Have you ever considered that growing strawberries in the south make be different than for northern gardeners? It is, and here are the details!
When I was a young teenager – 14 I think – I decided that I wanted to grow strawberries.
My mom had grown some strawberries here and there but I – I was going to put in 200 plans that spring, tend to them faithfully, pulling every flower bud so that they would grow strong, and produce a bumper crop the next year.
This was my cash cow. Sure, we’d have enough to eat fresh and can for homemade strawberry syrup later, but 15 year old me was going to be rich.
Funny enough, I don’t really remember if we ended up selling any strawberries.
I remember planting them, and weeding them over and over again. And then, because we lived in the south and had a long growing season, getting behind and being sure that the weeds had gotten so high my strawberry plants must be dead. But strawberry plants are hardy and there they were underneath those 3 foot high weeds.
And finally, I remember picking so. many. strawberries.
But I don’t remember selling them, so maybe we did, maybe we didn’t.
After that year though, I was not nearly as ambitious with growing cash crops, and limited myself to 50 strawberry plants tops.
The thing is, when you plant in the spring and force your plants to put their energy into growing runners throughout the year instead of letting them set fruit, your plants multiply to the point that three-food-wide rows are barely distinguishable as little more than a sea of strawberry foliage – you’ll be lucky to walk down a row without stepping on the thick spread of strawberry runners.
At that time in my life, I hadn’t heard of planting in the fall for spring crops – just the old fashioned spring planting.
Growing strawberries in the south is easy – that’s not to say it’s not a lot of work, but honestly, they’re as hardy a plant as you can ask for as long as you follow a few simple rules:
Growing Strawberries In The South
Have Well-Drained Soil. Strawberries aren’t picky about soil, but won’t tolerate water-logged. So make sure to plant in sandy loam and/or a higher area that won’t get waterlogged for drainage purposes, or try a raised bed (see how to make your own raised beds).
They also prefer slightly acid soils, but good crops can be grown in alkaline soil as I know quite well since we’ve moved to Alkaline central Texas and grown delicious bumper crops.
Plant June Bearers
Ever-bearing and day-neutral strawberries sound like a great idea, but were developed for cooler climates and perform horribly in southern areas. Stick with June Bearing plants!
I remember one time my mom trying a variety of ever-bearing strawberries in our Tennessee garden. The strawberries they produced were mouthwateringly delicious, but sadly, there were only a few handfuls.
Since then we’ve followed the advice of experienced southern gardeners and gardening books and magazines and stuck with June-bearing, and with the exception of the time our neighbor’s horses escaped into our garden and ate them all down to the crowns, our strawberry plants have never failed to produce hearty crops.
Keep them hydrated!
Having well drained soil means just that – it drains! Which means you will need to make sure that your strawberries roots don’t dry out. Living in Tennessee, we not only got a lot more rain, but our soil retained much more water than it does here in Texas and irrigation wasn’t too much of a problem. But if you live in the southwest, or any area where the soil is sandy and well drained by default, keep an eye on it, and set up a few sprinklers to make watering your plants easy.
Those are the only real rules, but you’ll have a lot of success with growing strawberries in the south if you follow these tips as well:
Though strawberries are technically perennial plans, they are much easier to keep healthy and bear much heavier crops when treated as an annual crop.
Advantages to annual planting include heavier crops, much heavier crops, and less disease development. In addition, weeds are easier to manage with annual planting.
I’m not saying you can’t keep your berry plants two years in a row – I’ve done it – but the second year will produce fewer berries, and the risk of developing disease that will negatively affect future plantings increases each year. So if you decide to keep your strawberries an extra year, it’s probably not the end of the world, but please, please reconsider if you’re thinking about going into 3rd or 4th year growth.
Mulch your berries
Mulching strawberries with black mulch warms the soil, which extends the growing season, allowing plants to continue maturing into the early winter, giving you a stronger crop the next spring. It also keeps the fruit off the ground which reduces fruit rot
Additionally, depending on where you live, you may want to cover the plants themselves during a late winter/early spring warm spell to keep the plants from blooming too early, and subsequently losing the blooms/future fruit to frosts. To do this, make sure you use a light mulch such as salt hay or straw. Heavy mulches such as decayed or wet leaves will smother your plants.
If You’re Planting In The Spring
Plant bare-root strawberry plants as soon as the soil can be worked – frost or even a bit of snow won’t hurt your plants.
Though you will find varying opinions everywhere you look, we have had phenomenal success spacing our rows four feet apart, and spacing strawberry plants three apart within the rows. At first you’re garden will look bare, and you may think there’s no way the plants will fill in, but oh, they will!
One thing you can do to mitigate the “wasted space” is plant short-lived crops like radishes, beets, or green onions between plants while the strawberries are young.
Encourage your plants to put all their energy into becoming established by removing all blooms during the first year. Doing this may sound counter-intuitive, but you’ll end up with exponentially more, larger berries the next year.
If You’re Planting In The Fall
Chandler, Sequoia and Douglas are typically regarded as the best fall planted varieties for home gardeners
Most fall growers plant in plastic-covered rows. This helps keep the soil warmer longer, allowing for more growth.
Plants should be set out by late September in central and east Texas for fall planting.
You will also need to plant more plants than you would for spring planting, due to the lack of growth time, and this allows you to set plants closer together.
As organic farming enthusiasts, we prefer to fertilize by working manure or compost into our soil prior to planting. Horse manure has been my personal favorite, but of course, cow is great, and in my experience, more readily available if you don’t have your own horses.
Sorry, but you’re going to have to look elsewhere for commercial fertilizing recommendations. 😉
So how much fruit can you expect from your strawberry plants?
I can’t say for sure from personal experience because I’ve never kept records – which looking back is a bummer – that would be cool to know!
I have read that on average, strawberry plants produce .75-1 pound each, and what I can say is that 50 spring plants every year was more than plenty for a family of 10. That includes eating fresh berries, as well as freezing, canning, and making strawberry jam for later.
Here’s the most important thing about growing strawberry plants in the south: Don’t overthink it.
Just pick your soil, your plants, and do it!
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