Southeast Regional Strawberry Plasticulture Production Guide
Strawberry plasticulture is an annual hill training system in which freshly dug bare-root plants or plugs (transplants started from runner tips) are planted in late summer to early fall, depending on the climate. Plants are set out in double rows at densities of 15,000 to 17,500 plants per acre. Special equipment is needed to make the 8-inch-deep raised beds that are customarily fumigated with methyl bromide, Telone C-35, or metam sodium and covered with black plastic mulch. Strawberry plasticulture in northern states is still quite limited, but matted row growers in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states are taking a closer look at this production system because it has several advantages, including easier picking and earlier harvesting. Plasticulture berries can be harvested in 7 to 8 months after planting versus 12 months for matted row production. Strawberries grown using the plasticulture system, however, must be intensively managed. Furthermore, daily production and pest management decisions can have a much greater effect on yields and profits than decisions made for matted-row systems. With a plasticulture system, there is considerably less margin for error in regard to soil treatments, timing, pest management, frost and freeze strategies, and marketing. The strawberry plasticulture production system performs best in the milder areas of the Southeast where temperatures rarely fall below 0ºF (USDA Climate Zones 7 and higher). This isn’t surprising. The plasticulture system evolved in the southern states and California. Growers in colder areas in the Mid-South (for example, in the upper piedmont, foothills and mountains of North and South Carolina, and in the Georgia mountains), can also experience success with this method, but they should plan on shorter harvest seasons (no more than five weeks), and yields of about 1 pound per plant (lb/plant), compared to potential yields of 1.5 lb/plant in milder growing areas of the Mid-South and Deep South. Based on research completed at N.C. State University, strawberry growers need to achieve yields of at least 1 pound of berries per plant, or 15,000 pounds per acre, to make a profit using plasticulture (Safley and Poling, 2004). To achieve these yields, growers need to know the recommended cultivars and practices to use for successful production. This publication provides an overview of the factors that growers in the Mid-South and Deep South should consider before deciding to use the plasticulture system for growing strawberries. It also describes recommended practices for the different stages of plasticulture production, from pre-planting through harvest. (Refer to Producing and Marketing Strawberries for Direct Markets by Safley and Poling for in-depth information about the costs and returns of growing, harvesting and marketing strawberries using plasticulture).