I believe one overlooked fruit that we can grow here is strawberries. Growing them need not be difficult and you can raise better fruit in your back yard then with proper care and attention.
While strawberries can be grown for several years, they produce more their first year after planting. Thus they are often treated as an annual crop and replanted each year. If kept as a perennial, you’ll have to closely tend to them (with lots of water) thru our difficult summers.
With some research, you’ll find there are three types of strawberries. These are the short day (also called ‘June bearing’ or ‘spring bearing’), long day (also called ‘everbearing’), and day neutral varieties.
The most successful commercial varieties in Texas are the short-day varieties. These short-day varieties are commonly called ‘June-bearing’ in much of the United States, because June is usually the time for peak production. In Texas and other southern states, short-day strawberries are planted in the fall. They are protected with fiber covers or straw/hay during the winter and early spring and are harvested in the spring, thus the term ‘spring bearing’.
Long-day or everbearing varieties initiate flowers when day length is 12 hours, but struggle to flower consistently at temperatures above 90°F. These conditions are common in Texas during the summer months so everbearing varieties are generally not well-suited.
Day-neutral varieties are insensitive to day length. They are an improvement over everbearing varieties because they can flower and bear fruit over a range of light periods. Like everbearing varieties, day neutrals are affected by air temperature. They will flower and form runners at 35 to 80°F, though flower bud formation declines above 70°F. Temperatures of 90°F and above damage fruit production and runner formation.
You’ll hear terms such as “mother” and “daughter” plants when you study about strawberry production. The mother plant is the original plant that will send out runners (or above ground stems) to daughter plants. If you plant early enough, you’ll want to leave these daughter plants as they’ll also bear fruit.
Strawberries benefit from raised beds and an excellent bed of mulch. The raised beds keep the roots from getting water-logged. The mulch not only conserves moisture but keeps developing fruit off the soil and will greatly diminish the incidence of rot or other soil-born diseases.
Strawberries prefer soils with a pH range of 5.5 to 7.0 so much of our soil should be ideal. If look online, you’ll find other popular systems include growing strawberries in greenhouses using hydroponic gutters or hydrostackers.
Soil preparation, fertilization and general care for strawberries are essentially the same for either method you choose. First, remove all weeds and deeply till the soil. Secondly, incorporate two pounds of a complete fertilizer like 15-5-10 per 100 square feet of garden space and add good amount organic matter (compost). Don’t be stingy. Lastly, plant the strawberries and mulch around them with pine bark, pine straw, compost or any other form of organic matter. In late February, top dress the strawberries with a 15- 5- 10 fertilizer or something similar at the rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet.
Strawberry plants can be purchased for less than $4 per plant locally. I think that’s well worth the money for fresh, home-grown strawberries from your own garden.