Karen Cambre, Sharpe, Kenneth W.
Fair time means we should be getting ready for strawberry planting. The middle of October to the end of the month is ideal strawberry planting time for southeast Louisiana.
Prior to planting, good bed preparation is needed. Excess water from rains can be a real problem so you need to make good high rows and make sure that the row middles will drain so there is no standing water left between rows.
Apply fertilizer according to soil sample recommendations and get a good rain on the fertilizer prior to covering rows with mulch or planting. You can always use overhead watering to melt the fertilizer in the absence of rain.
If you did not get a soil sample, a general fertilizer recommendation would be to use 6 pounds of 8-24-24 per 100 feet of row. There are several ways to apply fertilizer. You can broadcast fertilizer when you have the garden disked up and then row it up so all the fertilizer will end up in the rows. Your other option is to build your rows and then use a hoe or middle buster to make a trench in the middle of the rows about 4 inches deep and band the fertilizer in the trench. Then pull your rows back up so the fertilizer is completely covered.
Before you plant, you need to decide on how you plan to control weeds and irrigate. The easy way to irrigate is to use drip tape which is buried a few inches deep in the middle of the row. If this is your approach, lay the drip tape before applying any mulch. You want to bury the tape an inch or two below the soil so all the water will go into the row. If you just lay the tape on top of the row, the soil will crust and the water will channel down the side of the row and run off. Put the tape in the middle of the row, then you can plant a double drill row on either side of the drip tape without accidently cutting the irrigation tape when planting.
Next, you will want to address weed control. The most popular method is to use black plastic mulch. Black plastic will keep the row warmer for cool season growth, it will help hold in moisture and it will block sunlight and cut down on weeds. The only weed that comes through is usually purple nutsedge which you may also know as coco grass.
You could use organic mulches such as pine straw, which was used for years. The only downside is that straw will keep the ground cooler into the spring so your fruit production will be later in the spring than if you used black plastic.
Almost no one grows strawberry plants locally anymore. Strawberry plants are shipped in from more moderate climates such as California and Canada. Many of the local nurseries, order strawberry plants for resale. You will be limited in variety availability but for homeowners I like Festival, Camarosa and Camino Real if you have an option.
If you get plants before you are ready to plant, put them in your refrigerator. Put them in a plastic grocery bag so they will not dry out and they will keep for several weeks.
Start planting about October 15th, but finish by the end of the first week in November. This will keep plants from getting too stressed in the heat of early October but you will start early enough to get good fruit production.
Plant transplants at the same depth they were dug. The crown, which is the fleshy part just above the roots, should be about level with the soil line. As soon as you plant, water the plants in and continue to water daily for 10-14 days.
Fruit production will start based on weather. If it is warm all fall then fruiting might start in December and if not, we start with fruit in March/April.