Daniel Gill, Bogren, Richard C. | 9/9/2009 9:45:47 PM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Fresh, ripe strawberries are a favorite with just about everybody, and now is a great time to plant them into your garden. Strawberries are best planted from late October through November for production next spring. They are easy enough that growing a crop is a fun project for kids at home or in school.
Some local nurseries, garden centers and feed and seed stores carry strawberry transplants in the fall. It is important to choose cultivars that will produce well in Louisiana growing conditions. The best varieties for us to plant are
In order for the plants to produce well, the bed should be in full sunlight and well-drained. To ensure excellent drainage, it is best to grow strawberries in a raised bed or raised row. Since this is the way we generally grow vegetables, you can just use the same setup if you have an established vegetable garden.
The easiest way to make a raised bed is to nail together landscape timbers (available at building supply stores) two or three timbers high, or use 2-by-8-inch or 2-by-12-inch boards. Make the beds about 2 feet wide and as long as desired. Fill the bed with a good quality topsoil or garden soil mix available from local soil companies or nurseries.
To create a raised row, turn the soil in the area to be planted. Add a two-inch to four-inch layer of organic matter (compost, rotted manure, peat moss) and thoroughly incorporate it into the soil. Next, using a hoe and shovel pull soil up from both sides, where the walkway is, into the area to be planted. Create a raised row that is about 8 inches above the surrounding soil and about 12 inches to 24 inches wide across the top.
After the raised bed or raised row is created, sprinkle a general purpose fertilizer following package directions over the area and work it into the upper few inches of soil. Make a second fertilizer application in January or early February.
Since the fruit of strawberries is produced at ground level, the plants must be well mulched. This will keep the fruit from coming into contact with the soil and reduce fruit rot. You can use an organic mulch such as pine straw, or black plastic.
Black plastic typically is used by commercial growers for several reasons. It is much easier to apply black plastic over raised rows using equipment, and it also is less expensive. In addition, the black plastic mulch absorbs the heat of the sun, warming the soil and encouraging earlier production in the spring.
Rolls of black plastic mulch are available at local nurseries, but for small plantings you can slit a large black plastic garbage bag down each side and have enough material to cover an area about 2 feet by 6 feet. The edges of the black plastic must be firmly buried in the soil or pinned down with U-shaped pieces of wire around the edges of the bed to prevent the wind from blowing it away. Black plastic must be applied before you place strawberry plants into the bed. If you plan to use pine straw mulch, you may apply it after planting.
If planting through black plastic, simply make holes spaced properly along the row in the plastic. On single-planted rows, space plants 10 inches to12 inches apart in the center of the row. On double-row berries, space the plants 14 inches to 16 inches apart, alternately along the row with 10-inch spacing between parallel rows.
Dig the planting hole large enough and deep enough to accommodate the root system, then place the roots into the hole. The plant roots should extend vertically in the soil and spread out like a fan. Fill it with soil and firm the soil around the crown – the point where the roots and leafy part of the plant join. Provide water as needed for your plants during winter and spring.
Flower production can start as early as late January or February, depending on the weather. Berries should be ready to harvest from mid-March through mid-May. Strawberry plants are quite hardy and will need no protection during the winter. Should freezing temperatures threaten early flowers or fruit, protect them by covering the plants with fabric or canvas sheets, plastic or pine straw. Remove the cover when freezing temperatures are over.
There are a few pests you may have to deal with. Control spider mites and aphids with sprays of insecticidal soap. Make sure you spray thoroughly under the leaves. Snails and slugs love to feast on the ripe berries, as do birds. Control snails and slugs with traps or baits. Stop bird damage with bird netting draped over wire arches above the plants.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.