October 1, 2008

Grow Strawberries in ‘Jar’ With Pockets


Can I grow strawberries in a pot? I've always planted them in the garden, but I saw a pretty strawberry pot at the local nursery and I'm wondering if they really work.

One of the best things about strawberries (besides eating them) is that you can grow them in just about any sunny home garden. With a strawberry jar you can even grow these delicious berries on a balcony or patio. In Florida, Oct. 1 through Nov. 15 is the best time to plant strawberries.

Start by filling the pot with good quality potting soil. As the soil level reaches one of the pot's pockets, put in a strawberry plant. Continue until you reach within an inch of the top of the pot. Then plant a couple of plants at the top. Place the pot in a sunny location, and keep it well watered. Because these strawberries are not set in the ground, you'll have to water them more often than the ones you have in the garden.

You might want to protect your plants from birds pecking at the fruit by placing a net over them. Spider mites and flower thrips are common insects that attack strawberry plants. Diseases are leaf spots, stem spotting, plant blight and fruit rot and anthracnose. Spraying with an approved fungicide may be beneficial.

Varieties that grow in Florida are Florida 90, Tioga, Sequoia, Dover, Tufts, Douglas, Oso Grande, Selva, Florida Belle, Chandler and Sweet Charlie. Everbearing varieties are not well-suited for Florida.

I want to put up a hummingbird feeder in my backyard. Someone said that I can make my own nectar using plain sugar and water. Is this correct?

The standard syrup solution for feeding hummingbirds consists of one part sugar to four parts water. Begin by stirring the sugar into the water, and then bring the solution to a boil over low heat. Stir until dissolved and then let the solution cool. Boiling is important as it kills mold spores and bacteria and, through evaporation, reduces any chlorine or fluorine that may be in the water. Hummingbirds are known to avoid solutions that contain chemicals.

After the solution has been allowed to cool, it is ready to be placed in the feeder. Any excess that is being saved for later use should be stored in a refrigerator. Clean your feeders every four days with vinegar and hot water. A small brush should be used to get the feeder clean and bacteria-free.

From time to time, mixtures other than sugar water have been tried for feeding hummingbirds. All of them present unacceptable risks. This is especially true of honey-water mixtures. Not only is honey an unnatural food for hummingbirds, but it also spoils much more quickly than sugar water and contains bacteria that causes a fungus on their tongue. This disease is always fatal. Other mixtures that are unsafe and that should be avoided are those made with artificial sweeteners. The safety of red food coloring has been questioned, so do not add any red food coloring to the sugar-water solution.

Hummingbirds are extremely active birds with high calorie requirements. They cannot survive on nectar from flowers alone, so you will get a feeling of satisfaction in knowing that adequate food is always available.Tom Bruton is a master gardener with the Duval Agricultural Extension Service and the University of Florida.GARDENER ON CALLA Duval County master gardener is in the Times-Union newsroom from 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays to answer questions from readers. The number to call is (904) 359-4199. Readers outside the Jacksonville area may call (800) 472-6397 and ask for extension 4199. Their articles appear in Saturday and Tuesday Life sections.

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