By Jacob J. Wright
Strawberries grow well in all parts of the Bayou State, but Tangipahoa and Livingston parishes comprise the heart of commercial strawberry cultivation. The cool but mild fall to spring months in Louisiana are the prime strawberry production times. Because strawberries are tolerant of frosts and appreciate the gradually warming winter to spring months for flowering and fruiting, gardeners need to schedule planting new strawberry plants in mid-autumn. Expect plants to flower and fruit anytime from February to April.
Strawberry plants need a sunny garden location where they receive uninterrupted sunshine that lasts a minimum of six hours daily in Louisiana. The garden soil needs to be acidic in pH, ideally 5.2 to 6.0. Sandy and loam soils that remain moisture but drain well after rain or irrigation are essential for good root growth and prevention of fungal rot diseases.
Once gardeners select the location for planting strawberries, the soil bed needs to be prepared in anticipation of fall planting. During the month of August, Louisianans should till the area and add organic matter like compost to improve soil texture, fertility and drainage. If soil pH needs correction, August is the month to apply amendments to create the acidic growing conditions strawberries need for best growth. Weed the area in September and allow the soil to settle and organic matter to further decompose.
According the Louisiana Ag Center, strawberry transplants are best planted outdoors in October or November. The finest flowering and development of fruits occur when strawberries are planted mid-October to early November. This coincides roughly with two to four weeks before the first killing frost in parishes across the state. The frosts and cool temperatures will not harm the strawberries, as root growth remains the main focus of the plants until warmth returns in mid- and late winter.
Planting depth of strawberry plants plays a key role in subsequent establishment and health. The crown of the strawberry, where the root transitions to the above-ground stem at the soil line, must be planted correctly. Planting the crown too deeply smothers it and leads to rot, while planting it too shallow with the crown above the soil leads to dried-out roots. Match the crown with the garden soil so it’s planted at the same depth as it grew in the nursery containers. Irrigate after planting to remove air pockets and supplement rainfall to keep the roots evenly moist the rest of the winter into spring as the plants begin to produce flowers. Encourage honeybees to visit your garden, as they facilitate pollination needed to obtain the berries.