Enjoy berries, fresh from the backyard to your table. This week, Master Gardener Susie Everding discusses haskaps, strawberries and raspberries, all easily grown in local gardens.
General tips for cultivating berries
- Full sun (haskaps can tolerate part sun as well)
- Well drained soil, high in organic matter
- Regular watering, about 2.5 cm per week in the absence of rain
- Mulch with grass clippings, leaves or straw to retain moisture and suppress weeds
- Encourage pollinators by growing flowers nearby.
Haskap or honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea) is a shrub which grows to 1.5-2 metres in height and bears oblong blue fruit with a sweet/tart flavour. They are becoming increasingly popular among home gardeners.
Fall planting of haskaps is ideal for establishing new plants, but patience is needed as little fruit will be produced in the first year. Expect an increasing harvest in years 2 and 3, and for many years to come, as haskaps are long lived (up to 35 years). Space plants 1.5 metres apart (or one metre, if you would prefer a hedge). This species is not self pollinating and an unrelated pollenizer variety, genetically compatible and with the same bloom time, will be needed (1)
The fruit is harvested in late spring or early summer, just prior to strawberries. Check for readiness before eating – although the outer skin will turn blue by late May, the inside will still be green and sour. Give it a bit longer; the berry is ready when the flesh is purple.
To prune this shrub, remove the oldest stems (not more than 25%), which will increase air circulation and reduce the chances of fungal disease. Haskaps have few issues with pests, other than robins, which find this fruit delectable.
Susie has an interesting tip to discourage bird predation. Research has indicated that a chemical in grape Kool-aid, methyl anthranilate, is distasteful to birds. A solution of 4 packets Kool-aid to 4 litres water can be sprayed on the crop as it begins to turn colour. Apparently, this works on grapes, blueberries and cherries as well (2), so I plan to try it in my own garden next season!
The next crop to ripen is Susie’s garden are strawberries, which are available as the traditional June-bearing or newer day neutral varieties. The former will produce one crop per year in late June, with many berries ripening within a short time frame. The dormant bare root stock may be planted about half a metre apart with the crown slightly above soil level. Susie suggests considering the growth pattern of emerging stolons and where these may end up in your space – perhaps containment by a path or wall could help control their enthusiastic growth! In the first year, pluck blooms from the plant to allow it to build energy for subsequent seasons.
Day neutral varieties, although perennial, will do better if planted as an annual and are a great way to experiment with a strawberry crop without the longer term commitment of a perennial bed! When planting, space them more closely than for June bearing varieties, remove blooms until the end of June, and watch them produce until the end of summer.
While berries do suffer from some leaf spot diseases, simply clip off affected leaves. As with many garden plants, mulch and water at ground level to discourage disease.
Raspberries are a type of bramble, a rough prickly shrub, in the genus Rubus. These are best planted in early spring, either as bare-root or potted canes. Space them about half a metre apart in a row, or as Susie suggests, grouped in a circle around a central post. Any planting should allow for good air flow and ease of picking, since the thorns can be a hindrance in a dense patch! As they are self pollinating, only one plant and some bees are needed to produce fruit, though you’ll likely want an entire patch to feast on.
Raspberries have an interesting life cycle, producing first year canes (primocanes) and second year growth (floricanes). Summer bearing raspberries will produce fruit once per year in June and July on the floricanes, after which these should be pruned down to ground level. The floricanes are easily identified by their dark brown stems. Once the plant is dormant, primocanes can also be thinned to avoid a tangle of dense canes.
Fall bearing or everbearing canes produce flowers and then fruits at the tip of primocanes in the late summer/fall. Susie prefers these as she simply cuts all canes back to the ground in the late fall. Alternatively, if you want a crop the next summer, as well as fall, prune out only the brown floricanes, and clip the primocanes just under the highest branch that grew fruit, cutting off the dead tips. The next season you will have a small July crop on those canes.
Although raspberries are typically not bothered by pests, Japanese beetles are sometimes present and can be squashed by hand. Rabbits enjoy a nibble on the canes in winter, so if you have not pruned these to the ground, consider a chicken wire barrier.
Fall is the season to start planning for next year, so perhaps consider one or more of these delicious soft fruits as an addition to your 2023 garden.
(1) Compatibility chart for haskap cross pollination, University of Saskatchewan
(2) Bird Protection for Blueberries and Other Fruit, UMass Extension, Center for Agriculture Fact Sheet