CLAY COUNTY – One of the many crops Florida is known for is strawberries, with the southern part of the state known as the “winter strawberry capital of the world”. While that region may boast the best growing conditions due to their lack of frost, we can still grow plenty of this sweet fruit in our home gardens.
Strawberries in Florida
Growing up on a farm in Delaware, I distinctly remember growing about a quarter acre of strawberries each year, starting the in the spring, protecting them for one year and then harvesting the next. In Florida, we treat our strawberries as annuals as they do not survive well through our summers. It is also important to know that many of the common varieties grown elsewhere in the country may not be suited to our climate. Look for ‘Camarosa’, ‘Sweet Charlie’, or ‘Festival’ for your garden.
The recommended time to plant strawberries runs from September 15th through October 15th. Buy transplants or runners in one of the varieties listed above in full sun. Fruit production will then begin usually starting in November and occur throughout the winter and early spring in cycles and can be interrupted by frosts and freeze.
In production settings, the plants are usually planted in a raised row, much like a raised bed, which is covered in a solid plastic sheet mulch to prevent weeds. Under this, an irrigation line made of drip tape is run as well to provide water. Plants are placed in cut slits in the plastic. A diagram of this can be found in the Growing Strawberries in the Florida Home Garden fact sheet found at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs403. This can be emulated in the home garden but if not ,you do want your plants to be grown in an organic, well-drained soil. Many different containers and pots can also be used for strawberry production.
After planting, irrigation may be needed during dry periods. For fertilization Two pounds of 10-5-10 (or equivalent) garden fertilizer with micronutrients (including boron) per 10 feet of row should be incorporated into the bed before planting with at least 50% of it being in a slow release form.
The young fruit and flowers of strawberries can be damaged by temperatures below 32 degrees so frost protection is a must in our area. If a frost is expected, cover the plants with cloth, plastic sheeting, or blankets the afternoon before the freeze and remove the follow morning once the risk of frost is gone. Make sure the coverings are properly anchored so cold wind can’t enter and harm the plants.
Pests and diseases
Some diseases are present in strawberries so make sure to utilize healthy transplants, remove diseases or damaged leaves or fruit, and you can utilize a preventative fungicide application to ward off infection. However, make sure any products you use are labeled for use on strawberry plants and follow all directions stated on the product label. If powdery mildew occurs, use a sulfur based fungicide for control.
As for insects, several pests may fee on strawberries. Several types of caterpillars may feed on the leaves during the early growing season so if they are present, you can apply a product with an active ingredient of Bt (Bacillus thuringensis). This is actually a bacteria that infects and kills these pests. Later in the season, caterpillars are much more rare but spider mites, aphids, and thrips can be damaging. These can be controlled using horticultural oils or insecticidal soap. Make sure the products are labeled for strawberries and follow all label directions.
Nematodes can also be an issue so be sure to rotate your crops from year to year and do not plant strawberries in areas where tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplant have been grown in the previous season as it can lead to verticillium wilt diseases.
Have any horticultural questions? Contact the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Office in Clay County. We are online at http://clay.ifas.ufl.edu and can be reached by phone at (904)284-6355.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions, or affiliations. USDA, UF/IFAS Extension, FAMU and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating.