by Lisa Watters Lain, Arizona’s Garden Gal
Many folks are surprised at the bountiful crops our local berry plants produce. Area berry bushes are more consistent fruit bearers than local fruit trees, and they are easier to grow.
Simply put them into the ground, where at least six hours of bright hot sun are guaranteed; add them to the drip system with your other trees and shrubs; and wait for the berry harvest! But, even more interesting is that they don’t have to be planted in the ground.
Containers offer gardeners with limited space a great way to grow berries and also keep four-footed pests away. I have grown many berry plants in containers with great success, although all yields are not as great as from the plants I’ve grown in the ground.
If you plan on leaving your plants outdoors for the winter, choose a container material that can handle our spring and fall freeze and thaw cycles.
My best berries have been grown in glazed pots. My plastic pots only last a few years and then become brittle and break. Plus, I tend to overwater plants in plastic pots. Wood works well, but can be a dated style. Fiberglass containers are really pretty, and plants grow well in them, but being more expensive than glazed clay pots, I go for glazed pots. (It’s no coincidence that Watters has the largest glazed pottery selection in Northern Arizona).
Strawberries – These are really well suited to containers, and any container, even a hanging basket, is suitable. You will find several types of strawberries at the garden center right now: June bearing, everbearing and day neutral are popular varieties, each with slightly different care requirements.
If you plan on growing strawberries as annuals – replacing them each year – everbearing or day neutral are the better choices. Even though strawberries are perennial plants, they only produce well for about three years, so you don’t lose much by growing them as annuals. Plant them directly in Watters Potting Soil, setting the plants so that the crowns are right at soil level. As with all fruits, they need sunshine and regular watering to grow plump and sweet.
Blueberries – Lowbush blueberries generally need more space to creep than a container can provide, and rabbiteye varieties grow too large for containers. The better choice is a highbush variety and, better still, the dwarfs or half-highs that have been bred specifically for small spaces. All are available now at Watters Garden Center.
A sunny spot is ideal for most potted blueberries. However, especially where summers are unrelentingly hot, afternoon shade keeps the berries plumper before harvest. All blueberries like regular watering, but do not like to sit in wet soil for prolonged periods. Make sure their containers have proper drain holes at the bottoms.
We have several varieties that are self-fruitful, but all blueberries produce more heavily when planted in pairs. Planting two different varieties is good for extending the harvesting seasons. Blueberries start fruiting from year one and each additional year become more abundant.
Currants and Gooseberries – Sweet, tart currants and gooseberries grow on small to medium-sized bushes, around 3 feet. And they behave well in containers. These are the smaller rooted of the berry plants and are good for smaller containers. A container at least 15 inches deep will do nicely. They’ll need plenty of sunshine. You’ll know they are ripe when they change from green to whatever color they are supposed to be (red, black, pink, pale green or white).
Raspberries and Blackberries – Brambles are not ideal candidates for containers. Raspberries can be big unruly plants, but we have been introduced to new varieties that can be controlled in containers. Everbearing varieties like Heritage and Fall Gold will produce two harvests a year if you prune them after the initial fruiting. If you don’t want to be bothered with pruning in the summer, cut them to the ground in late fall or early spring and you will get a lovely fall crop.
If you want to try blackberries, choose the Black Satin thornless variety. They’ll be easier on your skin and can grow without trellising.
Feeding with Watters Flower Power 54 water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks produces huge berries! Regular water will help keep the berries fully plumped.
Plant berries now, and enjoy a tasty harvest this year.
Until next issue, I’ll see you at Watters Garden Center.
Lisa Watters-Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or contacted through her website at WattersGardenCenter.com or FB.com/WattersGardenCenter.