Visit any farmers’ market this month, and you are sure to see quarts of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries lined up on tables, ready for buyers to take home.
I find these fruits absolutely irresistible, and the only way they taste better than what’s available from local farmers is when I can eat them fresh out of the garden.
Thanks to new dwarf and thorn-less introductions, it is easier than ever to grow small fruits, even in limited spaces. To inspire you to give it a try, I’ve selected a few questions about June berries to answer in this month’s column.
Q: What kind of raspberry can I grow in Arkansas’ hot, humid climate?
A: I don’t know about you, but I love the flavor of fresh raspberries, so I grow plenty. It surprises some people to learn that I grow raspberries. People tend to associate them with cooler climes than my Central Arkansas location, but hybridization has made it possible to grow them just about anywhere. It’s all about selecting the right variety for your area.
First, there are two types to consider — everbearing and summer bearing. Everbearing raspberries produce from early summer into fall on first- and second-year canes. The summer-bearing types bear fruit on first-year canes, once during the growing season. Aside from fruit production, raspberry pruning techniques vary on the two types as well.
Next, take a look at the varieties that will perform best in your part of the world. In my mid-south location, I grow ‘Heritage’ and ‘Dorman Red.’ Check with your local county extension service or a trusted garden center.
Everbearing; zones 4 – 8; produces the first year; mid-summer and fall fruit
Everbearing; zones 5 – 9; heat and humidity tolerant; early summer through fall fruit
Q: I have no luck with blueberry bushes. They never last for more than a year. Please give me some growing advice.
A: With its spring blooms and great fall color, the blueberry bush (Vaccinium spp.) is an outstanding ornamental shrub that just happens to produce incredibly tasty fruit as a bonus.
Here are a few tips that will help you grow blue ribbon blueberries:
To find the right species and variety for your location, check these characteristics: required chilling time (the amount of time the temperatures are above freezing but below 45 degrees); growth habit; and susceptibility to late or early freezes. The most commonly grown blueberries for Arkansas are Southern Highbush (V. corymbosum x V. darrowi) and Rabbiteye (V. ashei).
Some blueberry varieties require cross-pollination; it is recommended for all types. To ensure good pollination, plant at least two varieties that bloom at the same time.
Plant blueberries in full sun; they will grow in partial shade, but you may get fewer berries. Soil is the most important consideration for blueberries. They prefer acidic soil that is moist, well drained and high in organic matter.
High-quality compost is a good blueberry fertilizer and may provide all the nutrients the fruit needs. If you use a commercial fertilizer, choose one blended for acid-loving plants. Apply 1 to 2 inches of water per week and supplemental watering during drought periods. Mulching with wood shavings, sawdust or pine straw will keep the soil acidic and conserve moisture.
After the plants become established — 2 to 3 years old — prune them in late winter. Remove dead or weak branches and thin out older branches to force new growth and keep the plant open to sunlight.
Allow the berries to ripen fully on the plant. Their full flavor and aroma peak a few days after they turn blue. Store them short-term in the refrigerator. To freeze, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in the freezer for about an hour, then pack into plastic freezer containers.
Q: Are there any brambles that come in dwarf sizes? I’d love to grow blackberries and raspberries, but I live in a condo.
A: You are in good company. Many gardeners want to grow berries, but think they don’t have the space. However, if you check your local garden center, you will find dwarf raspberry varieties and upright, thorn-less blackberries that stay small enough to grow in containers. Look for BrazelBerries® Raspberry Shortcake™ thorn-less raspberries, which mature into a 2-foot to 3-foot shrub-like mound. This petite plant produces an abundance of full-size, extra-sweet raspberries in mid-summer. I’m not aware of any true dwarf blackberries currently on the market (BrazelBerries® has one coming out in 2017), but you can grow many of the thorn-less varieties in a container. Choose a large pot that will allow the plant to produce multiple canes and provide support for the canes with a trellis.