March 20, 2020
Strawberries: Test for nutrients in spring to get a good crop in summer
By Tracy Courage
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Strawberry petiole sampling helps growers determine fertility levels
- Best time for sampling is now through late April
- Growers use test results to adjust fertility program
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LITTLE ROCK —There’s a sure way to know if strawberry plants are getting enough nitrogen and other nutrients to produce a good crop, and that’s by testing the leaves and stems.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers a low-cost strawberry petiole sampling program that helps growers know if they are overfertilizing or under fertilizing their strawberries. Petioles are the stalks that attach leaves to stems.
“Analysis is the best way to monitor the nutritional status and correct deficiencies that can occur in the strawberry crop,” said Amanda McWhirt, extension specialist for horticulture crops production for the Division of Agriculture. “Proper crop nutrition ensures that yield and quality are optimized, and it protects against applying excess nutrients in the environment and incurring unnecessary expense.”
The key is to sample the correct tissue at the correct time. Early spring — when plants start to bloom until late April — is the best time to test strawberry leaves and petioles.
“Now is the time that growers should be pulling samples,” McWhirt said. “Once you have red fruit, you’ve missed the ideal window.”
Growers collect samples of mature leaves and petioles and send them to the Agricultural Diagnostic Laboratory in Fayetteville for analysis. Leaves are tested for nitrogen, potassium, sulfur and boron, and the petioles are tested for nitrate nitrogen. These nutrients are tested because they are important to producing a good quality strawberry fruit. The cost is $48 for six plant samples. Results are usually available within two to three business days after the sample is received. Extension specialists are available to talk with growers about their results.
Strawberries need higher nitrogen levels particularly in early spring when they are putting out new growth and flowering. Too much nitrogen, however, can lead to too much plant growth and soft fruit.
The analysis can also reveal excess or lack of nutrients that can make or break a berry crop. Too much boron, for example, can cause toxicity, but not enough boron can result in misshapen fruit.
“It is important to determine if there are any nutrient deficiencies early in the season when growers still have a chance to correct the problem while plants are flowering,” McWhirt said. “Once fruit is close to being harvested, nutrient deficiencies can’t be corrected.”
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Director, Communications Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service