GAINESVILLE — While Florida is known as the winter strawberry capital of the world, you can plant strawberries at home now.
Yes, fall is officially here – even if the temperatures don’t always match the calendar date. That means the air is soon going to get a little drier and maybe a tad cooler in much of Florida. Specifically, the temperature should be between 50 and 80 degrees for best strawberry growth.
Vance Whitaker, a strawberry breeder at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, co-authored a newly revised UF/IFAS Extension document that gives tips on how to plant and grow strawberries at home, including suggestions for fertilizer, pest control, harvesting and storage.
“It’s important to remember that strawberries grow best during the winter in Florida,” said Whitaker, an associate professor of horticultural sciences. “In central Florida and west-central Florida, gardeners should plant them in mid- to late October and they will start fruiting in late November or December.”
If you live in North Florida, where it’s getting a bit chillier, you can start planting now, Whitaker said. But the time to plant home-grown strawberries varies widely, depending on where you are in Florida. Gardeners should time their planting to mirror the local commercial growers’ planting schedule.
Among the recommendations from UF/IFAS experts:
• Plant ‘Florida Brilliance’ and Sweet Sensation ™ (‘Florida 127’), both bred by UF/IFAS, in Central Florida, and consider trying ‘Camarosa’ in North Florida. These varieties produce attractive, flavorful berries suitable for eating fresh or for freezing. They produce one to two pints of fruit per plant per season.
• Grow where the plants can get at least eight hours of direct sunlight per day. If that’s not possible, pick a spot that’s sunny in the morning and early afternoon.
• Pile the soil into raised beds for best growth.
• If the temperatures are going to dip below 32 degrees, cover the plants with sheets or blankets – the same advice meteorologists give you when freezing weather is nearing.
Garden-grown strawberries will taste just as delightful as those you buy at the grocery store, Whitaker said. That’s because you’re planting largely the same varieties as commercial growers.
“But because the home gardener can eat the fruit right away, they can let the fruit get riper before harvesting, which will enhance the flavor,” Whitaker said.
Because we’re talking about gardening, Wendy Wilber, statewide coordinator for the UF/IFAS Master Gardener Volunteer program, offered these tips for a successful strawberry garden: Select the most appropriate varieties, get healthy plants, make sure the plants get plenty of sunshine, use moist soil and appropriate fertilizer - and keep the birds away.
Whitaker adds: “Spend plenty of time in your garden – strawberries need a lot of TLC. Seek the help of your county Extension agents as questions arise.”
To find suggestions on what else to plant in your garden in the fall, visit https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/planting/vegetable-gardens-by-season.html.