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It's The Berries

Want to grow your own fresh berries? Gardening Contributor Georgia Raimondi of The Saturday Early Show shares the secrets of growing delicious berries on your patio, balcony, or in your backyard.

Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are the edible jewels of a summer garden, versatile and flavorful, plus they are good for you. Plant them now and they will be ripe and juicy in only a few weeks.

STRAWBERRIES are high in vitamin C and fiber. They are well suited for planting in the home garden since they are among the easiest of fruits to grow and produce a large amount of fruit from relatively small planting. Each plant may produce up to one quart of fruit.

Always buy strawberries from a reputable nursery or from a catalog; strawberry plants obtained through less reliable sources can carry disease. Look for dark healthy leaves and a moist weed-free soil mix.

Plant them in beds of their own or mingle them with herbs or flowers. Their attractive green foliage and delicate white flowers make a handsome edging in a rock garden. If space is at a premium, you can use hanging baskets or special strawberry jars.

Strawberries are usually planted in spring about two to three weeks before the last expected frost. If you live in an area where the winters are mild, you can plant strawberries in early summer or early autumn.

Types of Strawberries:

  • Everbearing: This type produces two annual crops - a large crop in June and a smaller one in late summer or early fall.
  • Alpine: This type produces tiny, tasty fruit all season long.
  • June-bearing: Large crop in June through July
  • Day-neutral produces berries throughout the season, producing fewer runners than June or Everbearing varieties. (Runners are the new baby plants that come off the parent plant via trailing stems.)
Plant strawberries in a sunny location with rich, well-drained slightly acidic soil, having a pH of 5.8 to 6.5 (7.0 is neutral). Good drainage is essential; the plants will die if the soil is too soggy. To improve drainage, plant in raised beds.

Do not plant strawberry plants where tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants or peppers were grown the previous year. Soil-borne diseases that often attack those vegetables will also damage strawberries.

When planting, space plants about 18 to 24 inches apart. Make sure to cover the roots and only half of the crown with soil.

For newly planted June-bearing strawberry plants, for the first year, pinch off the first blossoms as soon as they appear so the plants will grow stronger. It will encourage higher productivity. If fruit is permitted to grow and ripen on the newly set plant, the growth of the plant is retarded and runner plants are produced later in the season. Late-formed runner plants are not as productive as early-formed ones.

On newly set everbearing strawberrplants, remove blossoms until about July 15. Blossoms that appear after this time should be allowed to remain and will produce a larger crop in early fall.

Some plants have runners and some don't. The stems will eventually root and multiply your strawberry bed. To get larger strawberries from a plant, limit the trailing runners to four per plant.

You can also obtain good plants by placing the runners in flower pots or cans filled with soil and let them root in the pot or can. When the runner plants are well established, cut them loose from the mother plant and move the young plants to a new location.

A soaker hose or trickle irrigation is ideal because it does not wet the leaves and encourage fungus disease.

Mulch a strawberry bed with straw. Mulching keeps the weeds down and the keeps the strawberries clean by keeping them off the ground, which protects them from mold and rot.

Most plantings will produce berries for about three years. When the yield and size of the berries decreases, replace the plants.

BLUEBERRIES: Blueberry plants begin to produce fruit in the third season, so buy plants that are three years old. Your local nursery probably stocks the type best suited for your region.

Blueberry shrubs are decorative, having pretty white flowers in spring and developing colorful red leaves in autumn.

There are early-season, mid-season and late-season blueberries. Since most blueberries are self-sterile, it is best to plant several varieties together as bigger berries and higher yields will result from cross-pollination.

There are blueberry plants that can be grown in containers and small places.

A sunny site is preferable, but blueberries will do well in light shade. Blueberries require ample moisture and do especially well in areas of high rainfall. This is because blueberries have fine fibrous roots that grow in a shallow mat and these roots are not able to forage for water.

For the best fruit production, blueberries require an acidic soil of about a pH of 3.5 to 4.5. To improve the acidity of the soil, mix ¾ peat moss and ¼ of existing soil in the planting hole. Make a big planting hole as blueberries don't like squashed roots.

Do not dig around the shallow blueberry roots, as they can be easily damaged. During the first year, don't fertilize your blueberries. After that, you can add a commercial fertilizer that is recommended for other acid-loving plants like azaleas.

Mulch plants with peat moss to conserve moisture

A mature blueberry plant yields about five to six pints of fruit each year.

RASPBERRIES: Purchase only stock that is certified virus-free. Plants infected with viruses won't live as long and will produce inferior berries.

Each raspberry plant is self-fertile, so you don't need two of each to get berries. Do not plant red and black raspberries in the same garden due to possible transmission from the mortolerant red variety to the more susceptible black.

Raspberries may be red, black, purple or yellow. The darker the raspberries, the more suited for mild winters. Red and yellow raspberries are better suited for a cold climate zone and come in both summer- and fall-bearing varieties, while blacks and purples bear only in the summer.

Raspberries do best in full sun, but often will tolerate light shade. They like sandy loam, rich in compost, slightly acidic soil. They like water, but need good drainage as their roots extend only 18 inches down and can be prone to rot.

Mature raspberry bushes can be purchased at nurseries and they will generally do better if you give them something to grow on, like a wire trellis. Mulch plants with a thick layer of sawdust. New plants will grow twice as much in their first year with mulch as without.

Berries are a favorite of birds, so protect your plants by covering them with netting.

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