Growing 6 Perennial Berries in Your Garden

Growing 6 Perennial Berries in Your Garden

Berries are popular perennials that grow like plants in the ground, on bushes and trees or on canes, some of which have pretty treacherous thorns. They can grow wild and look like a mass of confusion, but if you take care of them, these berries can appear quite lovely in a garden. Some can be cut into hedges or can be formed into well-shaped bushes.

The greatest problem is that animals and birds are highly attracted to those blue, purple, or red berries. The critters can easily devour your fruit before you get a chance to harvest it! But we’ve foiled them! Newer varieties produce different colors – white, green, or yellow berries that are overlooked by wildlife but are every bit as tasty as the traditional varieties. You can also cover your berries with protective screens or cheesecloth to keep the berries all to yourself.

Most berries require acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.0 whereas your vegetable garden would rather have a neutral soil pH of 7.0. For this reason, you’ll want to plant your berries away from your vegetable and flower plots, but close enough to benefit from the bees and other pollinators they attract.

Blackberries

Blackberries
Blackberries

Blackberries are a popular berry that grows on the ends of perennial shrubs. Blackberries naturally grow in wooded areas, so they should be planted in partial shade and need soil with excellent drainage. They don’t grow very well in clay soil but if you’re not sure if your soil is proper for growing blackberries, mix organic matter into the soil to help promote aeration. Once you’ve selected your growing site, clear the soil of weeds, rocks, and foreign objects. Add compost to the soil to make it rich. Begin planting blackberries as early as possible once the spring rolls around. Never plant them anywhere where tomatoes, eggplant or potatoes have been planted before.

Water blackberries immediately after planting them. If the starts are tall, cut them back half a foot after planting. New plants will not produce fruit for the first year. As long as you give them plenty of fertilizer and water, however, the plants should start to produce berries the second year. Starting the second year, add fertilizer in the spring and water once a week. Monitor the plants for weeds and pull any that appear. When the fruits have ripened, pick them every four to six days. With the proper care, your blackberry plants may produce fruit annually for up to 20 years.

Blueberries

Blueberries
Blueberries

Blueberries come in several varieties and it is necessary to start more than one variety for them to cross-pollinate and grow healthy fruit. If you want to pick blueberries all summer long, I recommend you plant several varieties, each one with a different fruit-bearing season.

Blueberries grow on pretty bushes that can make very nice hedges. Choose a site in full sun and work peat moss into the soil. Blueberries need acidic soil, so if the pH isn’t between 5.0 and 6.0, you’ll want to work some sulfur into the area an entire season before you plant. It takes agricultural sulfur a whole year to do its job of changing alkaline or neutral soil to acidic.

Plant one- to three-year-old stock in your prepared soil. For each plant, dig a hole that is at least 20 inches deep and 18 inches wide. You’ll want to space your blueberry plants five feet apart. Don’t apply fertilizer when you first plant but wait for a month before applying it. 

In the fall, protect the roots of your bushes with mulch; add compost every spring. Blueberry bushes require about two inches of water per week and you’ll probably want to cover them with netting if you don’t want the birds to get all the berries.

Don’t prune the bushes until they have grown in your garden for four years. Pruning is needed to stimulate growth after the third year. You’ll want to prune your blueberries in late winter before any leaves appear.

Currants

Currants
Currants

Currants are little round blackish-red berries that grow in clusters on bushes. They are very sour but make a great jelly. They can also be dried and used like raisins. Currant bushes require no maintenance at all. They are deer resistant, as well. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil and benefit from a layer of mulch around the roots.

Most bushes will not bear fruit until they have been established for two or three years. Like blueberries, currant bushes benefit when you plant more than one variety, but they pollinate their own flowers, so it isn’t necessary. Watch for restrictions on planting currants in your area; some places don’t want the current bushes to carry a disease called White Pine Blister Rust to trees in the area, so they’ve been outlawed. 

Currants grow in zones three to eight. They tend to drop their leaves if the temperature gets above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, but there are a few varieties that do tolerate hot temperatures. Plant them in acidic soil amended with plenty of compost by digging a hole so the plant sits at the same level it does in the container. Space the bushes four to five feet apart. Mulch around the roots and then water them about two inches per week.

If you feel like you need to fertilize, use a 10-10-10 fertilizer once a year in the spring. Keep the chemical about a foot away from the roots. Currant bushes will generally produce berries for 15 to 20 years, with minimal pruning required. Cover them to protect the fruits from birds, unless you are growing one of the newer varieties that produce white berries, which birds are oblivious to.

Mullberries

Mullberries
Mullberries

Mulberries are a small, sweet, and juicy berry that grows on trees, or in some cases bushes, in zones four to eight. They stain anything they fall on so I recommend planting them well away from any driveways, sidewalks, or deck surfaces. The trees can grow very large and require much room to grow. Their roots spread broadly.

Mulberries require full sun and soil amended with compost. They come in varieties that produce black, red, or white berries and birds love them. To plant, you’ll want to dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and as deep as the tree sits in its container. You will plant the start slightly higher than where it sat in the container. Space plants 30 to 50 feet apart.

Raspberries

Raspberries
Raspberries

Raspberries tend to grow profusely, so it takes a bit of effort to tame the bushes and keep them looking nice. There are two basic types of raspberry, one that only produces berries only in the summer and an ever-bearing form that provides fruit from summer on into the fall. Raspberries grow thorny canes that tend to latch onto anything that passes by.

Plant your raspberry starts in the spring. Do not locate them near previous or current plantings of tomatoes, eggplant or potatoes. They require full sun and well-drained soil. Begin by mixing several inches of compost into the soil. Dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the roots and space the plants three feet apart in rows eight feet apart. Raspberries love water, so soak the plants in water before planting and water them frequently until they establish themselves in the soil.

Give them at least one inch of water per week and mulch the plants After a year, prune the older canes back, but leave the younger ones alone. In the fall, you’ll want to prune them back, leaving about six of the best canes per plant. Do not let the plant grow any wider than 19 inches wide and cut off any canes that do not grow vertically.

Strawberries

Strawberries
Strawberries

Strawberries are a popular and refreshing fruit that just happens to be a perennial! The more active care you give your strawberries, the better they will taste when you can harvest them. Consequently, they make a great addition to a therapeutic garden.

You’ll want to select your growing site in the spring. Look for a garden spot that will afford the plants complete sun. Work the soil thoroughly, turning a foot in depth before mixing in six inches of compost. For every 100 square feet, add two pounds of fertilizer.

Set your strawberry plants 18 to 24 inches deep. Each row of strawberry plants should be at least four feet apart. When you move the plant into the planting hole, place the tip of the crown barely above the soil. Spread out the roots, then carefully pack the soil around them. If you experience less than an inch of rainfall per week in your area, you will need to water your strawberry plants twice a week.

It is important to keep weeds away from strawberry plants. When you weed, be careful to avoid disturbing the roots. Watch especially for newly attached leaf clumps as the plant expands; their roots will be just beginning to grow. One month after planting, you can add an additional pound of fertilizer for every 100 square feet of plants. During the first growing season, you’ll want to remove any blossoms that develop; yes, this will prevent berries from growing, but it will firmly establish the plant so that, next year, you will be able to enjoy luscious, large strawberries.

As cold weather approaches, add straw-based mulch around the plants to insulate and stabilize them. As soon as the chance of frost is past, discard down to a half-inch of mulch as soon as you see leaves beginning to form.