LUBBOCK, Texas – If you want sweet success in your garden this spring, consider getting a jump on strawberries by planting them in the fall. You can transplant as late as mid November but your plants will be much healthier and stronger and develop more crowns in early October.
Overwintering strawberry plants will help them develop more roots and crowns creating twenty times the yield versus spring planting. The key for growers on the Texas High Plains is to protect the plants from the high winds and lower temperatures by utilizing low tunnels, which is a greenhouse plastic cover that lays over wire hoops every five feet throughout the bed that is secured to the ground by a stake or bungee cord.
Land preparation is critical before planting begins. Strawberries love to have a soil pH of 6.5 to 7. In this area soil pH is higher so growers can use ammonium sulfate or sulfur additives to help lower the pH. Strawberry plants are grown best in beds about 6 to 8 inches tall which helps drain water from the roots and keeps the soil from getting too wet. The soil needs to be very loose for developing beds but once the beds are developed it needs to be firm enough you can walk on it without leaving much of a footprint. The best thing to do is to have the bed shaped before laying black plastic mulch. This will keep the moisture in, weeds down and it will warm up the soil and help the plants grow better in the fall.
Generally there are two types of transplants that you use for strawberries, bare roots and transplant plugs. Professor Russ Wallace, horticultural specialist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension explained transplants are easy to injure the crowns if you don’t transplant correctly.
“You don’t wanna leave the crown exposed and you don’t want to leave any roots exposed which will cause that plant will wither and die.” he said, “Anytime you injure a crown you’re going to lose production.”
Strawberries are a labor of love, they aren’t a crop you can just plant in the ground and forget. They require irrigation and fertilizer throughout the winter. Commercial growers use about a pound of nitrogen per acre per day.
Strawberry plants often times get zinc and iron deficiency causing the plant to turn yellow. Dr. Wallace recommends adding iron to your drip system to help alleviate that problem.
While investing in low tunnels can be costly the plastic can be reused for two to three years. Another benefit in addition to winter protection is that in the springtime when the fruit is developing the tunnels protect from the rain. Excessive rain will cause fruit rotting which you want to avoid as much as possible.
Growing strawberries can be an intensive process but perhaps that is where the saying “enjoying the fruits of your labor” originated from.