Berry Growing 101

Fresh, sweet, tart, refreshing, tasty... there are too many words we could use to describe eating fresh berries from the garden. Anyone who frequents the produce section in the store can tell you how expensive it can be to buy pre-packaged berries. The good news is that the Pacific Northwest is a fantastic place to grow them! Read on to learn more about the varieties that thrive here and how you can successfully introduce them to your garden.


Blackberries

It doesn't come as a shock to most that blackberries do especially well here. Often times you'll find black berries on your property without having planted them yourself!

Light Requirements: While they have been known to tolerate some light shade, you'll have the best luck planting blackberries in a place that gets full sun for six to eight hours a day.

Soil Requirements: One of the reasons people may find blackberries growing just about anywhere in their yards is because they aren't overly picky about their soil as long as it has good drainage. If you want to spoil them, give them a sandy loam soil. They like a slightly acidic pH between 5 to 6.5.

Water Requirements: Blackberries like to stay moist- especially in hot summer temperatures. Avoid letting them sit in water, though.

Pollination: Blackberries are considered self-fertile. You will need pollinators, such as bees, so it's a good idea to plant other species of plants that attract them, like Monarda and annual flowers, close by.

Do they do well in containers? Most blackberry varieties will grow far too large to be in a container past the first few years of their life, however; there are some new types grown specifically to thrive in containers such as 'Baby Cakes' that will only grow to about 3 feet tall and wide.

When can I harvest? The first year your blackberry plants will have lots of primocane (new stem) growth. Berries should start to arrive the second year and yields will often increase yearly as the plant grows. Berries arrive late summer to fall, depending on variety.



Blueberries

One of our favorite berries at the store- because there are so many types that do well here!


Light Requirements: Full sun for a minimum of six hours is best, but they really thrive in a space with eight to twelve hours a day!

Soil Requirements: Blueberries need acidic soil (with a pH of 4 to 5) that has excellent drainage. Avoid planting them in clay-like soils, as they stay too wet. Amend poor soils with an amendment high in organic matter. We love using Acid Planting Mix by Gardner & Bloome (G&B).

Water Requirements: Blueberries are prone to shock when watered inconsistently, so keep them moist- especially in hot weather conditions. Established plants are more tolerable to drought. We have found they respond well to being watered "low and slow" due to their shallow roots. Turn your hose stream down and leave it at the base of the plant until water is well absorbed into the root ball. Don't leave them sitting in water, however, especially blueberries in containers.

Pollination: Blueberries need a friend in order to produce berries. Choose two to three varieties that produce as different times in the season (early, mid, or late) to cross pollinate to have blueberries all season long!

Do they do well in containers? Blueberries do great in containers- as long as they are the appropriate size. Several varieties will only get a few feet tall, while some will get over 6 feet. You'll need a pot that is at least 18 inches deep for a long term planting. Larger bushes will be happier in the ground.

When can I harvest? While your plants may produce berries their first year after planting, it's a common practice to remove the flowers (and therefore inhibit berry production) for the first season to help stimulate root growth. You can begin harvesting in their second year. Berries arrive early summer to fall, depending on variety.


Cranberries

Vaccinium macrocarpon, also known as the North American Cranberry, is an evergreen ground cover that is native to the Pacific Northwest.


Light Requirements: Less picky about being in full sun, the cranberry can take a partial or light shade.

Soil Requirements: The popular image of cranberries being grown and floated in bogs is what usually comes to mind when people think about growing them, however; while they are tolerant of moist soil, they do not need to be planted in a boggy area. They enjoy very acidic soil with a pH between 4 and 4.5.

Water Requirements: Keep plants moist at all times, especially during drought. An irrigation system is a great idea for gardeners who do not wish to babysit their plants during the summer.

Pollination: The North American cranberry is self fertile and has both male and female organs on each plant. They are pollinated by insects, so plant other enticing plants near by.

Do they do well in containers? The short answer? No. Unless you are prepared to give them a planter with a large surface area (plants stretch out over three feet in width!), they will quickly outgrow your container. They do not tolerate being transplanted very well, so pick your spot carefully.

When can I harvest? Plants can take up to 5 years to produce, but they can continue producing off of the same plant for over 60 years! Berries arrive late August.


Currants & Gooseberries


Both members of the Ribes family, currants (above) and gooseberries (below) require almost identical care.


Light Requirements: Plant in a full sun area. In hot climates, southern exposure can be too intense for the berries on currants and gooseberries an cause sunburn. In our area we have not found this to be an issue.

Soil Requirements: Enjoying a slightly acidic soil between 6 and 6.5, plant currants and gooseberries in a well drained area. Amend poor soils with a planting mix high in organic matter. We like to use Standard Planting Mix by G&B.

Water Requirements: Keep the plants moist, but not wet during the growing season. Pay special attention to gooseberries during their fruiting time, as inconsistent watering can lead to sunburn on berries.

Pollination: Gooseberries are self-fruiting and depend on insects for pollination. Some varieties of currants are self-fertile, but planting more than one variety is recommended for fruit production.

Do they do well in containers? Large containers, like whiskey barrels and raised beds, are the best option for currants and gooseberries if you aren't able to plant them directly in the ground.

When can I harvest? Both currants and gooseberries should be ready to harvest the second to third season after transplanting. Currants are ready to harvest early summer to late summer, depending on flavor preference and variety (red currants typically ripen faster than black currants, for example.) Gooseberries are often ready mid-summer.


Elderberries

Known for their medicinal properties, the elderberry is a great addition to any edible garden. Both the Nova and York varieties grow well in our area. *There are edible and ornamental (non-edible) species/varieties of elderberry. Please check variety before consuming.

Light Requirements: Elderberries prefer six to eight hours of sunlight and can tolerate some shade.

Soil Requirements: Another lover of well drained and acidic soil, plant shrubs where excess moisture won't be an issue. Strive for a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.

Water Requirements: Keep elderberries moist through harvest. If there is a drought after harvest, be sure to keep an eye on them. Neglected plants will often have an unsuccessful production the following year.

Pollination: Elderberries need a pollinator to produce. Plant both Nova and York (edible varieties) together.

Do they do well in containers? If you plan to plant your elderberry in a container, choose one that is 20 gallons or larger with excellent drainage. Make sure your containers are close together to ensure proper pollination.

When can I harvest? Plan to get a good harvest off of your elderberries two to three years after planting. Berries are typically ready late summer to fall.


Goji Berry

High in antioxidants, vitamins and flavor, goji berries are an excellent crop for gardeners who like to dry their harvests or juice. Hardy in zones 5 to 8. (Most in our area are zone 7 or 8.)

Light Requirements: Aim for full sun to a very light shade for a minimum of 6 hours a day.

Soil Requirements: Well draining soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH (6.8 to 8).

Water Requirements: Known as an "average" waterer, water when soil is dry down to your second knuckle. Avoid keeping your Goji plant sopping wet. They are much more tolerable to dry conditions than other berry varieties.

Pollination: Goji are self-pollinating, so there's no need for more than one variety.

Do they do well in containers? Yes. Select a container that is at least 12 inches deep if you plan to leave it in a pot. Goji Berries in pots will often require more water than those planted in the ground, so pay special attention to their moisture levels, especially during summer. You will often need to stake sections of the plant is it gets larger.

When can I harvest? You should have berries by the second year, though the berries get sweeter and sweeter season after season. Berries are ripe around early summer and the bush will produce until frost. The sweetness of the berries improves with time on the vine, so pick berries that are two weeks old.


Grapes

Whether you're a wine lover or just love to pick grapes straight from the vine, growing your own grapes from home is a delicious activity. Bonus- grapes make an attractive trailing vine for arbors or trellis!

Light Requirements: Grapes like full sun and warmth. Planting next to a concrete wall is a great way to provide your grape with extra heat. You can also help provide warmth to the roots by mounding the base with soil or using landscape fabric to hold heat in.

Soil Requirements: This isn't the crop to plant without amending if you have clay-like soils. Grapes need soil that has excellent drainage. Amend clay soils with Soil Conditioner by G&B, an amendment that has bark fines to work as "clay busters". Their ideal pH is around 5.5.

Water Requirements: Like most berries, grapes want to stay moist but not wet. Younger plants will require more water than established vines.

Pollination: Most grapes are self-pollinating and it is rare that one requires a pollinator.

Do they do well in containers? You may find it a surprise that grapes can be grown in containers considering how large the vines get, but they will actually do quite well! Aim for no smaller than a 15 to 20 gallon sized pot. You will need to provide trellising or stakes regardless of choosing to plant in a container or in ground.

When can I harvest? You'll want to spend the first two seasons, at least, to train your vine. One way to do this is to remove fruit clusters as they form. This will help the plant put more energy into growth than fruiting. The goal is to help promote one main trunk that lateral branches will trail off of. Once your main trunk has reached the width of a finger, you will start to have lateral (shoots from the side) growth. Fruit will be produced on these vines. Some training may be necessary. Ripening times will vary by variety.


Honeyberries

"What's a honeyberry?" We hear this a lot from customers browsing our edible section. This unexpected berry is a relative to the honeysuckle, and gets its name from their extraordinarily sweet flavor. Imagine a very sweet, oblong blueberry.


Light Requirements: Honeyberries thrive in areas with 6 to 8 hours of full sun, and can tolerate some light shade. Avoid areas that extremely hot direct sun in the summer, though this typically will not be an issue with our climate.

Soil Requirements: A fan of neutral to acidic soil, the honeyberry does best with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5. They also need well draining, fertile soil. Amend poor soils with a product high in organic matter (we love Purely Compost by G&B).

Water Requirements: For the first year keep an eye on your bush to make sure it stays moist. After the first season, most honeyberry bushes won't need to be watered beyond our normal rainfall, except in cases of drought. Avoid over watering, especially in soils that retain moisture, as it will lead to root rot.

Pollination: Honeyberries do require another honeyberry to produce fruit.

Do they do well in containers? Yes! They will also tolerate being transplanted into larger containers as they get larger quite well. Remember to use a potting soil that has excellent drainage like the Red Bag Potting Soil by G&B.

When can I harvest? Honeyberries should be ready to harvest the second year after planting and will increase in production season after season. Berries are ready in early summer, usually by May or June. Pick them off the bush similarly to blueberries, or gently shake sections of the shrub to harvest several at one time. Avoid squeezing fruit to check its ripeness as the berries are often juicy and will squish between your fingers easily!


Huckleberries