Strawberries in the Home Garden
C.K. Chandler, T.E. Crocker, J.F. Price, and E.E. Albregts
Temperatures between 50 and 80oF and day lengths 14 hours or less are required for the development of flowers and fruit on most strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa Duch.) varieties. In areas of the U.S. north of Florida (except for the coastal areas of southern and central California) these conditions occur only for a short period in the late summer or early fall, and again briefly in the spring. In peninsular Florida, however, these conditions exist for much of the fall, winter and spring. Single crown (stem) strawberry plants are planted in Florida during the fall, from late September to early November. Flowering and fruit production generally begins in November and continues into April or May. Fruit production over this period is not constant, but occurs in two or three cycles, and can be interrupted by freezing weather. Because the highest quality fruit is produced on relatively young plants with not more than four or five branch crowns, plants are usually tilled under at the end of the fruiting season, and new plants are planted the following fall.
The purpose of this paper is to present guidelines for the
successful production of strawberries in the Florida home garden.
Four varieties are currently recommended for the Florida garden: ‘Camarosa’, ‘Sweet Charlie’, and 'Festival'. All three varieties produce attractive, flavorful berries suitable for eating fresh or for freezing. ‘Camarosa’ has been the most productive variety in North Florida. Adapted varieties are capable of producing 1 to 2 pints of fruit per plant over the season.
General Growing Conditions
Strawberries grow best in a location receiving at least 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. If a full sun location is not available, try to choose a spot that is sunny during the morning and early afternoon. The soil should be well drained and slightly acidic (pH 5.5-6.5).
Most strawberry plants grown in Florida are planted in double rows on soil that has been mounded into raised beds (Figure 1). After beds are made, drip irrigation tape or tubing can be laid (emitter side up) in a 2 to 3 inch deep trench down the center of the bed. One to 2 inches of soil are placed on top of the tubing before fertilizer is banded and covered with the remaining loose soil. Strawberry plants also can be grown in planter boxes, strawberry pots, barrels (Stephens and Locascio, 1994), and other types of containers. Raised beds (as compared to flat beds) create a well drained soil environment in which roots have sufficient oxygen for survival during periods of extended irrigation such as during the establishment of bareroot, leafy transplants, and when sprinkler irrigation is used to protect flowers and fruit from freeze damage. Raised beds also make hand harvesting easier. Black polyethylene sheeting (1 to 1.5 mils thick) on 48 to 60 inch wide rolls is most often used to cover the raised beds. It provides excellent weed control and keeps the fruit cleaner than if it were lying directly on the soil surface. Colored sheeting other than black can be used, provided it is opaque. Clear sheeting is not recommended because it does not provide adequate weed control.
Figure 1. Raised bed design recommended for Florida garden strawberries
(a= 7-9 inches; b= 12 inches; c= 12-18 inches). (Redrawn from Integrated pest
management for strawberries, 1994. University of California Division of
Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 3351, p. 129)
Two pounds of 10-10-10 (or equivalent) garden fertilizer with micronutrients (including boron) per 10 feet of row should be incorporated into the bed before planting. About one-half of the nitrogen in the fertilizer should be in a slow release form, such as a sulfur or resin coated material. Incorporate one fourth of the fertilizer evenly across the top of the bed with a steel rake. Apply the remainder of the fertilizer in a narrow band approximately 1 inch deep down the middle of the bed (above the drip line or soaker hose, if they have been placed in the bed).
Transplants are set through slits made in the polyethylene
mulch. Bareroot plants are the most
common type of transplant available.
After the plants are established on the bed (i.e., when leafy bareroot transplants no longer have a tendency to wilt during the hottest part of the day) we recommend that drip tape or soaker hoses be used to keep the beds moist. Watering at a low pressure (e.g. 10 psi) for one-half to 1 hour should thoroughly moisten the bed. Beds can also be watered by saturating the soil between beds, but this method is not as efficient and requires more water than the within bed drIp method. Early in the season when the plants are small, one watering per week should be sufficient. Later in the season, when the plants are larger and weather is warmer, two or three waterings per week will be needed.
Strawberry flowers and fruit can be damaged by air temperatures below 32oF, while the leaves and crowns of the
One of the keys to successful pest management of strawberries in Florida is to start with healthy transplants – especially plants free of anthracnose (a fungal disease), spider mites, and nematodes. Growers often face an uphill battle if they start the season with diseased or infested plants. Plants are best purchased from a reputable nursery or garden center.
The type of insect pest feeding on strawberry plants
generally changes as the season progresses.
Early in the
Later in the season, aphids or flower thrips may cause some damage to developing fruit. Malathion can be used to control these pests, although natural predators and parasites will usually take care of the problem, if the gardener has patience.
Parasitic nematodes (microscopic round worms) and certain
soil diseases can cause problems if strawberry plants are set in the same area
year after year. It is advisable to
switch your planting to an area that has not been planted in strawberries for
two or three years. Avoid planting
strawberries in areas where you have just grown tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, or
other vegetable crops that are susceptible to Verticillium wilt. Sweet corn is a
good crop to plant between strawberry crops (Strand, 1993).
Solarizing the soil during the summer before planting can also help to
reduce soil-borne pests. County Cooperative Extension Offices have information on this
Although bird pests, such as robins and cedar waxings are difficult to control in commercial plantings of strawberries, birds can be effectively excluded from small garden plantings by covering the plants with bird netting.
Harvesting and Storage
A fruit is ready to harvest when three quarters of its entire surface area is red. The fruit starts to deteriorate soon after it has become totally red, so it is best to harvest fruit regularly, generally, every two to four days. Ripe strawberries are delicate and bruise easily, so a gentle picking technique is recommended. Fruit that is held between the thumb and forefingers can be snapped from the fruit stem (pedicel) by twisting the forearm and wrist. Strawberries that are not going to be consumed immediately after harvest should be placed in a refrigerator, preferably in a moisture proof container to keep them from drying out.
Stephens, J.M. and S.J. Locasico, 1994. Growing strawberries in barrels. Document MR 74-14 on CD-ROM. Florida Cooperative Extension Service.
Strand, Larry L., 1993. Managing pests in the home garden. p. 127-138. In: Integrated pest management for strawberries. Publication 3351. University of California. Oakland.