Get It Growing News For 11/14/2003
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 so they’ll be ready next spring.
Strawberries are best planted from late October through early December for production next spring. Better yet, caring for them is easy enough that growing a crop is a fun project for kids at home or in school.
Some nurseries, garden centers and feed and seed stores carry strawberry transplants in the fall. Just remember it is important to choose cultivars that will produce well in Louisiana’s growing conditions.
The best varieties for us to plant are ‘Tangi,’ ‘Chandler’ and ‘Camarosa.’ ‘Camarosa’ is commonly planted by the commercial strawberry growers in Tangipahoa Parish.
At any rate, avoid varieties that are not adapted to our climate.
For the strawberry plants to produce well, the bed should be in full sunlight. The location also should be well-drained.
To ensure excellent drainage, it is best to grow strawberries in a raised bed or raised row. Since this 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. This will create a bed raised 8 inches to 12 inches. Depending on how large a bed you want to create, I recommend you cut some of the 8-foot landscape timbers in half and make your beds 4 feet by 4 feet or 4 feet by 8 feet. Fill the bed with a good quality top soil 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 2- to 4-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.
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 will reduce fruit rot. You can use an organic mulch, such as pine straw, or you can use 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 designed for that job than it is to spread pine straw. It also is less expensive. In addition, the black plastic mulch absorbs the heat of the sun, which warms the soil and encourages 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.
Black plastic must be applied before you plant strawberry plants into the bed. On the other hand, if you plan to use pine straw mulch, you may apply it after planting.
If planting through black plastic, simply make holes through the plastic mulch evenly about every 12 inches along the row. In a 4-foot-wide raised bed, you can fit three rows of strawberries. A 12-inch-wide raised row will accommodate a single row of strawberries, and on a 24-inch-wide raised row you can plant the strawberries in two staggered rows. There should be at least 10 inches between parallel rows.
Dig the planting hole large and deep enough to accommodate the root system. Then place the plant’s roots into the hole. The plant’s roots should extend vertically into the soil and spread out like a fan.
Fill the hole with soil, and firm the soil around the crown (the point where the roots and leafy part of the plant join). Be careful not to plant too deep by covering the crown or too shallow, which leaves roots exposed.
If you didn’t use black plastic, mulch the bed with pine straw after planting, and irrigate the bed thoroughly. Provide water as needed for your plants this coming winter and spring.
Flower production from strawberry plants can start as early as late January or early 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 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.