Growing Your Own Berries

Learn about growing and handling your own berries.

| January 2018

Berries (Countryman Press, 2017), by Roger Yepsen presents a variety of berries to readers, including types that have nearly vanished from American gardens and diets. This book offers key advice on finding, identifying, growing, and preserving your own berries. The following excerpt is from the Introduction, “Perishable and Precious.”

Growing Them

The most dependable source of berries, and the freshest, is the home landscape. Unlike many foods that could be called delicacies, berries grow with a minimum of fuss. If you’ve succeeded with zucchini, you’ll probably manage with berries.

Most berries are relatively self-sufficient. The plants establish themselves quickly, require a modest amount of annual maintenance, and can be expected to yield dependably for years. Try a couple of easygoing blueberry bushes, with their compact form and fall color, and discover why berry plants once were fixtures in North American backyards. Currants, gooseberries, and elderberries also are mild-mannered and attractive. If you are in need of a ground cover, look into lowbush blueberries, lingonberries, and tiny checkerberries with their wintergreen-­flavored leaves.

Strawberries are a delectable exception. Although wild strawberries seem to flourish just about anywhere without anyone’s prompting or primping, a bed of a plump domesticated variety will need attention if it is to produce well. Nor does a mat of strawberries add much to the landscape. Raspberries and blackberries offer their own challenges, rapidly growing into briar patches if unchecked. A sprawling, briared bed of berries isn’t ideal for a cramped yard where young children play.

Planning the Berry Patch

Before buying berry bushes, make sure that you are clear on what these plants will demand of you in terms of pruning, staking, and trellising. If you are looking at the offerings of a mail-order nursery rather than buying locally, pay particular attention to the numbered hardiness zones stated for each variety; if you are in zone 5, as indicated by the maps printed in catalogs and gardening books, a berry plant hardy to zone 6 will be at risk each winter.

Blueberries, currants, gooseberries, and elderberries are among those berry plants that can stand alone without being propped up. They are good choices if you don’t care to get involved with rigging up a support system. Raspberries, blackberries, and their relatives grow best if their wandering, drooping canes are given some rigor and order. A simple alternative is to drive a wooden or metal stake in the ground by each plant and tie the canes to it. Another approach is to buy or make the sort of wire cages used to help tomato plants reach for the sun. If you have several plants that need support, it may be more efficient to handle a row of them with a trellis, which looks like a stunted clothesline. Two or more wires are stretched taut between end posts. That sounds simple enough, but you’ll have to dig holes for the posts.

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