Mild winter conditions have Texas’ strawberry crop flowering and fruiting before the possible threat of a killing freeze has passed, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Larry Stein, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist and associate department head, Department of Horticultural Sciences, Uvalde, said strawberries and other plants and trees in much of the state are reacting to warmer-than-usual temperatures and sunshine.
Fruit and flowers
Strawberry plants planted in September and October are already being harvested in a few spots, he said.
Stein said he recently visited Poteet, which is known for its strawberry production and annual festival to celebrate the fruit, and noticed plants were ahead of schedule.
“I saw fruit sets and lots of flowers,” he said. “Some producers were already harvesting a bit. It looks like they’re off to a good start.”
Stein said cooler temperatures in the short-term forecast could slow flower and fruit development down but likely won’t pose a threat to the crop.
Strawberries typically flower in late February or early March, he said. Plants move from flowering to fruit in a three-week period.
Stein said freezing temperatures of 28-29 degrees for an extended period could hurt fruit sets and kill the flowers.
Plants will continue to produce fruit through April and possibly into May before temperatures become too hot, he said.
“They’re planted in September-October, grow throughout the winter and begin flowering when it warms up,” he said. “Planting in the fall means bigger plants and more potential fruit in the spring.”
Strawberries are grown around the state from Tarrant County and Houston to the Hill Country and West Texas to the South Plains and Lubbock, where producers use low tunnels to protect plants from extreme cold, he said. All growers really need is soil that drains well.
“It’s a crop a lot of peach orchards will plant so they get the early traffic,” he said. “There’s a lot of pick-your-own operations that draw people to extend their season.”
Acreage dedicated to strawberry production is limited, but it doesn’t take much land to produce the fruit. Stein credits a 2018 strawberry study by AgriLife Extension for the fruit’s recent expansion generating greater interest in production.
Each plant produces a half-pound to pound of strawberries, Stein said.
Fresh strawberries are popular with U.S. consumers. Consumption increased from 1.7 pounds in 1970 to 8.34 pounds per capita in 2017, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.
“I’d like to give us a little credit for the strawberry’s growing popularity among producers and gardeners,” Stein said. “It’s a popular fruit among consumers. The study gave us a better understanding of the fruit’s growing potential here in Texas.”