“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Florida gardener in possession of a good fortune in October, must be in want of bare strawberry plant roots. ” ~ Plants and Prejudice
Fall and winter are the strawberry growing seasons here in Florida. But Florida gardeners do it differently than they do up North.
Despite the fact that I’ve lived in the South for over 26 years, I’m still a bit confused about it. Apparently, in Florida, strawberries are annuals.
That’s right. Come May (or June, or whenever), Florida growers and home gardeners pull and compost millions of strawberry plants.
Back in the summer of 2018, I preordered a big batch of strawberry plant roots — Radiance variety. In October, I planted my bare root crowns and watered and fertilized them diligently.
Like many home gardeners, I potted them in shallow containers in rich potting soil rather than in the ground. (I’m partial to Jungle Growth brand.)
I got just a few fruits in December, but then they went kind of dormant, despite the mild winter.
I stuffed them with a high potassium tomato food and got some flowers in late January. Strawberries duly appeared in February and March and continued until May.
At that point, all of my gardening mentors suggest that I remove and compost them.
They’re no good anymore, they told me. They won’t produce again, they advised sagely. Burn ‘em.
But, rebel that I am, I refused to pull and dispose of perfectly good strawberry plants.
I continued to water them and feed them throughout the hot, wet summer. Then in September, I pretended I still lived in Ohio and repotted them in fresh potting soil.
Just in case, I also picked up some beautiful strawberry starts from a local feed store. I chose Sweet Charlies this year – mainly because that’s what they had. Sweet Charlies are early-season “June-bearing strawberries,” that, in Florida, produce from November to March.
That just shows you how messed up growing strawberries in Florida can be.
Growing Strawberry Plants Can Be Confusing
If you starting planning to grow them, you’ll see that there are three different types, all depending on their fruiting habit. There are four, if you include wild strawberries.
Frankly, I’m still in denial that I will likely never taste a wild strawberry again in my life. Growing up in northern Ohio, we used to pick and eat them covered in milk. It was heaven, really.
But as to varieties you can buy, you can choose from June-bearing, ever-bearing, or day-neutral types.
June-bearing strawberries seem to be the favorites in most of the country. They produce fat, bright-red berries that are simply irresistible to home gardeners.
Ever-bearing types give you two solid harvests during the growing season — one in spring and another in fall.
Day-neutral varieties produce continuously as long as the temperatures stay between 35 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Growing Strawberries in a Southern Garden
While I can only speak of growing strawberries in Florida -– and argue against the “annual” approach — there are plenty of excellent resources for growing them in other regions of the South.
StrawberryPlants.com has an excellent resource for finding the right variety of strawberries for your region.
My Strawberry Experiment
As I said, I couldn’t bear the idea of just tossing a bunch of strawberry plants.
I simply watered them and took care of them like any outdoor potted plant. I fed them once a month or so with a balanced fertilizer.
When the rainy season came, I applied my usual organic, copper-based anti-fungal. The bugs left them alone since they had no fruit. (My spring tomatoes were too much of a distraction.)
In the fall, I refreshed the soil, added a fat layer of hay on top, and began watering and feeding for production.
Low and behold, my 2018 Festivals started to deliver.
I’m not an expert in growing anything, but I’m a passionate gardener who loves to experiment. I can’t guarantee that every gardener in Florida (especially in the southern zones) will be able to “over-summer” strawberries.
I can’t even guarantee that I’ll be able to do it again.
What I can say is that I’ve heard of one other gardener in my area that tried it successfully. And I can say that it’s worth trying.
Do you grow strawberries in your home garden? What zone are you in, and what varieties do you plant? I’d love to hear how other gardeners in the South approach strawberry growing.