Plant strawberries now for a luscious spring harvest. Dan Gill explains which varieties to look for | Home/Garden

Susan Howell
Plant strawberries now for a luscious spring harvest. Dan Gill explains which varieties to look for | Home/Garden

Fresh, ripe strawberries are a favorite with just about everybody. If you want in on the action, this is a great time to plant them into your garden. Strawberries are best planted from late October through early December for production next spring (March, April and May).

Some local nurseries, garden centers and feed and seed stores carry strawberry transplants in the fall. It’s not too late to mail order plants if you can’t find them locally. It is important to choose cultivars that will produce well in Louisiana growing conditions, such as the following.

  • FESTIVAL: Developed by the University of Florida. Earliest maturing variety, medium-long fruiting period, light red, medium to large berries, good quality, not susceptible to anthracnose fruit rot. It’s the predominate variety grown commercially in Louisiana.
  • CAMAROSA: Developed by the University of California. Early, firm, high yields, long fruiting period, large and extra-large berries, fair quality, susceptible to anthracnose fruit rot.
  • CAMINO REAL: Developed by the University of California. Later than Camarosa, produces large to extra-large berries, firm, shapely fruit with good quality.
  • CHANDLER: Developed by the University of California. High yields, medium maturity, deep red berry, somewhat soft, good quality, very susceptible to the development of misshapen fruit when blooming during times of low temperatures, susceptible to anthracnose fruit rot.
  • SWEET CHARLIE: Developed by the University of Florida. Early maturing, short fruiting period, light-red berries, good-to-fair quality.

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Strawberries are planted atop a black-plastic mulch.

For the plants to produce well, the bed should be in full sun. The location should also be well-drained. Before preparing the soil, do a thorough job of removing any weeds.

To ensure excellent drainage, grow strawberries in a raised bed or raised row. Since this the way we grow vegetables here, if you have an established vegetable garden you can just use the same set up

Enrich the soil by incorporating a two- to four-inch layer of organic matter, such as compost, into the upper eight inches of the bed. Sprinkle a light application of a general-purpose fertilizer following package directions over the area to be planted and work it into the soil. About every six weeks, place one teaspoon of fertilizer about two inches away from the base of each plant to keep the plants well fertilized.

Once the beds are prepared you are ready to plant, but with one final consideration. Since the fruit of strawberries is produced at ground level, the plants must be mulched. This will keep the fruit from coming into contact with the soil and reduce fruit rot. You can use black plastic or an organic mulch, such as pine straw or leaves.

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Fresh locally grown strawberries line farmers row Sunday at the 50th Strawberry Festival in Ponchatoula. (Advocate Photo by Randy Bergeron)

Black plastic is typically 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 to spread pine straw. It is also 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. 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. Apply the black plastic before you plant strawberry plants into the bed. If you plan to use an organic mulch, you may apply it before or after planting.

Take a trowel and, if planting through black plastic, simply use it to 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 staggered rows of strawberries. A 12-inch-wide raised row will accommodate a single row of strawberries, and on a 2- to 3-foot-wide raised row, you can plant the strawberries in two staggered rows. There should be at least 10 inches between parallel rows.

Be careful not to plant strawberry plants too deep and cover the crown, or too shallow and leaving roots exposed. After planting, apply an organic mulch if you have not yet done so and irrigate the bed thoroughly. Provide water as needed for your plants this coming winter and spring (regular rain during the cool season is typical, so this is generally not a big chore).

Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival 2018 showcases sweet Louisiana fruit, fun times

Strawberries grow in a hanging basket.

Strawberries can also be grown in containers filled with potting soil. The classic strawberry jars are actually a poor choice, as the plants are generally too crowded to produce their best. When planting in containers, plant no more than one plant per gallon-size container or three in a five gallon-size container. You can even put a few plants in your sunny flower beds if you don’t have a vegetable garden.

Flower production 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. 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.

A few pests may have to be dealt 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.

Birds can be a major problem pecking holes in the fruit as it turns red. You can stop bird damage with bird netting draped over wire arches above the plants.

Garden columnist Dan Gill answers readers’ questions each week. To send a question, email Gill at [email protected].

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Dan Gill is a retired consumer horticulture specialist with the LSU AgCenter. He hosts the “Garden Show” on WWL-AM Saturdays at 9 a.m. Email gardening questions to [email protected].

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