Strawberries are delicious and easy to grow, making them a fun choice for new gardeners, especially kids. February and March are the peak seasons for eating strawberries in Florida and many areas have strawberry festivals during these months.
In many parts of the country, strawberries are a summer crop, but here in Florida they grow best during the cooler months of the year. Plant yours in early fall to enjoy tasty berries in the spring.
Strawberry plants are low-growing herbs that spread into clumps via runners. Strawberries are normally grown as annuals here in Florida because they usually decline once temperatures heat up in the summer.
While there are many cultivars on the market, not all are suited for growing in Florida. Florida-Friendly cultivars include ‘Sweet Charlie', ‘Camarosa', ‘Chandler', ‘Oso Grande', ‘Selva', and ‘Festival'.
Planting and Care
Planting times will vary depending on where you are located in the state. Gardeners in North Florida can plant between September 15–October 15, those in Central Florida between September 25–October 25, and South Florida gardeners can plant between October 1 until the first of December.
Buy transplants from local garden centers in late fall or early winter and plant them 10 to 18 inches apart. You can plant them at ground level, in raised beds, or even in containers. For best results, put the plants in a rich soil or potting media, water them often, and fertilize regularly with a balanced fertilizer.
If a frost or freeze is predicted, covering the plants with a lightweight blanket will help prevent the flowers or fruits from getting damaged.
The first berries should be ready to pick roughly 90-110 days after planting. If you have trouble with birds or rabbits stealing fruit, try using netting to protect the plants.
Pick berries when at least three-fourths of their surface has turned red. Once picked, the berries will not sweeten any further. Freshly picked strawberries generally keep for only a few days, so be sure to eat them soon after harvest. If you have a surplus of berries, you can freeze them.
The UF/IFAS Strawberry Breeding Program
The UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC) has a wonderful strawberry breeding program. All UF/IFAS cultivars are developed through traditional breeding methods and are not genetically engineered. The GCREC develops strawberry cultivars for the Florida industry, and commercial production is concentrated on more than 11,000 acres in west-central Florida. Criteria for selection include: High marketable yields, especially in the early season; excellent fruit appearance, size, and shelf life under harsh environmental conditions; consistently sweet flavor; and resistance to multiple diseases of economic importance.
For more information on strawberries, contact your county Extension office.