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Tag Archive: berries

  1. A Bucket of Blueberries

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    Beautiful blueberries ripening on the shrub. (photo by PhreddieH3)

    Whoever claimed that life is just a bowl of cherries was seriously misinformed. Life, at least a good life, should be more like a bucket of blueberries—sweet, plentiful and full of good things.


    Blueberry flowers look like small bells and bloom in spring. (Photo by Kurt Stüber)

    The list of blueberry virtues goes on and on. Given acid soil, reasonable moisture, and sunshine, blueberries can grow about anywhere, as long as you chose a variety congenial to your climate. The pale pinkish spring flowers are extremely pretty in the garden and the fine foliage turns bright red before leaving the scene in the fall. If you—or the birds—don’t eat them all, the waxy berries are highly decorative. In one public garden, a double row of highbush blueberries frames a wide grass allée, an old-world design idea worked out with a native New World shrub.
    Blueberries have never really gone out of fashion, but they are even more modish now because of their nutritional benefits—lots of antioxidants, plus helpful fiber and useful amounts of vitamins A and C. They also taste a lot better than vitamin pills.


    Low-bush blueberry

    Blueberry Types

    To know blueberry types is to love them even more. Lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) are the wild blueberries native to eastern Canada and New England. Small and intensely flavorful, lowbush varieties are borne on low, spreading shrubs. They are sometimes harvested commercially and frequently harvested by eager berry pickers. Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are the titans of commercial production, but can also grow well in home gardens. The shrubs can be large, topping out at six to twelve feet tall and nearly as wide. These are hardy from USDA Hardiness Zone 3 through Zone 7, depending on variety, and produce big, blue fruits from July through August. Their relatives, southern highbush blueberries, have been bred for warmer climates and include varieties like ‘Avonblue’ and ‘Southland’.

    Another good blueberry species for southern climates is the whimsically named rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei). While their namesake animals may be relatively small, rabbiteye bushes can grow up to eight or ten feet tall. Home growers can choose from many available cultivars.
    695px-Blueberries-In-PackAnd those home growers can harvest buckets of blueberries no matter whether the available space is a standard garden bed, raised growing area or even a large container. In recent years, with more consumers crying for small-space and container varieties, breeders have come up with dwarf blueberries, like the bushy Blueberry Glaze™, which grows only two to three feet tall, with a neat, mounding habit. Container growing is also useful for blueberry lovers with alkaline soil.

    Planting Blueberries

    To get growing, read plant tags carefully to ensure that you have sufficient space for mature height and width of the variety you choose. If you live south of USDA Zone 7, make sure that your blueberry will receive enough “chill hours” to fruit successfully in your garden. Your local cooperative extension agent should be able to help with that, but chances are, if the blueberry variety is on sale in a nursery near you, it will probably survive in your area. If you are ordering from a catalog or online vendor, call and ask about climate-suitable blueberry choices.

    If you are planning to plant your blueberry bush in a container or raised bed, fill with a quality medium like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix. The sphagnum peat moss content in the mix provides the acidity that blueberries crave.

    1722fafard Ultra Container with Extended Feed RESILIENCE front WEBBefore you plant anywhere, make sure that your chosen site receives five or six hours of daily sunlight. Sink the root ball so that its top is level with the top of the planting hole. Water in the young blueberry, and once it is planted, mulch with two inches of organic material, arranged doughnut-style, so it does not touch the blueberry canes. Water regularly while the plant establishes itself.

    Blueberry Care

    Experts advise pruning off the flowers of your blueberry in the first year, so the plant puts all its energy into growth. This may not be as necessary with dwarf varieties. Water during dry spells, especially with container-grown bushes. Since birds and sometimes small mammals love blueberries as much as humans, cover the shrub with netting as soon as the green berries start to take on a blue cast. Harvest your berries when they are deep blue and come off easily, checking the plant every couple of days for additional ripe berries. If you can resist eating the blueberries out of hand, use them within a few days or freeze for later.


    Highbush blueberries

    In the fall, fertilize the shrubs according to manufacturer’s directions with a product designed for acid-loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. Highbush types should be pruned in late winter to eliminate dead branches and thin out old wood. Cutting back one old cane (stem) for every new one keeps the blueberry healthy and helps ensure a good harvest each year.

    Author Jacquelyn Mitchard said, “You’ll never regret eating blueberries or working up a sweat.” You can argue about the sweating part, but just about everyone can agree on the berries.

  2. Growing Raspberries and Blackberries

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    Freshly picked wild blackberries. (Image by Loadmaster)

    Few summer treats can compare to a bowl of sweet fresh-picked raspberries or blackberries. Borne on the brambly stems (or “canes”) of shrubs in the genus Rubus, these toothsome morsels are about as delectable as hardy fruits get. And thanks to the efforts of modern breeders, growing raspberries and blackberries is easier than ever. There’s a brambly berry for just about every culinary garden!

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    Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) ready for the picking. (image care of USDA, ARS)

    What are Brambles?

    Botanically speaking, each raspberry or blackberry is in fact a cluster (or “aggregate”) of fused, fleshy seed capsules, individually known as drupelets. The drupelets develop on the domed centers of the white, often inconspicuous, bee-pollinated flowers.

    Bramble berries come in several colors including red, orange, yellow, purple, and black, with numerous hybrids between the variously colored types. Most brambles are hardy into colder regions of the United States (USDA Hardiness Zone 5 or so), but some are best suited for milder climes.

    Fortunately, perhaps the hardiest of the lot are the red raspberries, widely regarded as the cream of the bramble crop. All derive from Rubus idaeus, a prickly, suckering shrub native to much of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. Hundreds of selections and hybrids of the species are in cultivation, each selected for the flavor, abundance, and timing of its fruits.

    Standard forms of red raspberry flower and fruit on the growth of the previous year, ripening their fruits in early summer. So-called everbearing varieties go them one crop better by also producing blooms and berries in late summer on the current season’s growth (known as “primocanes”). Everbearing raspberries can be tip-pruned in early spring for two crops, or sheared close to the ground for a single large late-season harvest.


    A colorful mix of Rubus berries. (image care of USDA, ARS)

    Growing Red Raspberries

    Red raspberry plants thrive in sun and fertile humus-rich soil (amend or mulch lean or heavy soil with a good compost such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost). Plant the canes in widely spaced rows (10 feet or so apart), removing suckers that wander more than a couple feet from the rows’ centers.

    Recommended summer-fruiting varieties include ‘Killarney’, ‘Nova’ (which fruits a bit later than ‘Killarney’), and ‘Encore’ (which ripens later still). Everbearing red raspberries include ’Autumn Bliss’ and ‘Heritage’ (the latter bearing its fall crop too late for areas with short growing seasons). Yellow-fruited cultivars of Rubus idaeus include ‘Anne’ and ‘Fallgold’ (both everbearing).

    Growing Black Raspberries

    The eastern U.S. native Rubus occidentalis – commonly known as black raspberry – has sired several cultivars that make excellent choices for cold-climate gardens. The aromatic, dome-shaped berries mature to purple-black in late spring or early summer, depending on the variety. Look for the large-fruited, midseason-bearing ‘Jewel’, and the relatively early-fruiting ‘Haut’.

    Black raspberries have similar soil and sun requirements to those of their red kin. Plant them (as well as blackberries and purple raspberries) at 4-foot intervals in rows spaced 8 to 12 feet apart. Prune the tips of black raspberry (and blackberry) primocanes in spring as soon as they reach full height, and remove all second-year canes after they fruit.

    Sweet, red raspberries are a real summer treat!

    Growing Blackberries

    Least hardy of the brambles are the group known as blackberries, a complex swarm of cultivars deriving from a hodgepodge of species. Their large, relatively elongated fruits ripen as the black raspberry season comes to a close. Relatively few blackberry cultivars are reliably hardy north of USDA Zone 6, and many hit their stride only in mild-winter areas such as the Southeast and Pacific Northwest. Among the best of the hardiest cultivars are ‘Darrow’ and ‘Illini Hardy’, which succeed into USDA Zone 5.

    Gardeners in warmer districts can choose from a broad array of blackberries, including numerous thornless, semi-erect cultivars developed by the University of Arkansas and other breeding programs.

    Crosses between red raspberries and black raspberries have yielded yet another tribe of brambles: purple raspberries. Intermediate in color, size, and hardiness between the two parent types, this group is best known by the cultivar ‘Brandywine’, whose large, flavorful, tart fruits come later than those of most other raspberries. Other notable cultivars include ‘Royalty’ and ‘Success’.

    The various colors and seasons of bloom of modern raspberry and blackberry varieties offer a spectrum of delicious possibilities for bramble fanciers. Continuous spring-to fall harvest of berries is there for the growing, in a rainbow of colors. It’s a great time to be a bramblephile.

    Thornless blackberries are easier to harvest!

  3. Growing Summer Fruits in the Garden

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    Nothing tastes like fresh strawberries straight from the summer garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    For centuries, traditional cottage gardeners have included an array of summer fruits in their beds and borders. Today’s gardeners—even those with very limited space—can do the same. Fruiting plants are a gardener’s best friends because they do double or even triple duty: beautifying the garden with lovely spring flowers, producing edible fruit and even sometimes brightening the fall landscape with colorful leaves.

    Strawberry pots or large containers of berries perform well in Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil.

    Strawberry pots or large containers of berries perform well in Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Soil.

    The only real requirements for seasonal fruit growing are a desire to produce fresh food, a bit of sunny space and good soil—even if that soil is in a container filled with a quality medium like Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix. If poor garden soil is a problem, boost quality with an ample helping of nutrients, like those in Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend.

    Start your fruit growing adventure with a favorite fruit, or, choose types like raspberries or peaches that are not well suited to being shipped long distances from growers to retailers.
    The following summer fruit categories are among the most popular with home gardeners.


    Raspberries come in many colors.

    Raspberries and blackberries are the best-known brambles, but the genus Rubus is also home to popular hybrids including loganberries, boysenberries, marionberries, and tayberries. Summer-bearing (as opposed to fall-bearing) brambles are among the easiest fruits to grow, producing large, sweet berries borne on often-prickly canes. Traditional raspberry and blackberry varieties bear fruit on second-year stems and are often trained on wires for ease of harvesting. Older bramble varieties require substantial growing space, but some newer dwarf types produce equally impressive fruit when grown in large containers. Whether the plants are cultivated in-ground or in containers, the ripening fruit is attractive to birds and small animals and should be protected with netting. Prune fruiting canes to the ground after the harvest.


    Whether grown in dedicated beds, large containers or special, multi-pocketed jars, low-growing strawberries (Frageria spp.) are longtime home gardening favorites. Commercially available strawberry varieties are either June-bearing, producing a single large crop in June; or ever-bearing, producing fruit throughout the growing season. For best fruit set, grow two separate ever-bearing or June-bearing varieties in close proximity to each other. In-ground strawberry beds should be mulched with straw to protect the berries from botrytis or gray mold. Strawberry beds should also be rotated every few years to prevent nutrient depletion and disease proliferation. The soil in containers used to grow strawberries should be changed every year or two.


    Clusters of pink or white bell-shaped blueberry flowers give way to clusters of ripe summer fruits.

    Clusters of pink or white bell-shaped blueberry flowers give way to clusters of ripe summer fruits.

    Blueberries are members of the Vaccinium genus, related to heaths and heathers. The shrubs are decorative enough for mixed borders, supplying pink spring flowers, blue summer fruit, and red autumn leaves. All blueberry types need some amount of winter chilling time, with lowbush and northern highbush types requiring the most chilling, while southern highbush and rabbiteye types require the least. Consult local vendors or extension agents to determine which types work best in your area. Blueberries also need acid soil, in the 4 to 5.5 pH range. If soil tests show that your soil is too alkaline, acidify by mixing in amendments such as sulfur or Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost.

    Fruit trees provide both ornamental and edible value. (photo by USDA, ARS)

    Fruit trees provide both ornamental and edible value. (photo by USDA, ARS)

    Stone Fruits

    Peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, and cherries are members of the Prunus genus. Commonly known as “stone fruits,” because of their hard central seeds or pits, the trees feature billowing clusters of five-petaled flowers in shades of white or pink. When selecting a tree for a home garden or orchard, make sure to pick a variety that is reliably hardy in your USDA hardiness zone. If space is limited or the tree will be grown in a large container, choose a dwarf variety, which will reach a mature height of only 8 to 10 feet tall and wide.

    Many stone fruit trees are self-fertile, requiring only a single specimen for pollination and fruit set, but others, especially sweet cherries, may require two different varieties. Check with the vendor to be sure. All stone fruits prefer loamy, well-drained soil. Though members of the Prunus tribe have been grown successfully for centuries, they can be problematic because of susceptibility to climate conditions, pests, and diseases. Consult an experienced grower, local extension agent or a reference source for tips on best cultural practices.


    Ripening at summer’s end, melons generally require ample space and a bit of patience, but they are worth the wait. Cantaloupe, watermelons and other favorite melon varieties are members of the Cucurbitaceae or gourd family, most of which grow from large, flattened seeds. Melons need rich soil and a minimum of several months of warm weather to grow fat and sweet. Gardeners without abundant square footage should choose bush varieties, like ‘Bush Sugar Baby’ watermelon, or train melon plants up a sturdy trellis or other support. Heavy ripening fruits will require additional bracing to prevent stems from breaking too soon.

  4. Growing Cranberries (for Nantucket Cranberry Pie)

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    Despite its association with bogs, both in commercial cultivation and in nature, cranberry requires no such sogginess in home gardens, prospering in highly acidic, humus-rich soil that doesn’t dry out. The wiry, carpeting, slender-leaved stems are perfect for covering small slopes, walls, and hollows, and are particularly effective near paths and patios, where the fine-textured foliage, small pinkish early-summer bell-flowers, and showy red berries can receive the adulation (and harvesting) they deserve. Individual plants typically mature at 6- to 8-inches tall and 2- to 4-feet wide.

    Cranberry Varieties

    cranberry USDA
    A cranberry in full fruit (Image care of USDA, ARS)

    Most cultivated cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) varieties come courtesy of the cranberry industry, which has selected them for fruitfulness rather than for ornamental characteristics. A notable exception is ‘Hamilton’, a dwarf cultivar that slowly evolves into a dense, lustrous, foot-wide hummock, adorned in fall with normal-sized berries that loom large amid the tiny, congested leaves. This beauty merits the company of other small, special ornamental plants, the sort that dwell in rock gardens or troughs. It also works well as a solo container plant. Give it a good potting mix amended with peat moss, Fafard Premium Organic Compost, and a dollop of garden soil.

    Although most commercial cranberry cultivars (such as ‘Stevens’) offer nothing exceptional in the way of habit and leafage, they are well worth a place in ornamental plantings, functioning as small-scale ground covers and offering a bumper crop of berries as a bonus. Where happy, they produce as much as a quarter-pound of fruit per square foot (expect some losses from insects and fungal disease). Add peat-rich Fafard Premium Organic Compost to the soil to boost soil organic content, if necessary, and elemental sulfur to increase acidity.

    Cranberry Relatives

    Lingonberry has glossy evergreen leaves.

    Widely planted in Europe for food and for ornament, lingonberries (
    Vaccinium vitis-idaea) have yet to establish a substantial beachhead in North American gardens. Perhaps this is because the most vigorous and easily grown forms occur in northern Eurasia, where they have long been cultivated for their cranberry-like fruits. Most European lingonberries spread relatively rapidly into dense, bushy, 8- to 12-inch-tall clumps. Clusters of pale pink, urn-shaped flowers open in late spring and summer, ripening to tomato-red fruits in late summer and fall. Cultivars abound, including the popular Koralle Group, which flower and fruit copiously on compact, 4- to 6-inch tussocks, and ‘Red Pearl’, whose large, quarter-inch- to half-inch-wide berries are borne on vigorous, wide-spreading plants with upright, 12-inch-tall branches.

    Somewhat more adaptable than cranberry, European lingonberry takes readily to acidic, humus-rich, well-drained soil in full to partial sun, where it excels as a refined groundcover. Plant more than one variety for heaviest fruiting. Compact forms, such as the Koralle Group, make good subjects for containers (give them a highly organic potting mix amended with peat and garden soil).

    The North American edition of lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea ssp. minus) inhabits bog margins and mountaintops from the northernmost United States to the Arctic Circle. Smaller, less fruitful, balkier, but more elegant than its European kin, it’s an ideal subject for rock gardens and large troughs in regions where summer temperatures rarely exceed 90 degrees F.

    In cooking, lingonberries play the same roles as cranberries, adding color and zest to preserves, sauces, and baked goods. They also freeze well, emerging from the fridge to bring a taste of fall to the midwinter table. Offering year-round beauty in the garden and fall-to-spring flavor in the kitchen, both of these little Vaccinium keep bringing joy long after the holiday cheer has ended.

    Recipe: Nantucket Cranberry Pie

    Nantucket cranberry pie is an easy and delicious fall pie.

    A fast, easy pie of New England fame, the Nantucket cranberry pie has many variations, and all are delicious. The bottomless pie is covered with a nutty crumb topping and baked to perfection. Almond extract gives it a needed aromatic boost.

    • 2 cups cranberries
    • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 1 cup flour
    • 1 cup sugar (1/2 cup  for tart pie)
    • 1 stick melted butter
    • 2 lightly beaten eggs
    • 1 tsp. almond extract
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
    • 1 pat butter

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly grease a pie pan with a butter pat. Place the cranberries at the bottom of the pan then sprinkle with the walnuts and 2/3 cup sugar.

    In a bowl, gently stir together the flour, 1 cup of sugar, melted butter, eggs, almond extract and salt in a mixing bowl. Evenly pour the batter over the cranberries and walnuts. Bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes.

    Allow it to slightly cool before cutting. Serve the cooled pie with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream spiked with ginger. Top it with chopped candied ginger, if you like.

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