By Katie Rosehill
You might not think that strawberries will grow in the low desert country of Arizona, which includes the cities of Tucson and Phoenix. But with the right care, adequate watering and soil preparation, strawberries flourish. The trick is getting them to survive the hot desert summers without burning to a crisp.
Place the strawberry bed where it receives at least six to eight hours of morning sun and afternoon shade. Summer temperatures reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a regular basis. Without shade, the berry plants may not make it to cooler fall weather.
Dig the soil to a depth of 12 inches with a shovel. Remove any caliche. Caliche is hardened calcium carbonate. It looks like white-grayish rocks and is common in Arizona. It should be removed by digging it out, using a pickax or a jackhammer, because it interferes with drainage and restricts root growth.
Add a 1-inch layer of gypsum. The soil in Arizona is alkaline. Most vegetables and fruits, including strawberries, prefer soil on the acidic side. The gypsum balances the alkalinity.
Add one bucket of compost for every two buckets of soil. Most plants in the desert don’t have much leaf matter. Even the trees like palo verde and ironwood have tiny leaves. There isn’t much to decay and because it rains so infrequently what organic matter is present takes longer to decompose.
Mix all ingredients with the soil and rake the bed level and smooth.
Dig a hole slightly deeper than the root ball of the strawberry plant.
Put the root ball in the hole so the crown–the area between the roots and the stems– is level with the soil. Gently push the soil around the roots covering them. Space the plants 12 inches apart.
Soak the ground after planting until it’s wet to a depth of 6 inches. Keep the plants well watered the first week; you may have to water every day during late spring.
Apply a water-soluble fertilizer at half strength every two weeks. During the hot months, water every other day. That washes the fertilizer out of the ground more rapidly than only watering once a week.
Lay netting 6 to 12 inches off the ground over the strawberry plants. Quail, a common bird in Arizona, will eat the half-ripe berries. The netting has to be high enough over the strawberries that quail can’t reach down to the berries through the netting.
Obtain the strawberry plants locally. They can’t be shipped in from outside the state.
Plant your strawberries in a fenced-in area. Javelinas, wild peccaries, love both the berries and the leaves. They’ll rip the bed to shreds. Rabbits are also a common problem.