Gardeners know that the sweetest fruit doesn’t come from the grocery store, but is grown at home in your garden. Two healthy favorites, strawberries and blueberries, also happen to be easy to grow in your landscape or small space garden.
Strawberry plants and blueberry shrubs can be planted in your garden, and they perform well in containers, too. Give one or both a try this year.
Grow Strawberries in Beds or Containers
There are three types of strawberries: ever-bearing, day-neutral and June-bearing. In the Garden Center, look for ever-bearing varieties that perform well in containers. Meanwhile, June-bearing strawberries are the choice for flavor and size, perfect for pies and dipping in chocolate, or for eating straight from the bed, warmed in the early summer sun.
Strawberries are sturdy plants that thrive in prepared beds or rows, or put them to work as edible edgings in a foodscape. You can even let them sprawl over the top of a wall. The June-bearing varieties make lovely hanging baskets, with the runners draping over the sides. Fill a strawberry jar with its namesake fruit for a vertical display.
As soon as the ground warms in spring, you can plant strawberries. If the ground is wet, wait for it to dry. Ideal soil for strawberries is well-draining and slightly acidic with a pH between 5.5 to 6.8. Get a soil test from either the Garden Center or your local Cooperative Extension Service before you plant. If you have clay or sandy soil, growing in containers or raised beds may be the best solution.
Tips for Growing Strawberries:
- Select a site with eight hours of sunlight each day.
- Set strawberry plants so that their roots are well-covered but the crown is exposed. Follow planting instructions on the plant tag and be careful not to bury the crown, which can lead to rot.
- Surround the plants with a fine-grained mulch like straw, pine needles or shredded leaves to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Water well, up to an inch a week or more if the weather is especially dry and hot.
- Strawberries bloom in early spring and will set fruit after pollination (another reason to create a pollinator-friendly garden). Apply an organic fertilizer every week or two during the growing season.
- Properly planted strawberries are hardy perennials, dying back in winter and rebounding in sun-warmed soil in the spring. When runners appear, clip most of them off to encourage more fruit production.
Strawberries are ready to pick when they turn red. Harvest berries in the cool of the morning and refrigerate until ready to eat or use in recipes like the Garden Club’s fresh fruit smoothie.
Plant Blueberry Shrubs in spring or fall
Blueberries perform well in the landscape and in containers. Choose from three types of blueberry plants: low-growing bushes, highbush varieties and rabbit-eye blueberries, which are bred for success in Southern locations.
Because blueberries are not self-pollinating, you will need to plant more than one variety in your garden. In fact, with some research, you can select early, middle and late varieties that will produce successively from late spring until summer’s end.
TIPS FOR GROWING BLUEBERRIES:
- Plant blueberries in early spring in colder climates, and blueberries in late fall in warmer areas. Choose a location that gets lots of sunlight and has well-draining soil. Blueberries will tolerate some shade, but more sunshine equals more fruit.
- Blueberries like their soil acidic, so surround them with organic matter that will decompose and nourish the roots. The plants like a pH between 3.5 and 5.5, preferring 4.5. If a soil test determines the soil is too alkaline, amend it with aluminum sulfate or by adding organic matter such as decaying leaves or peat moss.
- Proper air circulation will reduce disease and pest problems. Plant highbush varieties 6 feet apart so that sunlight can reach all the fruit; 2 feet apart is sufficient for lowbush varieties.
- Take extra care the first year by watering heavily, and continue doing so when fruit appears. At the first sign of fruiting, top dress with composted manure.
Tip: Birds like blueberries and strawberries, too, and will go after the fruit just as soon as it turns sweet. Drape netting over the bushes to protect the fruit. You could also plant the shrubs close to your home where more foot traffic may discourage the birds.
You’ll know that blueberries are ripe when they are plump and colored a deep blue with a dusting of gray. Any hint of red means the berry is still tart and not yet sweet. Blueberries with a bit of red or purple will ripen at room temperature after they are picked.
You can eat blueberries out of your hand, right off the bush. Blueberries also freeze well. Spread out unwashed berries (washing removes the waxy bloom that protects the berries) on a sheet pan and freeze overnight. Place frozen berries in containers or freezer bags, label and tuck away to be enjoyed later.