Grow Your Own Strawberries
David Dinkins, Bradford County Extension Service
Mike Sweat, Baker County Extension Service
Over 94% of all households consume strawberries. Many people are discovering that strawberries can be grown successfully in home gardens with proper care.
The strawberry plant is perennial by nature, but is grown as an annual in Florida. The plant goes through a cycle of vegetative growth, flower formation, fruit production, then runner development. The cycle is delicately balanced and is easily upset.
Strawberry plants are typically set in the garden in the fall (October-November); following early vegetative growth, the cool nights and short days of the winter stimulate the plant to produce flowers; following the last killing frost of spring, flowers are formed which develop into fruits ready for harvest in about a month. Berry production and harvesting continue throughout the spring; upon the onset of warm weather and longer days, the plants cease to produce berries and begin to form runners which take root and become new plants. All plants are usually destroyed at this time; however, the new runner plants could be removed from the mother plant and reset to produce more runner plants themselves. Such vegetative growth could continue until winter and the onset of the fruiting portion of the cycle. It is best not to save your own runner plants since these might be infected with problem causing diseases or nematodes.
The leaves will withstand cold weather, but flowers and fruit may be injured or killed by frosts or freezes. By protecting early blossoms, you might obtain early fruit. If plants lose their flowers and early fruit due to cold, a later crop will develop with return of milder weather.
Commercial growers have successfully grown and harvested early fruit in December by using row covers for cold protection.
Well-drained, moist but not wet, sandy soils with a good quantity of organic matter are best suited for strawberry production, but most all soil types are acceptable.
Step 1. Before making the beds, broadcast 2 1/2 pounds of 6-8-8 fertilizer per 100 sq. feet over the plot and spade or disk in.
Sweet Charlie: Currently the most popular variety in Florida with about 40% of all production statewide. A very early variety with medium sized, very sweet fruit.
Chandler: Popular variety wit U-Pick operations, good size fruits, yields well and has a tangy flavor.
Other varieties include:
Diamante: Good flavor, large fruit.
Aromas: Firm fruit, good flavor.
Gaviota: Good flavor, lower yielding than Chandler.
Rosa Linda: Good flavor.
Future varieties to watch for during the 2002-2003 season:
Earlibrite: Early producer, usually in December through February, good flavor.
Strawberry Festival: Good flavor.
NOTE: The "Everbearing" varieties of strawberries are not well suite for Florida. The varieties suggested above beat fruit early and continuously over a 3-month or more period of time.
All of the common irrigation techniques used in Florida gardens work well with strawberries. Where overhead sprinkling is used in conjunction with plastic mulch on very sandy soils, punch a few holes in the plastic with a rake to allow good wetting of the soil beneath. Newly set plants will benefit from overhead sprinkling for two or three days. Sprinkling fills in the soil around the roots and keeps the tops from drying out.
Trickle irrigation is extremely well-adapted for use with strawberries. To avoid leaching the fertilizer, do not place the trickle lines directly over the fertilizer band. Where fertilizer deficiencies occur, soluble fertilizer may be applied through lines beneath the plastic.
Pests on strawberries in the garden include insects, diseases, nematodes, weeds, birds animals.
Insects -- The most common insect pests affecting strawberries in the garden are: pameras, flower trips, spider mites, white grubs, cutworms, slugs and snails. See "Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide" for suggestions on pest control.
Step 2. Then prepare the bed, applying another 2 1/2 pounds of 6-8-8 fertilizer per 100 sq. feet in a single, narrow band in the middle of the bed four to eight inches deep. Do not apply fertilizer in bands directly under the plants, as salt burn may occur (foliar wilting).
For best results, strawberries should be mulched, although this is not absolutely necessary.
While straw and other natural organic materials may be used, black polyethylene plastic mulch has proven best.
Use 1 to 11/2 mil plastic in a width that will completely cover top and sides of bed. Apply the plastic just before planting. Be sure the bed is formed properly, is firm, fertilized and very moist.
Place soil on the edges of the plastic to hold in place. Cut slits or holes at the proper intervals in which to insert plants.
When receiving your young plants form the nursery for setting, take care to keep the roots from drying out and being damaged. Plants received before you are quite ready to set may be kept well-wrapped in a refrigerator for a few days, or may "heel them in" individually into a V-shaped trench for a few hours. Follow these steps when setting plants in the garden row:
Buy certified, disease-free plants.
Keep plants moist before planting.
Set plants in moist soil.
Spread roots out in fan-shape; do not double or crumple up.
Set them at the correct depth. Do not cover crown, and do not leave tops roots exposed.
Pack the soil around the roots firmly, then sprinkle with water
Overhead sprinkling keeps the tops from drying out until the roots can be established.
Since strawberries are very sensitive to such climatic conditions as day length and temperature, it is important that you select a variety adapted to Florida conditions.
Camarosa: Currently the most popular variety in North Florida. It produces large good tasting fruit and is the highest yielding variety...
Leaf spots, stem spotting, plant blight, and fruit rots are often encountered by gardeners.
Anthracnose is one of the worse diseases in Florida gardens. Spraying and dusting may be beneficial using approved fungicides. Plant a resistant variety.
Soil solarization prior to setting plants is the best methods of ridding the soil of nematodes.
Nets may be placed over garden to prevent birds from pecking the fruit.
Weeds are best eliminated by mulching with black plastic or straw. Herbicides are not suggested for home gardeners to try.
Harvesting and Storing
Strawberry fruits are very perishable. Pick them when they are dry and properly ripened.
Immature berries do not ripen later and over-ripe ones are soft and rot easily. After picking, keep them cool, as near 32 degrees F as possible. Commercially, strawberries are sold
in a "flat" which weighs approximately 12 lbs. and contains 12 pints. The normal harvest period in North Florida runs from March through May when cold protection strategies are not utilized.
The Gulf Coast Research & Education Center web site is primarily for commercial growers, however home and gardeners may find useful information such as variety updates, strawberry folklore, recipes, and pest management options.
Over 94% of all households consume strawberries.