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Think ahead to strawberry season and plant now
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Strawberries are definitely a spring and early summer fruit, so why talk about them in October? Well this is the best time of year to plant them.

Getting them in the ground now gives the sweet and tart fruit a head start, allowing the berry to produce in the spring. It usually helps reduce issues with diseases ruining the crop.

Following this guideline to grow strawberries is called the Annual Hill System. It is typically used in the lower part of the state, but it has had success here.

The only thing to keep in mind is to provide frost protection throughout the winter.

Strawberries grow best in a good medium-textured soil or a soil not too clayey and drains well. In North Georgia, gardeners typically have to add organic matter to create such a soil.

Strawberry plants should be planted in beds about 12 inches apart. Beds should be 7 to 8 inches high and 24 to 26 inches wide. Mix in 3 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet before making the beds.

Once the bed is made, cover it with a material such as plastic to act as mulch. Pine straw or straw can be used as well.

Be sure to include a way to irrigate the bed before covering it with plastic by laying a length of drip tape along the bed. Poke holes in the plastic and set the plants on the required spacing.

When spring arrives, add a pinch of 34-0-0 to each plant if they need a boost.

Once the plants begin producing, bird damage to the fruit can become a major problem.

For a small plot of strawberries, put down bird netting over the planting to keep them out. Secure the netting all the way down to the ground, or the birds will walk underneath it.

Diseases may arise, especially in Georgia with its warm and humid climate. It will be a hard job to grow strawberries here organically, and regular fungicide applications will generally be needed for successful fruit plants.

If you have questions about preparing a site or spraying for disease, call the Hall County Extension office at 770-535-8293.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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