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Berry Growing Guide

Choosing and Growing Berry Plants

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Although the word berry has a distinct botanical meaning, in common usage, berries have come to mean small, juicy fruits. Not all berries are edible - at least for humans. Those yew bushes along your foundation produce juicy, red berries. The birds and chipmunks love them, but they can be poisonous to humans, especially children. And we've all been cautioned not to eat mistletoe berries.

But if we use the commonly held idea of berries as small, juicy fruits, we still have a lot to choose from. And since berries tend to grow on bushes, rather than large trees, they make an excellent choice for home gardeners who want to grow fruit in the back yard. Most berries are even candidates for growing in containers.

1. Blueberries

Growing Blueberries
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Blueberries are an easy plant to grow. They don't require much pruning and they have only a handful of diseases that might cause you trouble. You will have more trouble keeping the birds away from your berries than you will from insect pests or diseases.

Blueberries require a little effort before you plant them. The require a low soil pH, far lower than most garden soils. To attain this pH you'll need to add sulfur to your soil and allow it time to take affect. Amending your soil the fall before you intend to plant is recommended.

Lowbush blueberries are a sprawling plant that is native to Maine and grows well in colder zones. Rabbiteye blueberries are native to the Southern U.S. and do well in warmer zones. Highbush blueberries are the type most frequently cultivated and there's a variety for just about any climate.

You should plant at least 2 blueberry bushes, to ensure good pollination and lots of berries. But these are attractive plants with dangling white flowers in spring and bold, red fall foliage, not to mention clusters of berries that slowly turn a deep purple-blue over the summer.

2. Grapes

Growing Grapes
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Grape vines are not a common site in many gardens, which is odd because they are the most commonly grown fruit plant in the world. They actually take up very little space and can be trained along a wall, an arbor or even along your garden fence.

But grape vines take a little work and patience. You won't get any fruit in the early years. The plants just aren't strong enough to hold onto the heavy, juicy grapes. Young plants need to be trained to branch out at the right height. After that, your vines will need annual pruning to keep them producing.

There are also several diseases and a handful of insects that can attack your ripening crop. Of course, birds will be a nuisance and other critters, like skunks and racoons, will try and steal the entire crop, too. But if you choose a variety suitable to your site and you do the necessary pruning, grapes can be a very rewarding plant to grow.

3. Raspberries and Blackberries

How to Grow Raspberries
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Let's face it, raspberries and blackberries practically grow themselves. These are big, boisterous plants that need a far amount of space and a good amount of corralling. Yearly pruning to keep them from spreading is essential.

You have a good amount of choice when choosing raspberries. There are the familiar red berries as well as black, purple and yellow varieties. Red berry bushes tend to be more cold hardy and adaptable, with larger berries that ripen earlier than black raspberries. Black raspberries have a firmer fruit than the reds and a pleasantly tart flavor. Purple raspberries are a cross between red and black varieties, with berries about the same size as the black raspberries. Yellow raspberries have very soft, juicy fruits, so you will have to grow your own because they aren't really suited to shipping and packing.

Blackberries are related to raspberries, but they are not black raspberries. They are just about as easy to grow, although they don't handle the cold as well as raspberries. They have a smoother, tarter fruit than raspberries and are favored for cooking, rather than fresh eating. They are similar to raspberries in that they will also require annual pruning, to keep them manageable. There are thornless varieties of both, if the brambles bother you.

4. Strawberries

Strawberries
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Strawberries are a perfect plant for any size garden. You can lay out a large bed, use them to edge borders or plant them in containers. They are popular with lots of animals, so be prepared to either protect them or share them.

It can get a little confusing trying to decide on the type to grow. The traditional June bearing varieties produce one big crop a season. They're the ones with the runners that root and make more plants. Everbearing strawberries produce 2-3 smaller crops throughout the summer and few runners. Then there are the day neutral strawberries that flower and fruit sporadically all summer long.

June bearers need the most room and the beds need to be renovated every few years. Everbearing and day neutral varieties are a better choice for small spaces and containers. You can even grow strawberries as annual plants, buying a dozen new plants each year for a couple of dollars.

5. Unusual Berries

Growing Ground Cherries
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

There's really nothing unusual about these berries, they just are grown as commonly as the ones above. Maybe that's because many of them are not for fresh eating. But they make excellent jams, pies and even wine.

One exception is the ground cherry or cape gooseberry. They look like tiny tomatoes and grow like tomatillos, but they taste fresh and fruity with a hint of pineapple. And, oh, are they prolific. That's my favorite, ‛Aunt Molly', at left.

Some currents make great snacks fresh off the bush, too. And others make great jam.

Goji berries and lingonberries may be very trendy right now, but they are also fairly easy to grow. Evergreen lingonberries are a good choice for gardeners in cold climates. Goji plants can get large, but can be pruned to restrict their size and even grown in pots. Elderberries are trees, so give them plenty of room. And you'll only need one gooseberry plant to make dozens of great deserts.

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