Louisiana has a long history of strawberries dating to the 1800s. Business really began to boom in the early 1900s, and today, according to the LSU AgCenter, the state's strawberry industry has a gross farm value of $8.4 million.

Tangipahoa Parish is the top-producing parish, growing 75% of the total acres in Louisiana and accounting for 79% of the state’s total gross farm value.

You can find Louisiana strawberries in grocery stores, farmers markets and roadside stands as early as November, December and January.

And you can also grown your own.

Strawberries are delicious and packed with vitamins, fiber and high levels of antioxidants. They can take some work, but if you enjoy a good challenge, it's worth the reward.

Early fall is the time to plant strawberries, even if you only have a small space to do it. Just make sure the spot gets plenty of sun.

Strawberry plants are typically sold in garden centers as bare-root plants, but they also can be found as transplants. Plants also can be purchased online.

Here, we need to plant short-day or day-neutral strawberry varieties.

Short-day plants begin to produce flowers when the days shorten during fall and winter. They initiate flower buds when there is 14 hours of daylight or less per day. Day neutral means day length doesn’t affect flower production. These strawberries will blossom and set fruit no matter how long or short the days are. Some examples are Camarosa, Camino Real, Chandler, Florida Brilliance, Sweet Sensation and Yakhima.

Strawberries are heavy feeders, so you should incorporate one of the following fertilizers: 1.5 pounds of 8-24-24; 2 pounds of 13-13-13; or 3 pounds of 8-8-8 per 100 square feet of bed space before planting. Side-dress (add a nitrogen boost) with calcium nitrate at ½ pound per 100 square feet in early February and again in March.

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Soluble liquid fertilizers also can be used on a seven-to-14-day basis to provide extra nutrients in early spring.

Strawberries do best in raised beds and containers with a potting soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. If you plant in the ground, the rows need to be hipped up 8 to 12 inches; good drainage is imperative for the best berry production. Strawberries must be protected from sitting in moisture as much as possible.

Plant strawberries so that the crown of the plant sits above the soil. Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart to allow proper air movement and to help reduce disease.

One of the most important things to do when growing strawberries is to mulch heavily around the plants with pine straw or seed-free straw. This protects the fruit from rotting on the ground. In commercial production, plastic mulches are typically used, and they do an excellent job of suppressing weeds, sustaining soil temperatures, preventing fruit from rotting and keeping rain from splashing onto plants.

It is crucial to water plants thoroughly for the first couple of weeks after planting. However, be careful to water only at the soil line. Try to avoid getting water on the leaves and crown as much as possible. As a rule of thumb with strawberries, avoid watering overhead in the late afternoon or evening. Drip irrigation is the best solution.

Once planted, strawberries will generally lose their initial leaves, but don't worry. New foliage will grow from the crown, and the plant will grow and produce additional crowns before flower production. Be sure to remove runners to help plants conserve energy for crown production and later plants that are more productive.

Strawberry flowers and fruit need to be protected when temperatures approach 30 degrees. Reemay cloth can be used in low temperatures to protect flowers from frost. Leaves will survive to the mid-teens, but flowers must be protected.

It takes four to six weeks for a flower bloom to produce ripe fruit, so harvesting can potentially begin as soon as a month after planting and will continue into early summer. Once fruit starts to ripen, pick them frequently.

Mites, slugs and snails are the major pest problems with strawberries. For slugs and snails, use iron phosphate baits to help reduce populations. For mites, use horticultural soaps or oils.

Fungal diseases and rot are a common problem in strawberries. You can help lower the incidence of disease by ensuring proper drainage, protecting berries from sitting directly on the soil, avoiding watering leaves and crowns and using a rotation of fungicides such as copper, daconil and captan. Be sure to use fungicides labeled for use on strawberries and follow label instructions.

Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.