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May 22, 2018  |  Login
Learning the Basics of Growing Your Own Berries
By Ann Whitman and The National Gardening Association

Site selection and preparation are more critical with berries than with nearly any other food crop you may grow because most of these plants stay in place for years. The varieties you choose, where you plant them, and how you prepare and maintain the soil determine whether your berry patch produces bumper crops or becomes a disappointing chore.

As you make decisions about where to plant your berry patch, keep in mind the following requirements:

  • Sun: All fruits need at least 6 hours — preferably more — of full sun each day to produce large, flavorful crops.
  • Air circulation and drainage: Moving air helps prevent disease organisms from settling on vulnerable fruits and leaves, so choose a slightly breezy site, if possible. High winds cause damage, however, so protect crops with a windbreak, if needed.
    Cold air settles at the bottom of slopes, where it may damage early blooming flowers in the spring or ripening fruit in the fall. Plant your fruits on the slope of a hill instead of at the bottom.
  • Soil moisture and drainage: With the exception of elderberry, all small fruits need well-drained soil. Soggy soil encourages root diseases, which are among the most serious problems for fruits. If your soil drains poorly, however, you can still grow fruits in raised beds. Make beds 6 to 10 inches high and 4 feet wide and amend with plenty of organic matter.
  • Soil amendments and fertility: Fruiting plants need fertile, moist, richly organic soil to produce the best crops. Improve the soil with several inches of compost or composted manure and any needed pH amendments and nutrients before planting. If you must significantly alter the soil pH, allow several months to a year before you plant. Do a soil test for pH and fertility before you plant and again each year, especially if fruits fail to produce well or plants look stressed. See Chapter 2 of this book for more on soils and drainage.
  • Locally adapted varieties: Some plant varieties grow better in particular situations than other varieties. Check with your local extension office (find yours at or nurseries in your area for recommendations.

Plant your fruits close to the kitchen door, garage, or some other place that you visit daily. Frequent inspection helps you see potential pests and diseases before they become a problem. Picking and maintenance feel like less of a chore, too, when the patch is just outside the door. Many of these plants can also do double duty as landscape specimens — use them in mixed borders and foundation plantings whenever you can.

Controlling weeds

Controlling weeds is critical for small fruits because they have shallow roots that can’t compete for water and nutrients with more aggressive weeds. Weeds also harbor insect pests that feed on your fruits. Weed control needs a double-barreled approach to succeed:

  • Before you plant: Get rid of weeds completely before you plant your fruits and allow yourself plenty of time. If you have a year to prepare, grow weed-smothering cover crops and till them into the soil. Got only a few months? Use soil solarization with clear plastic. more


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