By Eleanor Jewell

Encompassing all of the cities south of Rosepine, Glemora and Moreauville, South Louisiana lies within USDA Hardiness Zones 8 and 9, where the winter temperatures do not fall below 10 degrees F. If you are thinking about planting strawberries in South Louisiana, you live within the perfect environment for doing so. Strawberries are hardy to Zone 3, and thrive when planted in the sunny, well-drained soils of South Louisiana.

Test your soil pH prior to planting in the spring. A soil testing kit purchased from a garden center will help to determine if your South Louisiana soil meets the pH requirements for strawberries, which is between 5.5 and 6.5.

Loosen the soil with a pitchfork and amend if necessary. Add lime to the soil if the test reveals a pH below 5.5, or peat moss for a pH above 6.5. Mix the required amendment in with the soil according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Dig holes for your strawberry plants. Day-neutrals and June-bearers are a good choice for South Louisiana, where the strawberry plants will produce fruit prolifically between summer and fall. Dig the holes slightly larger than the root balls of the strawberry plants, spacing each hole a minimum of 5 inches from the next, in a row. Space rows 42 inches apart.

Remove the strawberry plants from their nursery containers and set one plant in the center of each hole. Backfill the holes with the original South Louisiana soil, and pat the soil around each plant to remove air pockets.

Supply your South Louisiana strawberry plants with at least 1 to 2 inches of water per week to encourage healthy fruit production. Use a soaker hose, which will provide your strawberry crop with deep waterings. Louisiana is a state that receives plenty of rainfall–close to 60 inches per year to be exact. These high rainfall totals are enough to sustain strawberries, but if you are having a dry year, supplemental weekly waterings will help keep the soil moist to a 1-inch depth throughout the growing season.

Spread a layer of mulch around your South Louisiana strawberry plants to deter weed growth. A 3- to 4-inch layer of straw or bark chips can do the trick. Mulching will also improve drainage and protect the roots of the strawberries from the hot South Louisiana sun.

Fertilize the strawberries using a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer. Follow the instructions on the packaging for allocation amounts and frequency. Most strawberry plants appreciate a dose of fertilizer after their final fruiting, to improve vigor.

Harvest the strawberries as they ripen. Ripe strawberries are bright red in color. Try to pick the strawberries within one to three days of ripening, to avoid pest infestations. If pests appear on your strawberry plants, apply an insecticidal soap per label instructions.

Because the South Louisiana winters can potentially fall to 10 degrees F, strawberries require some cold protection. Aside from deterring weeds, improving drainage and protecting the strawberries from the sun, mulching also protects the roots of the strawberry plants from the cold.

The strawberry plants will die back on their own in the fall. When this happens, give the plants a final deep watering and refrain from watering throughout the South Louisiana winter. The strawberry plants will begin to show signs of new growth after the final thaw of winter, at which time you can resume watering.

Favored strawberry varieties for South Louisiana include Strawberry Festival, Camarosa and Camino Real.

Do not over-water the strawberry plants, which may cause the roots of the plants to rot. If the soil feels moist at a depth of 1 inch, do not add more water.