Irrigation and fertiliser guidelines for strawberries

Page last updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016 - 9:37am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

It is difficult to provide prescriptive guidelines for strawberry irrigation given the wide range of planting configurations and irrigation layouts. This webpage helps growers in Western Australia understand the factors affecting their crop requirements so they can adapt their practices accordingly.

The fertiliser requirements for strawberries differ between varieties although many growers use only one recipe for all varieties.

Water and soil

Irrigation water for strawberries needs to be excellent quality, as strawberries are very sensitive to salts, in particular chloride (but not sodium).

Chloride will start to depress yield at very low levels. Ideally the electrical conductivity (EC) of irrigation water needs to be below 0.75dS/m (750uS/cm) or total dissolved solids (TDS) of 400mg/L.

Yield will drop by about 25% if water contains 650mg/L TDS (1.20dS/m), and even more if the water is saltier.

If your water contains more than 0.5 parts per million (ppm) iron, then some treatment to remove the iron may be needed to avoid dripper blockages.

Soil pH should be in the range 5.5 to 7.5 (slightly acid to neutral). If pH correction is required, this should be done prior to planting using lime and/or dolomite.

It is not necessary or desirable to apply any nitrogen (N), potassium (K) or phosphorus (P) fertiliser prior to planting if fertigation is used.  In the Western Australian coarse sands they will leach and be wasted before the plants develop enough roots to be able to access the nutrients. A base dressing of mixed trace elements may be applied pre-plant if desired since they are less easily leached. Trace elements can also be applied through the irrigation with the rest of the fertiliser. If adding compost to the soil, apply it close to planting to avoid leaching of nutrients.

Very high levels of salts have been observed early in the season when pre-plant compost is applied. This is something to be aware of and monitor, especially with the more sensitive varieties such as Fortuna.

High levels of fertiliser salts may damage young roots and allow access of pathogens that lead to disease. High levels of nitrogen early will promote vegetative growth at the expense of flowering and fruiting.

Poultry manure

Application of raw poultry manure is banned in several shires and city councils on the Swan Coastal Plain, from Gingin to Harvey, as it provides a breeding ground for stable flies, which are a serious pest to animals and humans. Poultry manure also contains easily leachable nutrients and similar to applying a base dressing of NPK fertiliser, much is wasted before plants can access it.  Other products such as composted chicken manure or other types of compost do not breed stable fly but as mentioned above, are still able to leach nutrients.

When forming beds, ensure the soil is rolled well. Fluffy soil will decrease the lateral spread of water and plant establishment will be adversely affected.