When planting strawberries, it is recommended that the strawberry beds be worked up in late August so that planting can occur late October through middle of November (prepare the bed at least 6 weeks before planting). When making your strawberry rows, it is important to keep the rows about 42-48 inchesw wide so that when growers are picking the strawberries, they do not have to get in the strawberry rows in order to pick the berries. If the grower has to get in the rows in order to pick the berries, they run the risk of damaging the strawberry plants by possibly stepping on them and breaking the plant. Another important fact about the strawberry rows is to keep the strawberry rows about 10 inches high after the soil has settled. In doing this, this will allow for the roots to quickly develop and allow for proper water drainage throughout the bed. Since strawberry plants do not like to have their roots saturated in water, keeping the rows about 10 inches high is highly recommended.
Proper planting of strawberry plants is very important. Most plants that homeowners get will be bare-root plants. What this means is that the plant will be strictly the plant and roots, no dirt attached to the root. It is important when planting strawberries to not plant too high and expose the roots as well as not plant too low and smother the plant. The ideal depth in planting strawberry plants is to place the plant into the ground and to cover all the roots but leave the bud and crown exposed and sitting on top of the soil surface. Also when planting, it is important that if growers are planting on a single row, to place the plants 10-12 inches apart from one another. By doing this, this will allow optimum room for the plant to grow and develop as it matures. If planting in a double row, it is important to space the plants 14-16 inches apart with a 10- to 12- inch spacing between parallel rows. If the proper planting procedures are followed, the strawberry plants will have enough room to grow and mature which will give you better fruit production and decrease the risk of disease and insect pressure.
Since strawberries love fertilizer, fertilization is very important. Once the rows are formed up and ready for planting, a pre-plant application of fertilizer can be applied to the strawberry rows. About 8 – 10 pounds of 13-13-13 or 10 -12 pounds of 8-8-8 can be applied per 100 feet of row. This will allow for better growth and root development once the plants are placed in the strawberry rows. Come late January through early February, a side-dress application of fertilizer can be applied. If applying a side-dress application, use about ½ to 1 pound of Ammonium Nitrate (33% N) or 1-2 pounds for Calcium Nitrate (15% N) per 100 feet of row. With this added side-dress of nitrogen, this will increase fruit production throughout the remainder of the growing season. It is important to also note that when applying fertilizer, it is suggested that homeowners water the strawberry rows before the fertilizer application; this will allow a faster breakdown of the fertilizer which will be better suited for the strawberry plants.
Irrigation and watering is very crucial to the overall productivity of the strawberry plant. With the reduction of water in the strawberry bed, the plant will have a tendency to become stressed which can reduce fruit production and make the plant more susceptible to diseases and insects. Whether you use a drip irrigation system or a sprinkler system, water is needed. A drip irrigation system will be the use of a flex hose running on top of the strawberry row. At each strawberry plant there will be a nozzle or a pin point hole that will allow water to effectively get to the strawberry plant without wetting the foliage on the plant. Anytime the foliage on strawberry plants stay damp, the risk of diseases will increase (pathogens develop when the environmental conditions are ideal and most pathogens love moist conditions). Sprinkler systems are very beneficial as well; this will allow for a more broadcast coverage of water throughout the garden. The benefit of having a sprinkler is that if the temperatures are cold enough, the sprinkler can be used for frost protection; the drawback of a sprinkler is wet foliage. It is recommended that about 1 inch of water be added to the strawberry bed every week. A rain gauge can be placed in the strawberry bed to see if the strawberry beds are getting the right amount of moisture. If you did receive some rain but it was less than 1inch for the week, the drip irrigation line or sprinkler can be turned on in order to supplement the lack of moisture.
Mulching is another important piece to the strawberry puzzle. With the wide ranges of mulches out there and the relatively cheap cost of mulches, there is no reason why any strawberry bed shouldn’t have mulch. Plastic mulches, pine needles, newspapers, landscape fabrics, leaves and hay are just some of the mulches that are out there. With the addition of mulch, the strawberry rows stay moist, weed pressure is down, insects are reduced, and diseases and reduced. If mulch is not used, weeds and diseases will be sure to find their way in! If using rolls of mulch like a row of landscape fabric or plastic, all you have to do is roll it across the strawberry bed and cut holes where the strawberry plants are to be placed (it is better to place the rolls of much down first before planting; if using bags of mulch, plant first and then mulch). Mulching will keep your plants healthy and vibrant for a longer period of time.
Harvesting is what we have all been waiting for! Most people tend to harvest the strawberries wrong. When harvesting strawberries, it is recommended that you pinch off ½ inch of the stem off with the berry rather than pulling the fruit off of the stem. This will allow the fruit to avoid any damage when being harvested and will allow the fruit to last longer. When harvesting strawberries, make sure to place them in the basket or container you are using rather than dropping or throwing the strawberries into the container; by doing this, this will allow for the strawberries to avoid any bruising that might occur if they were just being thrown into the basket or container.
Growing strawberries in southwest Louisiana can be very fun and productive. If the growers take the right precautions and manage the plants properly throughout the growing season, an abundance of strawberries can be produced in the garden which can add a valuable treat this winter.
If you have any questions pertaining to the above topic or if you would like to get on the horticulture mailing list to receive horticulture updates, contact the LSU AgCenter at 225-788-8821. Also, mark it on your calendars that the LSU AgCenter will be hosting a poinsettia and Christmas tree seminar on December 14, 2011; a variety of topics will be covered and also poinsettias will be given out as door prizes. This seminar is free and open to the public.