Berries for Your Garden
Posted by Growing Solutions
Just last night I picked our first crop of strawberries from the raised beds. The blueberry bushes in the edible garden are almost ready for harvest. June and July are berry time around here. This is the first of two articles on berries for the Connecticut garden. Strawberries are our first topic, followed by an upcoming article on growing blueberries.
Strawberries, the ones I picked last night are ‘Seascape’ variety. We’ve planted other varieties, but have been most pleased with this one. Strawberries suffer from many fungal diseases, ‘Seascape’ is remarkably resistant to these problems. The plants produce large berries ALL SEASON, starting in June and producing a light crop in mid-summer, and another heavy crop in September. Most strawberries are done by July, so you can see why this one has become a favorite.
Planting strawberries in raised beds with compost enhanced soils will bring you success. If the soil or compost you are using is heavy, meaning it is dark and dense and holds water very well, you should add sand to the mix. Strawberries prefer a sandy loam soil, which water drains from quickly. Clay soils are not a good site for strawberry production.
Raised beds are often made from cedar or other non-treated woods. Do not use pressure treated wood to create a raised bed for food production. At our garden we’ve used locally sourced black locust boards to create our raised beds. For many of our clients, we have purchased raised beds from www.naturalyards.com , and have been very pleased with quality and price of these products. We have also used steel edging and Belgium block stones to create raised beds in our gardens.
We use chopped hay for mulch, commonly used when establishing new lawns. This hay mulch is not be confused with hay bales, if you use hay bales (horse food), you will end up with a great crop of hay! Hay mulch is sold in a plastic wrapped bale, it is weed and disease free. This mulch prevents fungal diseases in edible crops as it is naturally inhospitable to fungal growth. It also keeps the strawberries clean and free from sandy grit.
Harvesting your strawberries daily is important, if left on the plant when ripe, birds, rodents and our dog will eat them! It is also important to remove any rotting berries, or brown leaves, as this will cause fungal diseases to spread. Do not compost strawberry waste.
Strawberry plants are not easy to find in local nurseries, we purchased ours from the Burpee Seed Catalog online store at, www.burpee.com. They shipped us our plants, we followed the planting instructions in the package, and have been very pleased with the results.
Where to plant? Full sun, well drained (no puddles), preferably in a raised bed
When to plant? Order in February or March. Plant in Mid-May, can be planted up until September. If summer planting watering is critical.
How far apart to plant? 2’apart. Strawberry plants create runners by the second year, these are new plants that reach out as a stem, touch the soil and form roots. The bed you plant them in should be big enough to allow for spreading. Divide them in the third year.
Mulch? Yes, chopped hay mulch as described above is good, or other organic, non-dyed mulch will do. Do not use raw wood chips as mulch on fruit and vegetable plants.
Water? Strawberries are sensitive to excessive water and dry spells. A raised bed will solve the drainage problem. If it is dry, water in the morning, do your best to water the soil and keep the leaves of the plant as dry as possible. Watering between rows works well. Avoid watering at night as leaved do not dry out quickly and fungus problems can occur.
Fertilize? They prefer a pH of 6.0 to 6.3. Apply lime to the soil in February, especially if planted in a raised bed. As ‘Seascape’ produces berries spring to fall they need to be fertilized. We use Espoma Organic Garden-Tone in March and again in June. Read the package directions and follow them.
Pests? Tarnished plant bug, slugs, rodents, dogs. Insects are not a big problem with strawberries, fungal diseases are the primary problem. Planting ‘Seascape’ or other disease resistant plants and keeping the beds clean of rotten berries and brown leaves is the best prevention.
Extras? Plant at least 12 plants for a good harvest. The berries don’t freeze well, but they do make a wonderful jam or pie, or short cake… yum.
Years ago we planted one blue berry shrub, and were disappointed year after year with no berries. What was wrong? Part of my studies for my certificate in horticulture included fruit production, the light dawned, we needed more than one variety of blueberry! The cross pollination between the varieties produces the flower and berry. Some blueberry varieties are self-pollinating, but all will produce more with other varieties nearby.
We planted high bush varieties and have been very happy with ‘Duke’ an early producer which grows to about 5’ high and wide. ‘Blueray’ is a mid-season producer of very sweet berries, it is a bit taller at 6’. Two smaller varieties we have been pleased with are, ‘Herbert’ and ‘Northland’. ‘Herbert’ grows to 4’ high and 5’ wide and is a late season producer. ‘Northland’ is 4’ x 4’, mid-season producer, a cross between a high and low bush shrub. Selecting shrubs for early, mid and late season production will extend the period of time the shrubs produce berries, thus extending the time we have fresh berries to eat.
At a clients home we planted a hedge of a low bush variety called ‘Top Hat’. These shrubs grow only 18” high, we replaced a tired boxwood hedge with these beauties. Best part, the blueberries were toddler height, to the delight of the families youngest member.
The difference between high bush and low bush varieties is size and in some varieties taste. High bush tend to be sweeter. Low bush berries are more tart, with intense blueberry flavor.
What to plant? High bush, V. corymbosum, or low bush, V. angustifolium varieties. Bare root, or a shrub? Bare root are exactly what they sound like, a root with a leaf or two on it. These are inexpensive and easier to plant, but they have a high failure rate, and you will wait 3-4 years for a harvest. Shrubs are more expensive, they are much older plants, and are ready to produce a small crop the first year. Blueberry shrubs can be purchased a local nurseries and can be planted spring through fall.
Where to plant? Full sun area, with moist soils.
When to plant? If planting a shrub in a plastic container, plant March to November. If planting bare root, or a ball and burlap prepared plant, plant in early spring, Mid-March through May.
How far apart to plant? Average high bush blue berries should be planted 4’ to 5’ apart. Low bush 2’ to 3’ apart.
Mulch? Yes mulch the shrubs. Do not use raw woodchips or dyed mulch. Natural un-treated mulches are best.
Fertilize? Yes, one product we have used and liked is Espoma Organic Soil Acidifier, ammonium sulfate will also do. Apply when planting according to package directions, in following years apply in early March.
Pests? Birds, you must either get up very early and check your blueberries for ripeness every day, and be prepared to pick them, or the birds will beat you to it every time. Bird netting is a better option, put the net on when the berries form, keep it on until they turn blue and are ready to eat. Now, this is important, you must check bird netting every evening as birds can get caught under the netting and die. Bird netting can be purchased at nursery’s, farm supply stores and hardware stores. You can remove the netting once you have finished harvesting berries. Blueberries are not often harmed by insect or fungal diseases, reducing the need for pesticides and fungicides.
Extras? Blueberries are attractive shrubs all summer with brilliant red or orange foliage in the fall. No need to plant them out of sight.