous, perennial root system. It has hairy leaf petioles, up to 6 in. long, each bearing a single trifoliate leaf. The leaf edges are sharp. This flower stalk gives rise to a loose cluster of small, five-petaled white flowers followed by the fruit which is sweet and hangs downward.
This can sometimes be mistaken for the perennial weed commonly called Mock or Indian Strawberry, Duchesnea indica. Mock strawberry is an herbaceous perennial plant between 3 and 8 inches in height and spreads by runners or hairy stolons into large colonies of plants over time. Like wild strawberry, each plant consists of small trifoliate basal leaves with long petioles that develop from a root crown. Where it is different is in its five-petal yellow flowers which develop into tiny edible red tasteless fruit which stand upright. It also has rounded leaf edges.
Either way, I understand that you would like it gone. These weeds are described as “indicator weeds” as they tend to appear in moist compacted soils. For both types it is recommended that you improve surface drainage, aerate the lawn when needed and conduct infrequent watering as both thrive in moist soils.
As the root systems of mature strawberry plants can be several feet long, to completely uproot them will require a lot of time, patience and perseverance. It is recommended to rake the lawn to comb the runners and then mow the lawn very short. This will remove the easy bits and expose the rosettes of leaves for you to more easily target the plant for removal. The arduous part will be getting down on your hands and knees to dig out the rosette. You are not going to get all of it in one go, so keeping on it will be the key.
Having a thick lawn will also help prevent this and other weeds from growing because there is no room for them to move in. Deep infrequent watering, feeding the lawn good quality organic matter and later mowing the lawn tall will all help promote a thick healthy lawn. As mentioned above, regular aeration to prevent compaction is also recommended.
In a previous query about battling crabgrass we recommended reseeding in the fall to fill in any bare spots. Again, the goal is to establish thick turf which will shade the soil and reduce the space for weeds to establish. This is the most environmentally friendly method to eradicate invasive weeds. Consider choosing a grass seed mix with a higher percentage of perennial rye grass (Lolium repens) or just add additional perennial rye grass seed to your current mix. Perennial rye grass germinates quickly, will provide shade and compete well for nutrients and moisture so that weed seed germination and growth will be lessened.
Lastly, should you want to learn about lawn alternatives, please see our our garden guide here: https://torontomastergardeners.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Lawn-Alternatives1.pdf