The strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo ) is a native of Southern Europe, Asia Minor, and South West Ireland. It is generally a shrub or small tree, but can reach a height of thirty-nine feet. This evergreen shrub has rough, grayish brown bark which peels and flakes to reveal an attractive reddish brown inner bark. The leaves are glossy, dark green, and toothed. The flowers are usually white or pinkish, urn-shaped, and in drooping clusters. The fruit is round and looks similar to a strawberry. It is about three fourths of an inch big. The fruit is edible but is considered unpalatable. It is used in wine-making, and for liqueurs and preserves. The strawberry plant attracts birds with its showy blooms.
The strawberry tree is winter hardy to zones seven to ten. It generally grows to be ten to fifteen feet tall and ten to fifteen feet wide. It is important to make sure you give the tree enough room to grow this tall and wide when you plant it. You should make sure it is not too close to a structure when it is planted.
Typically, the strawberry tree grows with many branches coming up from the crown, like a shrub. It can be trained up as a tree by choosing one of the branches coming out of the crown as the trunk and pruning off the rest of the branches. This should be done when the strawberry plant is young so that the trunk is established well when it grows.
Strawberry trees bloom from October to December with a pretty pinkish white flower. It requires full sun to grow in. The soil should be average garden soil. You do not have to use any specific soil amendments to grow this shrub.
The strawberry tree needs to be kept moist but not soggy. Mature trees have some drought tolerance, but will need to be watered if the soil becomes too dry.
The shrub has green fruit growing on it after the flowers are gone. These green fruit take almost a year to ripen. In fact, the fruit will not ripen until the tree flowers again. This makes the tree very unusual in that it has very showy flowers and very showy fruit on it at the same time.
The flowers and fruit of the strawberry tree may be damaged by cold weather. It is also vulnerable to fungal leaf spot and aphids. Fungal leaf spot usually does not need to be treated chemically. It can be prevented by raking up leaves and other debris under the tree so the fungi do not have any place to over winter. In addition, take care that when you water your strawberry tree, you do not splash water on the leaves of the tree. Fungal leaf spot is often spread that way.
Aphids can be treated with an application of neem oil. You must be very careful to spray this oil on not just the top of the leaf, but on the underside as well. Often the biggest number of aphids will be on the underside of the leaf near the stem.