Sweet, sweet strawberries!
They’re the perfect spring and summer treat on their own, in a refreshing smoothie, or atop a fluffy strawberry shortcake. If you can’t get enough of this delectable berry, why not plant your own? Growing strawberries in Central Texas is easier than you might think.
Here’s how it’s done.
The Best Strawberry Types for Central Texas
For strawberry success, you’ll have to start with the right variety. Strawberries are broken down into three basic types—short-day strawberries (also called spring bearing), everbearing, and day-neutral.
Short-day strawberries start to push flower buds in the late fall and winter when days are short. They produce fruit only in the spring. Everbearing and day-neutrals, on the other hand, create fruit during a longer season. In Central Texas, short-day berries are the better choice. Their concentrated growing season produces a high yield in the spring. The other two types don’t do well during our late spring and summer heat, creating lower yields (even though their growing season is longer.)
Here are three specific types that do well in the greater Austin area.
- Chandler – This is what you’re most likely to find in local supermarkets. It’s a great variety for the area, but they’re not always easy to find in local nurseries.
- Sequoia – This is an old variety, and what you’re most likely to find in nurseries. They have a great berry quality and produce a high yield. Fruit is a bit smaller than Chandler, and softens when it’s ready to be picked.
- Douglas – This used to be the leading commercial strawberry in Texas, before Chandler took over. Douglas berries grow well, and their fruit is a bit smaller than Chandler.
When To Plant Strawberries in Central Texas
Since our short-day strawberries initiate their buds in the winter, we will want to plant them in fall between mid-September and early November. Berries will be ready to harvest between late February and early May.
It is possible to grow strawberries as perennials, but it requires a great deal of weeding and watering through the summer and early fall months. Many farmers and gardeners prefer to treat their berries as annuals, plowing the old plants under in the summer and re-planting each fall. The old plants add valuable nutrients to the soil for the next crop.
Where to Plant Strawberries in Central Texas
Location is everything!
Strawberries need a minimum of 6 hours direct sun, so make sure you choose a bright spot for your bed. They also require light, well-drained soil to prevent root rot. This can be a challenge in Central Texas, where many areas have heavy clay soil. If you have clay soil, you’ll have to make amendments before you can plant.
For the home gardener, a raised bed may be easiest. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension recommends combing two-parts builder’s sand, one-part peat or fine compost, and one-part loam topsoil for the ideal raised bed blend.
If you only plan to grow a few strawberry plants, you can also use containers. This makes it easy to follow the sun, and you can drag them inside on frosty nights.
For those who plan to grow lots of strawberries, raised rows may be the best solution. That’s what we do at Barton Hill Farms, building rows right on top of the ground soil. It’s the best way to cover a large area and produce thousands upon thousands of berries.
Planting and Caring for Your Strawberry Plants
When it’s time to transplant your strawberries, it’s very important to plant them to the same depth that they grew in their original containers. Soil should reach the midpoint of the crown—that’s the woody base at the top of the roots. If they’re planted too deep or too shallow, you may lose plants.
Space your plants about 18” apart to leave them with plenty of room to grow. Strawberries are creepers!
Just after planting, water well. Wet a large area around the plant, including the leaves, to help prevent transplant shock. Water lightly twice per day for the first week to keep plants moist. If you let them dry out, you may lose plants. Watering with a sprinkler and moistening the leaves can help to prevent this.
After the first week, you can begin to gradually reduce watering over the course of the next month. Once four-ish weeks have passed, the plants will have strong enough roots for once or twice per week watering with a drip irrigation system. Provide light fertilization every few weeks, using an organic liquid fertilizer.
Strawberries are relatively hardy in our Texas winters, but it’s a good idea to cover them with a frost blanket on freezing nights. You could also cover them with a light row cover fabric throughout the cold season, which can help speed up growth. Remove the fabric in February to encourage local pollinators, but keep an eye on freezing temperatures at night.
Harvesting Central Texas Strawberries
When berries are fully red, they’re ripe and ready to harvest. Cut them by the stem rather than pulling them, to avoid damaging the plant. It’s a good idea to pick fruit every few days to keep the plant producing.
Store unwashed berries in the refrigerator, or wash and freeze them. Make sure they’re completely dry before freezing to prevent freezer burn.
Barton Hill Farm Goes Berry Crazy!
Growing your own strawberries isn’t so complicated! But if you want the springtime joy of fresh berries without the work, save one of your weekend days this spring for a visit to Barton Hill Farms for our Brews and Berries event!
We have lots of strawberry plants in the ground, working hard to spread their roots and preparing for berry season. You and the family can play games, listen to live music, and bring home as many pints of delicious, sun-ripened fruit as you can carry.
Join our email list to get more details as they’re released, plus early-bird access to ticket sales.