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The second half of October is a good time to plant strawberries in our area. You may be able to find strawberry plants for sale at local garden centers at this time. Some online nurseries sell strawberry plants for fall planting, as well.
Some varieties to consider include Chandler, Sweet Charlie, Benicia, Camarosa, Camino Real, Florida Brilliance, Fronteras, San Andreas, Strawberry Festival, and Sweet Ann. One of my colleagues has found a variety called Mara des Bois to be a top performer in terms of surviving for more than one season in a home garden and tasting good, as well.
Strawberry plants are sold as either bare-root or “plug” plants. The latter are basically transplants, as you would buy of tomatoes or other vegetables, rooted in soilless media.
When growing strawberries, good drainage is essential. This can be provided with a raised bed or in a container with a well-drained potting mix and adequate holes at the base. Soil pH for strawberries should be around pH 5.8 to 6.2.
Unless you’re growing in a container and using a potting mix with fertilizer included, incorporate fertilizer into the soil prior to planting. In the absence of a soil test, options include 1.5 pounds of 8-24-24, 2 pounds of 13-13-13, or 3 pounds of 8-8-8 per 100 square feet of bed space. For a 4’ x 8’ (32 square feet) raised bed, divide these per-100-square-feet amounts by three. In January or early February and again in mid-March, side-dress the plants with calcium nitrate at a rate of 0.4 pound per 100 square feet.
Another option is to incorporate 1 lb 13-13-13 or 1.5 lb 8-8-8 per 100 square feet before planting and then apply a soluble complete fertilizer (Miracle-Gro, etc.) on a regular basis, according to label instructions, from mid-March until the plants have finished fruiting for the season.
If you grow in a container and use a potting mix that has fertilizer included, that will provide pre-plant fertilizer. Just start using a soluble complete fertilizer in mid-March.
Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart in all directions. Wider spacing will allow more air movement and may help reduce disease pressure.
When you plant strawberry plants, make sure that the growing tip at the top of the crown is above the soil. If you’re planting bare-root plants, spread roots out within the planting hole before covering them.
Remove any runners that form, when planting in the fall.
Be sure that plants have adequate water as they’re getting established. It’s often still quite hot in October, and strawberry plants that are stressed are more likely to succumb to root and crown diseases.
Besides the root and crown diseases that threaten strawberry plants themselves, fruit rots are also problematic in strawberries.
In addition to not setting plants too close to one another, avoid watering plants from overhead in the late afternoon or evening. Remove dead leaves in late winter. Spread mulch (pine straw, wheat straw, or other) around plants so that that fruit will not come into direct contact with the soil. Once fruit starts to ripen, pick fruit frequently. When you do, remove diseased as well as good fruit from the garden.
Fungicides that contain captan and are labeled for use on home garden strawberries can be applied on a regular basis, beginning at the time of flowering, to protect plants from fruit rots. The fungus that causes gray mold infects through flowers, so protecting flowers themselves is an important part of managing this disease. Make sure that any fungicide you’re planning to use is labeled for use on strawberries, and follow label instructions.
While strawberries may start flowering soon after planting, without the cold protection that commercial growers typically provide, flowers will be killed when temperatures reach approximately 30 degrees F. It takes about 30 to 40 days from bloom to ripe fruit, so you can expect to start harvesting roughly a month after our last hard freeze. In some varieties, harvest may continue into June.
Strawberry plants are perennial, but diseases that plants get in our climate make it difficult to keep them alive and productive from year to year. With excellent drainage, you may be able to keep strawberry plants alive for several years. When you do replant, practice crop rotation if possible, and don’t plant strawberries in the same place again for several years.
Let me know if you have questions.
Contact Mary Helen Ferguson.