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Planting berries in your garden can save you money, and the plants need much less care than many vegetable plants.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
For many of us, summer is not complete without the taste of fresh berries. This treat can be expensive to purchase and makes a good choice for gardeners looking to add more edibles to their landscape.
Berries cost very little to grow at home and take far less work than most plants in your vegetable garden. They don’t require much space, need minimal care and, once planted, bear quickly and abundantly, many for decades.
Taste homegrown berries once, and their superior flavor will quickly convince you that they are well worth growing at home.
There are three different types of strawberries: June bearing, everbearing and day neutral.
June bearers produce a harvest over a period of two to three weeks, usually in the month of June. Everbearing strawberries aren’t really “everbearing,” but instead bear a crop in early summer, a few more fruits off and on throughout the summer, and another usually light crop in late summer or fall. Day neutral strawberries flower and set strawberries throughout summer, whenever the temperature is between 35 and 85 degrees.
Whether you can pick strawberries the first year depends on which variety you are growing.
With June bearing varieties, you should not let fruit develop on your strawberry plants during the first year, but should instead pick off blossoms as they form to keep next year’s production large.
For everbearing plants, you should pick off all blossoms until midsummer the first year, but from then on, you can allow the plant to flower and bear naturally.
Day neutral strawberry varieties are unique in that they will produce a good yield in the first year they are planted.
Typically, June bearers produce the largest strawberries, and day neutral varieties produce the smallest.
Raspberries are one of the most popular berries for home gardeners, largely because they are one of the easiest fruits to grow. Diseases and insect pests are easy to control, and the plants require little care.
Raspberry plants sucker badly, so don’t plant them near a vegetable garden, strawberry patch or a flower bed. Choose a location where you can mow around the bed or have some other method of keeping the plants under control.
Your plants will usually produce a big crop the third year after planting and big annual crops after that, with each foot of row producing about a pint of berries during the season.
Raspberries come in both one-crop and two-crop varieties. A one-crop plant will bear fruit that matures in midsummer on canes that were grown the previous season. After bearing fruit, the canes die within a few weeks.
Two-crop plants, or everbearers, bear once during the summer on canes grown the previous year, and bear an additional crop on canes that were grown in the current year.
Although red is the most popular color, raspberries come in a variety of other colors, too. Yellow raspberries vary in color from yellow to pale pink and are very fragile, which is why you seldom see them in grocery stores.
Black raspberries have an unusual flavor with a slightly musky aroma and taste. The growth habit of the black raspberry differs from the red as blacks never produce suckers. Instead they start new plants when their long canes bend over and the tips touch the soil, form roots and grow into a new plant.
Purple raspberries are closely related to black raspberries. Some purples have a similar flavor and growth habit as the black, while others behave more like reds, sending up suckers as they grow.
Blackberries share many of the same characteristics as raspberries. They are easy to grow and require little care after planting.
There are three types of blackberries: upright, semi-upright, and the trailing kind called dewberries. The upright variety grows similarly to red raspberries, while dewberries are like black raspberries, in that they don’t form suckers. Semi-uprights share some of the characteristics of both.
Other than dewberries, blackberries send out suckers as they grow, just like raspberries. Locate your plants where you can control the volunteer plants. Upright blackberries need even greater isolation because suckers can grow many feet away from the parent plants.
There are three types of blueberry varieties: the lowbush blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium; the rabbiteye blueberry, V. ashei; and the highbush blueberry, V. corymbosum.
Lowbush blueberries are the blueberries picked in the wild. They are grown commercially in some northern states, including Maine.
The rabbiteye blueberry is not cold hardy so it is grown only in the southern U.S.
The highbush blueberry is the most popular plant for both home gardeners and commercial growers. Its bushes grow 6-15 feet high and produce large berries in midsummer and later.
Blueberries are easy to grow, but they are fussy about soil. They grow best at a soil pH of 4.5 to 5, and it’s recommended that you do a soil test and amend your soil as needed before planting.
Blueberries are slow growers and take many years to reach their full production, so it’s best to start with two- or three-year-old plants. They need cross pollination, so plant at least two different cultivars.
Suckers are not a problem with blueberries, and few insects, diseases, or animals will bother the shrubs. Birds are fond of the berries, though, so plan on bird deterring measures, or cover your bushes with tight netting before the berries start to ripen. With care, blueberry bushes will produce well for several decades.
On the blog
Come learn more about growing berries at home on my blog at blogs.roanoke.com/downtoearth.
Karen Hager’s column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
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