You can grow a nutritious, sweet-tasting berry garden in your backyard, either in garden beds or containers. Learn how to grow these healthy favorites.
Growing berries begins with knowing your site, where full sun – at least six to eight hours a day – is required. Keep in mind that more sun always equals more fruit.
The second step is to know your soil. Good garden soil for berries will be easily workable and well-draining while still holding the nutrients the plants need. All berries, with the exception of blueberries, do well in average soil. Use a test kit from the Garden Center or your local Cooperative Extension Service to learn more about your soil and add the recommended amendments like compost and lime. A soil test is most important for acid-loving blueberries, these shrubs need soil with a pH of 3.5 to 5.5, preferring 4.5.
Once you have a site and soil, study up on berry varieties and tips for success. It may take a few seasons to properly prepare your soil for berries. Be patient. When you get it right, you’ll have an abundant harvest.
PLANT BLUEBERRY SHRUBS IN SPRING OR FALL:
Versatile blueberries perform well in both landscapes and containers. Choose from three types of blueberry shrubs: low-growing bushes, highbush varieties and rabbit-eye blueberries, the kind bred for success in the South.
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 in late fall in warmer areas. Choose a location that gets lots of sunlight and with well-draining soil.
- Blueberries like their soil acidic, so surround them with organic matter that will decompose and nourish the roots. If a soil test determines it’s too alkaline, amend with aluminum sulfate or 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 with consistent watering, and continue when fruit appears. At the first sign of fruiting, top dress with composted manure.
Tip: Blueberries aren’t bothered by a lot of pests or diseases. However, birds like blueberries (and strawberries, too), and will go after the fruit 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.
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.
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 garden, warmed in the early summer sun.
Strawberries are sturdy plants that thrive in prepared beds or rows, or 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. Or fill a terra cotta 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. If you have clay or sandy soil, growing in containers or raised beds may be the best solution.
TIPS FOR GROWING STRAWBERRIES:
- Set strawberry plants so that their roots are 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.
- Get ahead of problems by choosing disease-resistant varieties and keeping the stress level low for the plants. Apply mulch for winter protection, water frequently in summer and rotate the plants to a new area of the garden every three to five years. (Learn more about crop rotation.)
Strawberries are ready to pick when they turn red. Harvest berries in the cool of the morning and refrigerate until ready to eat.
How to Grow Blackberries and Raspberries:
They may not be as pretty as perky strawberry plants and ornamental blueberries, but blackberries and raspberries are still popular and easy to grow. In the Garden Center and online, you’ll find trailing types that need trellising, and erect types that are self-supporting. The trailing types are called brambles.
Like all berries, brambles thrive in a full sun site with good drainage. The soil should be slightly acidic, at a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Plant trailing varieties 10 feet apart in holes that are twice as wide as the root mass of the plant, fill in with plenty of organic matter and top with mulch. Create the trellis framework at the same time as planting.
Brambles are biennials, which means they have a two-year planting cycle. First year growth is called primocane, and initiates fruit buds in late summer or early fall. Protect these plants with a blanket of mulch or pine straw.
The second year growth, called floricane, flowers, fruits and dies. Prune away this growth at the end of the season.
Fertilize blackberries and raspberries with a 10-10-10 product twice a year, at the beginning of spring and again in early summer.
Harvesting Blackberries and Raspberries:
The fruit is ripe and ready when its high, glossy shine dulls. Harvest berries in the morning when they’re at their juiciest and most flavorful. Like blueberries, any fruit that you do not eat right away can be frozen on sheet trays and bagged and stored in the freezer.
Bramble berries require annual pruning and are susceptible to some diseases. Reduce the impact by selecting disease-resistant varieties that are well-suited for your gardening zone. Mulching and keeping weeds down will help, too.
In the Garden Center and online, look for Bushel & Berry patio containers of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. These are compact varieties that grow 2 to 4 feet high. The blackberry is thornless, too.