Spring is here. I was worried that the winter cold might have killed the two raspberry plants I planted in wine barrels last spring, but throughout the containers, new little sprouts are starting to break the soil surface.
They are Raspberry Shortcake plants, the first thornless dwarf raspberry marketed to gardeners for growing in containers. They come from Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, which is right in step with two new gardening trends, growing berries and growing food in container gardens.
Fall Creek's mission is to develop "new berry varieties specifically for home gardeners." Their breeders are looking for berries that are easy to grow, have exceptional ornamental value and produce lots of good tasting fruit. They want to transform berry gardening and have registered the name of BrazelBerries for their line of home garden berries.
This year, I want to add blueberries to my berry garden. Fall Creek offers three blueberry cultivars for gardeners. I usually don't recommend growing blueberries in local gardens because most home garden soils are alkaline (with a pH of 8 or above) and low in organic matter. Blueberries only do well when grown in acid (with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5) soil that is fairly high in organic matter. This is not a problem if you grow them in pots with a potting mix.
While Fall Creek offers blueberry cultivars, my choice is Jelly Bean. Jelly Bean is the most cold hardy (United States Department of Agriculture Zones 4 to 8) of the three and has the largest berries. It is a little "puffball of a plant" growing to a height and width of only 1 to 2 feet, perfect for a barrel planting.
Despite being a compact dwarf bush, Jelly Bean reportedly yields plenty of large, tasty sweet berries in the middle of summer. But it is not just about the berries. The spherical, mounded plant can be ornamental, with bright green leaves in spring that turn darker green in summer and then red in late summer and fall.
I will be placing my blueberry plant in a barrel planter with large holes in the bottom for drainage. Fall Creek recommends growing their blueberries in sizable pots of 16 inches or more in diameter.
When planting berries or veggies in containers, use a quality potting mix that drains well. A mix that is predominantly peat moss or coconut coir mixed with compost, pumice and perlite works well.
Once planted, Fall Creek recommends that your blueberry plants be in full sun. However, our summer heat and sun is so extreme, a site where they will get some shade late in the day would probably be a good idea.
Keep the soil consistently moist, because blueberries are not tolerant of drought or excess moisture. Fertilize the plants once a year in early spring with a fertilizer recommended for acid-loving plants.
The plants should be pruned in late winter or early spring while still dormant, removing the canes that fruited the year before. That's because Jelly Bean and the other two blueberries (Peach Sorbet and Blueberry Glaze) produce new canes each year, but will only produce fruit on the canes that grew the previous year.
-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.