Many gardeners who have tasted the sweet and tart success of their first blueberries or strawberries are hoping to expand and improve their berry yield. Berries are one of the easiest fruits to grow in a small backyard garden or container garden, so they are are a natural choice. Try these techniques to make sure you get the best results.
Pick Varieties that Will Thrive
While growing berries is an easy task overall, you need to make sure you start with types that are appropriate for your climate zone and yard conditions. Blueberries for instance, need to be grown in areas that are well pollinated. Talk with your garden shop and figure out which varieties will work best for your locale and which berries are best suited to your gardening plans. Does the plant you're eyeing work better in containers and raised beds or directly in the ground? With strawberries, for instance, choosing between summer bearing plants, everbearing types, and "day-neutral" varieties will determine whether you get one big crop, two big crops, or occasional berries throughout the summer. Many gardeners choose their berry bushes based on getting some kind of berry fresh throughout the summer, while others want a big crop to be able to make fresh jams.
Be Gentle with Transplanting Plants
Most berries aren't grown from seed, at least not by first-time berry gardeners. When you get a root-bound new berry bush or plant, make sure you plant it deep with lots of room for the roots to spread out, and give it the recommended amount of space in your garden so that it doesn't instantly have to fight with the roots of other plants for nutrients. Try to get water on the plant quickly but don't overwater. Even extremely hardy berry varieties are vulnerable for those first few days. So pay extra attention to the weather forecast and, if you're working with a variety in climates where necessary, cover the plants to stave off even the slightest potential for frost. When plants show signs of new growth, your transplanting process is complete.
Position Berries in Spots Where They Can Expand
While strawberry plants are quite affordable and can be grown in a tight formation, many other berry plants will spread and may even be a little pricier due to being bigger plants. Giving your berries a lot of room is good for their long-term yield. So in addition to choosing planting spots with a wide berth, you also want to choose locations where brambly runners won't snag on people's clothing or make an otherwise very manicured area look unruly.
Keeping good air circulation is also key when growing berries and can even increase your fruit yield. Trellises and fences, even small ones, are great for achieving this.
While you can prune berry bushes like any other bushes, resisting that urge may actually allow your bushes to live up to their most berry-filled potential. Raspberries, for instance, will put up many more canes the second year, so you shouldn't necessarily prune them as liberally during that year one period. Instead, use that time to get ready for the extra canes with a sturdy trellis, so that you can easily access the berries without having to reach through the entire bush to get to the treasured fruit. Lastly, most berries do best in full sun, especially blackberries, so it behooves you to pick your sunniest spot to get the best and most substantial fruit.
Balance that Soil for Acid-Loving Berries
Though berries are often associated with sweet desserts, their tart and sometimes sour notes are all due to their acidic nature, which is something these plants love in their soil makeup. Adding sphagnum peat moss is a great way to get your more alkaline soils ready for berries. Use a complete fertilizer to make your soil ideal for the berries. While it's true that berries can grow even without a lot of soil, you'll see more expansion of the plants and many more final berries by following the instructions of a complete fertilizer that contains nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Lastly, make sure that you are keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged. For example, even in dry areas where you aren't getting a lot of rain, a substantial watering only twice a week is actually ideal. If you are getting a lot of summer thunderstorms you can scale that watering routine back to even less.
Know Your Variety's Fruiting Schedule
Just like the tips mentioned above about pruning in moderation, berry plants can sometimes take a while to really find themselves. If your blackberries don't fruit the first year, it's not somehow "your fault." It's just a fact of life that they simply fruit every other year with their biennial schedule. Other berries may fruit all season or for only a month. Make yourself familiar with the variety you've chosen to work with so that you can be certain that you just have a slow grower or if there's actually something wrong with your plant. A perfect example of these unique fruiting schedules are "mother" strawberry plants, which will experience a major drop off in fruit production after a few years as part of their normal lifespan. So unless these plants have been mostly replaced with new daughter plants, you may have to replace your strawberry plants to keep getting bumper crops.
Armed with these strategies, you can produce all kinds of berry plants will succeed year after year, bringing in a bountiful harvest for snacking, cooking, and canning. Make sure you think about just how big you want your patch to grow, since perennial berry patches tend to slowly take over. Some prudent pruning will balance your excitement about berries with the need to keep those runners under control.