By Susan Grindstaff

Florida’s warm climate and long growing season make it ideally suited to the needs of strawberry plants, according to University of Florida Extension. In Florida, planting season for strawberries begins in late September. The berries will begin to flower and bear fruit by late November. You can expect three fruit-bearing cycles within this time frame.

Determine the best place to plant, keeping in mind that the plants will need at least eight hours of sunlight each day. Make sure that the soil is drained and has a pH level of 5.5 to 6.5. Strawberries thrive in a slightly acidic environment.

Choose your transplants. Bare-root plants are the most readily available, but you can also use plants that are started in trays.

Prepare your plant bedding in raised rows. This ensures that the soil will have enough drainage. Use your spade to form a mound for each individual transplant. Space them 12 inches apart, with 12 inches between each row.

Install irrigation for each bed. Using tape or tubing, follow the center of the bed between the two rows of plants. Bury the irrigation device approximately 3 inches deep, and cover with at least 2 inches of soil.

Distribute fertilizer, following the trench you’ve made down the middle of the bed, then cover with another 2 inches of soil. Spread fertilizer over the remaining bed, taking care to spread about a quarter of it with a rake. Plan to use 2 lbs. of 10-10-10 (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) fertilizer for each 10-foot bed. Adjust accordingly for longer or shorter beds, roughly 1/5 lb. for each foot of bedding.

Cover the bedding with dark plastic and mulch. Cut slits above each plant mound.

Push your plants through the slits you’ve cut. For bare root plants, insert into the soil up to the crown, leaving the roots just barely covered. For potted seedlings, cover them to the same depth they were in before transferring from their tray.

Water the plants, making sure you have soaked the entire root system. New plants should be watered daily. Bare root plants will need continuous sprinkling; potted transplants can be watered once per day.

Use micronutrient-rich fertilizer.

Use thiram or captan weekly to control pests and fungus.

Remove all dead leaves from plants.

University of Florida Extension recommends the strawberry varieties ‘Camarosa’, ‘Sweet Charlie’ and ‘Festival,” with ‘Camarosa’ particularly productive in the northern part of the state.

Protect your plants from freezing if the air temperature goes below 32 degrees. The best way to do this is by covering the plants with sheets.