Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Small Fruits & Berries

Small Fruits & Berries 101

by National Gardening Association Editors


The most popular berries among gardeners are the same ones that still come to market: strawberries, blueberries and, occasionally, red raspberries. We grow what we know, naturally enough. But why stop with only those? With a few more bush and bramble berries, you can have a steady supply of fruit all summer long. A gooseberry bush or two will fill the gap between the last strawberries and the first raspberries and still be ripening fruit when the raspberries have finished. Midsummer brings on the red and white currants and blackcap raspberries. After that come the blackberries and then blueberries, and finally the late red raspberries, which ripen until frost. Compared with apples, peaches or any of the tree fruits, bush and bramble fruits are easy to grow. They rarely require spraying for pests and begin bearing some fruit the year after you plant them. By their third season they should be in full production. Perhaps most important, they're very space efficient. None require a mix of varieties for cross-pollination.

Berry Intensive

With intensive culture, berries will reward you handsomely. First aim for variety and a long harvest season, then plant small numbers of each kind and care for them well. Buy the smallest number of plants you can as you're learning, and if you want more, get a second variety.

Incorporate lots of organic matter before planting, and mulch with shredded leaves or compost every year. Prune regularly through the season to keep each branch or cane as productive as possible. And train the bushes and brambles against walls and fences to make better use of space. Here are some thoughts on the major classes of berries and how to fit them into your garden space.

Strawberries

These are the first fruit of the season, which may be why people treasure them so. Since your fruit garden will provide you with a variety of other berries all season long, forego everbearing strawberries in favor of main croppers. An early and a late variety will provide strawberries for two to three weeks. Consider old standards, such as 'Fairfax' or 'Sparkle', that are so soft they leave your fingers red with juice after picking.

Renew the planting every year by tilling or digging under most of the plants and letting runners set in well-worked, fertile ground. Keep them in a bed to themselves, however, since strawberries are susceptible to verticillium wilt carried by tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. Use wire arches over the beds (the kind you'd use for plastic tunnels) to support bird netting.

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