By Roy Lee Carter
Gulf County Extension Director
Strawberries can be grown in home gardens throughout the state. Temperatures between 50 to 80° F (10 and 27°C) and day lengths 14 hours or fewer are required for the development of flowers and fruit on most strawberry varieties.
In the U.S. these conditions occur only for a short period in late summer or fall, and again briefly in spring. In our area, however, this combination of day length and temperature exists 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 beings 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 are produced on relatively young plants with not more than four or five branched crowns, plants are usually tilled under at the end of the fruiting season, and new plants are planted the following fall.
Currently, we suggest three varieties for the Florida home 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, while Festival has been the most productive variety in Central Florida. These varieties are capable of producing 1 to 2 pints of fruit per plant over the season. 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 to 6.5).
IFAS specialist recommends planting strawberries on raised bed which are two feet wide and spaced two feet apart. The beds should be mounded so they’re six inches high along the edges and about eight inches high in the middle.
In preparing the beds you begin with fertilization. For a ten-by-ten foot strawberry patch, broadcast about two-and-a-half pounds of 8-8-8 fertilizer and till it into the soil. Then from the beds and apply another two-and-a-half pounds of fertilizer this time in a narrow band about six inches deep down the middle of the beds. If you’re just starting to grow strawberries you should also include a complete mixture of minor elements in the first season fertilizer application.
When the bed is properly formed, fertilized and moistened, cover with a sheet of landscaping mesh fabric which will block weeds and allow water to penetrate. The, cut slits in the fabric where the plants will be inserted. Plants should be set in double rows, one row on each side of the bed about six inches from the edge. Plants should be spaced 12 inches apart in the row. Be sure that no plants are set directly over the fertilizer band down the middle of the bed because this can lead to salt burn.
Be sure to use certified, disease-free plants. Keep them moist before planting and plant in moist soil. Spread the roots in a fan shape, set the plant at the correct depth in the soil, and pack the soil firmly around the roots.
For more information on growing strawberries contact the Gulf County Extension Service @ 639-3200 or visit our website: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu or www.http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu and see Circular HS 1154