This article has been checked for horticultural accuracy by Oliver Parsons.


Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) is a small evergreen tree, native to the Mediterranean and parts of Ireland. It has strawberry-like fruit, which remain on the tree for a year before ripening at the same time as the following season's bell-shaped flowers appear. These contrast beautifully with dark green, leathery leaves with serrated edges, and distinctive reddish-brown bark that peels off to reveal a smooth, cinnamon-coloured layer underneath. It's an extremely ornamental small tree and grows well in full sun to partial shade.

The strawberry tree is not considered rare and is widely cultivated in many parts of the world for its ornamental value. It has been associated with various customs and folklore in different cultures. In Ireland, the strawberry tree is believed to bring good luck and it is often used in Christmas decorations. In Portugal, the fruit of the strawberry tree is used to make a traditional liqueur called medronho.

The strawberry tree is excellent for wildlife: its flowers are visited by bees and its ripe fruits are eaten by a variety of birds and small mammals. Sadly, strawberry tree fruits do not taste as good as strawberries, and are best left for the birds.

How to grow a strawberry tree

Grow a strawberry tree in well-drained, neutral to acidic soil that is rich in organic matter, and in a sunny to partially shaded position. In the UK, it's generally hardy and can tolerate temperatures down to -10°C, but may require protection from cold winds and frosts, especially when young. This can be achieved by planting it in a sheltered spot such as against a south-facing wall.

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Where to grow a strawberry tree

Strawberry tree growing in a garden border
Arbutus menziesii growing in a garden border

The strawberry tree can be grown in various parts of the UK, although it tends to do better in coastal regions where winters are relatively milder. In colder areas, it may suffer from frost damage or die-back. However, it can recover from the base and may regrow in spring.

One thing to consider when planting a strawberry tree is its potential for mess. Like other tree fruits, once ripe, strawberry tree fruit falls to the ground, so avoid planting one too close to a path or patio. However, the fruit is not considered harmful and can be left on the soil to decompose.

Strawberry tree pairs well with other evergreen shrubs and trees, as well as with plants that have contrasting foliage colours or textures. For example, planting it alongside plants with yellow or silver foliage can create a visually appealing contrast.

How to plant a strawberry tree

Planting a strawberry tree is relatively straightforward. Start by digging a hole that is slightly larger than the rootball of the plant. Make sure the hole is deep enough to accommodate the entire root system without bending or crowding the roots. It's also a good idea to fork the soil at the bottom and sides of the hole to promote better root growth.

Next, carefully remove the strawberry tree from its container, taking care not to damage the roots. Place the plant in the centre of the planting hole and backfill with the soil, pressing down with your heel to eliminate air pockets. Water the plant thoroughly after planting to help settle the soil around the roots.

How to care for a strawberry tree

Pruning strawberry tree
Strawberry tree foliage

Strawberry tree thrives in evenly moist but not waterlogged soil. During dry periods, water the tree deeply and thoroughly. Avoid watering the leaves as this may encourage fungal diseases.

Strawberry tree does not require feeding unless it's grown in a pot. In fact, it tends to do better in nutrient-poor soils.

Mulching around the base of the tree in autumn or spring can help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Use a layer of organic mulch such as bark chips, homemade compost or leafmould and spread it evenly around the tree, leaving a small gap around the trunk to prevent rot.

How to prune a strawberry tree

Prune a strawberry tree in spring before new growth begins and after the main risk of frost is past. You can prune to shape the tree, remove dead or diseased wood, promote better airflow and increase sunlight penetration. Avoid heavy pruning, as this can lead to excessive regrowth and reduced flowering.

To prune a strawberry tree, start by removing any dead or diseased branches, making clean cuts just above healthy buds or branches. Next, remove any crossing or rubbing branches, as well as any suckers arising from the base of the tree. Finally, trim back the tips of the branches to encourage branching and a more compact shape.

How to propagate a strawberry tree

Strawberry tree fruit and flower. Getty Images
Strawberry tree fruit and flower. Getty Images

The strawberry tree can be propagated through seeds, cuttings or layering. However, it's worth noting that growing from seeds can be challenging and time-consuming, as the seeds require a period of stratification (exposure to cold, damp conditions) before they can germinate, and the plant will take years before it forms a flowering and fruiting tree.

The easiest and most reliable method of propagation is through semi-hardwood cuttings taken in late summer or early autumn. To do this, select healthy, non-flowering shoots from the current season's growth, and take cuttings that are approximately 10-15cm long. Remove the lower leaves, dip the cut end in fresh hormone rooting powder, and plant the cutting in a free-draining potting mix. Keep this in a warm, sheltered spot with indirect sunlight, and water it regularly until roots develop.

Pests and diseases

Close-up of the fruit of the arbutus unedo
Close-up of the fruit of the strawberry tree

Strawberry trees aren’t generally prone to serious pests or diseases. They can, however, occasionally be affected by scale insects, aphids, unsightly leaf spots and premature leaf fall.

  • Tiny, brown, barnacle-like dots on plants, which suck sap and weaken plants – these are scale insects. They are usually dealt with by birds and other natural predators
  • Distorted leaves, yellowing, stunted growth, sticky honeydew residue, black sooty mould and clusters of small insects on plant stems or leaves (often accompanied by clusters of ants) – these are aphids. Again, these are usually dealt with by birds and other natural predators, but if numbers increase dramatically you can spray them with an organic soap spray or blast them with a jet of water from your hose.
  • Purple or brown spots on leaves, purple lesions on twigs, premature leaf fall and twig die-back – these are caused by two types of fungi: Elsinoë mattiroloanum (more common and harmful, affecting leaves and twigs) and Ruptoseptoria unedonis (which mostly affects leaves). To manage these, remove and dispose of affected leaves and twigs, along with fallen leaves around the tree. Additionally, it's important to encourage healthy growth by providing proper nutrients and mulching to retain moisture, and watering during extended periods of drought.

Advice on buying a strawberry tree

  • Choose a reputable nursery or supplier with positive reviews and a good track record
  • Check for plant health by looking for green, lush foliage and no visible signs of pests or diseases
  • Avoid purchasing plants that appear weak, pot-bound or stressed, as they may struggle to establish and thrive in your garden
  • Consider the size of the plant and its root system, as well as your local climate

Where to buy a strawberry tree online

Strawberry tree varieties

Arbutus unedo – this is the ‘true’ species which has rough, red-brown bark with shredding textures and produces small, bell-shaped flowers along with the mature fruit from the previous year. Height x Spread: 8m x 8m

Arbutus x reyorum 'Marina': a medium to large-sized evergreen shrub or small tree with glossy, dark-green leaves, cinnamon-red bark, and small white or pinkish flowers in autumn. It produces showy, spherical fruits that change from green to red as they mature. H x S: 8m x 8m

Hybrid strawberry tree, Arbutus × andrachnoides – this is the result of a cross between Arbutus andrachne (eastern strawberry tree) and Arbutus unedo. It has smooth, reddish-brown bark that peels off in thin layers, revealing fresh green bark beneath. It produces clusters of white or pink flowers in autumn, which rarely result in fruits. H x S: 8m x 8m

Arbutus rubra – this variety has striking red flowers instead of the usual pinkish-white. It produces abundant fruit and has an attractive peeling bark, adding winter interest to the garden. H x S: 6m x 6m

Arbutus unedo Roselily – pale-pink bell-shaped flowers, followed by small red-orange fruits. H x S: 4.5m x 4.5m

Arbutus unedo 'Compacta' – this variety is more compact compared to the species, making it suitable for smaller gardens or container planting. It has attractive evergreen foliage and produces pinkish-white flowers and red fruits. H x S: 3m x 3m

  • Buy Arbutus unedo 'Compacta' from Crocus