Garden strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa) are hardy perennials in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, but they're grown as annuals in the warmer climate of Florida. In South Florida, which falls into USDA zone 10, and the Florida Keys, which are in USDA zone 11, gardeners should plant strawberries in the fall for a winter or early spring harvest.
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In all of Florida, the ideal planting window runs from the beginning of October until the middle of November. When they're planted at that time, the plants generally begin flowering in late fall or early winter and begin producing fruit in mid-winter. Fruit production continues through spring, until the weather begins to warm.
Varieties for Florida
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension recommends three strawberry cultivars for home gardeners: 'Camarosa,' 'Festival' and 'Sweet Charlie'. These varieties are well-adapted to the day lengths and temperature ranges of the Florida winter and produce well in the state. They are June-bearing varieties, a type of strawberry that produces a single crop of berries. Ever-bearing types, which produce two separate crops each season, do not perform well in Florida.
Site Conditions and Soil Preparation
Strawberries need full sun and well-drained soil to produce well. Choose a site that gets at least eight hours of direct sun exposure per day. Prepare a raised bed in that location by mounding soil 7 to 9 inches high and about 2 feet wide.
Before planting, mix 1 pound of 10-5-10 dry fertilizer into the soil for each 10 feet of planting bed length. Scatter another 1/2 pound of the fertilizer on top of the soil, and apply another 1/2 pound in a 1-inch-deep furrow down the center of the bed.
It's important to set strawberry plants at the proper depth. Set each plant so that its crown -- the point where the leaves sprout from the top of the root system -- is level with surface of the soil. If you plant too shallowly, so that the top of the roots are exposed, the roots may dry out and injure the plant. If you plant too deeply, so that the crown is buried, the plant may rot in the ground.
Set the plants in double rows down the length of the bed so that 12 inches of space are between rows and 12 to 18 inches are between plants in the rows.
If you plant bare-root plants, water them daily for the first one or two weeks after planting so that the soil stays moist and the plants don't wilt. After the plants are established in their new location, water their soil for one-half hour to one hour with a sprinkler or low-pressure hose once each week during the early part of the plants' growing season. As the weather warms in spring, increase the frequency of watering to two or three times per week.