Strawberry Planting Time!
In many places strawberries are a summer crop, but as usual, we are a little different here in Florida. In our climate they grow best in the cooler months of fall through spring. October and into early November is a great time to plant strawberries here and have delicious berries to enjoy in the spring. Still not convinced? Well, strawberries are easy to grow too, which also makes them a fun choice for new gardeners and kids. Why not try planting some?
Strawberry plants are low-growing herbs that spread into clumps via runners. They are normally grown as annuals here in Florida because they usually decline in the heat of our summers. For flower and fruit development in strawberries (most varieties) need temperatures between 50-80 degrees and shorter days. Flower and fruit production starts in November and continues into April or May. Fruit production will not be constant, but will happen in two or three cycles that may be interrupted by freezes. Choose the right varieties for success- not all are suited for growing in Florida. Recommended cultivars for Florida include ‘Sweet Charlie’, ‘Camarosa’, ‘Chandler’, ‘Oso Grande’, ‘Selva’, and ‘Festival’.
I am sure you are thinking, “Yum, where do I start?!” Well, you can buy transplants from local garden centers in late fall or early winter and plant them 10 to 18 inches apart. They can be planted at ground level, in raised beds, or even in containers. For best results, put the plants in a rich soil or potting media, water them often, and fertilize regularly with a balanced fertilizer. The soil should be well-drained and slightly acidic.
If a frost or freeze is predicted, cover the plants with a lightweight blanket or frost cloth propped up so the cover does not contact the leaves. This will help prevent the flowers or fruits from getting damaged. Having trouble with birds or rabbits enjoying the fruits of your labor before you do? Use netting to protect the plants.
The first berries should be ready to pick in January, about 90-110 days after planting. The harvest season usually lasts until May but fruit yield will peak around March. You can pick the berries when at least three-fourths of their surface has turned red. Don’t rush them though- once they have been picked, the berries will not sweeten any more. Your fresh-picked strawberries will keep for only a few days, so be sure to eat them soon after harvest. If you have a surplus of berries, you can always freeze them. For information on freezing your harvest: Preserving Food: Freezing Fruit
For even more info on growing strawberries in Florida, click here.
Now, where did I put that shortcake recipe…?