Growing Berries With Container Gardening
The flavour of homegrown, fresh-picked raspberries can’t be beaten. And even though these easy-care plants produce fruit when utterly neglected, here are a few tips to ensure a bountiful crop.
All raspberries perform best in a location with full sun and good air circulation. Individual canes are biennial: In the first year a shoot, or sucker (called a primocane), grows to its full height. The second-year that same shoot (now referred to as a floricane) produces lateral branches, flowers, and fruit before dying. The root systems, however, are perennial, so it’s vital to prepare the soil carefully before installing plants, as they will be in situ for many years.
Preparing the Bed
Remove all perennial weeds (e.g., bindweed, Canada thistle, horsetail, quackgrass) in the planting area. Next, enrich the soil and improve its tilth by digging in compost or composted manure 30 to 40 centimeters deep. Because raspberries are prone to some root diseases, wait three full years before planting them where strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, or eggplants have been grown. Avoid poorly drained soils, which can cause root rot.
Raspberries produce new suckers from buds at the base of old canes and on the roots, which means they will spread far beyond their boundaries unless controlled. The easiest way to keep them in check is to plant them in an area surrounded by lawn, where stray suckers will be mowed down along with the grass.
Planting Raspberry Canes
Purchase raspberry canes from a reputable nursery, preferably one that sells specimens from virus-indexed (virus-free) or tissue-cultured stock; those passed along by neighbors and friends may harbor disease.
The best time to plant is early spring or mid-autumn. One-year-old canes are sold bare-root or in pots. They should be spaced 60 to 75 centimeters apart (the plants will fill in within two years).
Raspberry Canes Pruning, mulching, and staking
There’s a lovely, soft red rose called “Alexander Mackenzie” that blooms in June each year. It smells like crushed red raspberries, a reminder that brambles are soon on their way. Having a raspberry patch means you can pick your own fresh berries and revel in their rich, sweet/tart taste. Add the sounds of grasshoppers playing their back-leg instruments in the grass, and you have the perfect explanation for why you garden.
Raspberries are forgiving crops; once they’re planted, you can leave them alone and probably still get fruit. But you can increase the number and quality of berries by following a few easy steps: pruning canes, and mulching and staking plants. Fall is a good time to prune because you remove pests that otherwise overwinter and attack new growth in spring.
In its first year, a cane produces only leaves; in its second year, it also develops fruit. Once the fruit matures, the cane dies, and it should be cut down to the ground
To get the best quality of fruit from your raspberries, you need to prune them annually. Some people are intimidated by the idea of pruning, so it helps to understand how the plant grows. A raspberry is essentially a root system that sends up shoots or canes. In the first year, each cane produces only leaves, and it feeds the roots. In the second year, the cane produces leaves and fruit.
Once the fruit matures, the cane dies. Cut the canes that have produced fruit right back to ground level each fall or early spring. After the first few years, thin out some of the one-year canes as well’ this provides more food and light to the remaining canes, and your fruit will be larger and less susceptible to disease. A general rule is to allow each cane (pick the most vigorous) it’s own six- by six-inch (15- by 15-centimetre) space.
Mulching Raspberry Canes Tree
A four-inch (10 cm) layer of mulch keeps weeds down and preserves moisture. By far the biggest problem in maintaining a raspberry patch is weeds. Perennial grasses and other uninvited plants compete with raspberries for water and nutrients. Although raspberries do a good job of shading the ground underneath, some weeds always survive.
Mulching aids immensely in your battle with weeds. A four-inch (10-centimetre) layer of clean straw, rotted sawdust, screened bark or similar organic mulch helps to retain moisture and reduces the need for weeding. Remember, however, that the woodier your mulch, the more nitrogen will be used by the soil bacteria to break it down—nitrogen your raspberries need.
A good nitrogen source such as fish meal, blood meal, or alfalfa meal applied to the soil before mulching helps to offset this loss. Reapply the fertilizer once a year in fall or early spring, and cover with a one- to two-inch (three- to five-centimetre) layer of fresh mulch.
Raspberry Canes Staking
Heavy-duty wires strung from T-shaped stakes help contain canes. Tie second-year canes to wires to ease harvest. Different systems of posts and wires are used to keep plants upright, which makes picking easier, and means walking between the rows is easier, too. The most common system is heavy, galvanized wire strung on T-shaped stakes.
Sink a five- or six-foot (1.5- to two-meter) post two to three feet (.5 to one meter) deep in the ground, below the frost line. Fasten a three-foot (one-meter) crossbar to the top of the post; attach heavy eyebolts to the ends of the crossbar to hold the wire. Place the T-shape stakes at 20-foot (six-meter) intervals in the centre of each row.
In spring, tie the second-year canes to the wires; the berries will be on the edge of the row, which makes harvesting them more efficient. Also, this leaves space in the middle for the new canes to get ample sun and air.
Other Tips for Healthy Plants and a Bountiful Harvest
For me, fresh raspberries in the cream are pure decadence. If you don’t already grow raspberries, here are some pointers to get a patch off to a good start.
When buying plants, be sure to get them from a reputable nursery. It’s important that the canes are free from viruses and insects, and that you buy varieties suitable for your area. In the Atlantic region, ‘Nova’ is a good choice—it produces large, disease-resistant berries with excellent flavour. ‘Boyne’ is a hardy, productive variety popular across the country, especially on the Prairies. Gardeners in southern British Columbia can grow many high-quality berries; new varieties worth watching for there are ‘Tulameen’ and ‘Qualicum’—they’re large, sweet, and prolific.
Prepare your bed at least a year in advance. I have known too many gardeners who thought a quick tilling or ploughing was enough preparation. The results are raspberries that struggle in a sea of perennial weeds by the end of the year.
We prepare our beds by first ploughing or tilling, then seeding with buckwheat, which is a broad-leafed plant that allows very little light to reach the soil. When the buckwheat begins to flower, we till it under and plant a crop of fall rye. The next spring, the rye is tilled under and the ground is ready to plant. As well as shading out weeds, these cover crops enrich the soil with humus and are toxic to quackgrass.
Choosing the Best Soil
Raspberries are tolerant of many soils, but the best growth occurs in deep loam soils that are neither too wet nor too dry. If your soil is sandy or gravelly, the addition of rotted manure or compost helps retain moisture and provides nutrients. It’s best to avoid heavy clay soils, but if you don’t have a choice, work coarse organic materials into the top four inches (10 centimetres) to create a well-aerated top layer where the roots can run freely. Plant your canes in this amended top layer, then apply mulch.
Raspberries prefer slightly acidic soil; a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 is ideal. Add sulfur or lime to adjust.
The distance between plants is a matter of debate among experts. My personal preference is to plant them 30 inches (75 centimetres) apart in the row, the rows approximately 50 inches (125 centimetres) apart. In the end, raspberries will fill whatever space you allow them.
Growing Berries With Container Gardening
Growing berries in a container garden, are a popular option for many gardeners, especially those restricted for space in the backyard and love to grow their own berries, including strawberries and blueberries.
Strawberries are ideal for growing in containers. There is a choice between those that bear fruit all year round and those that provide fruit only once a year. The latter will provide better fresh fruit.
Setting Up Your Container Garden
Put the pot where the plants will have 6-8 hours of sunlight every day, and fertilize every 2-3 weeks. Fertilizer for flowers or vegetables, with a ratio of 1:2:1 may be your best option. Also, you need to water regularly to grow healthy berries.
Growing Blueberries Is More Difficult
Blueberries can also be grown in containers, but require more work than strawberries, and you need to ensure you buy a dwarf blueberry bush because the standard shrubs do not thrive in pots.
You will probably need to purchase the facility in advance, and even with dwarf plants, you need a large container, probably at least two feet by two feet by two feet. This means you want the container to stay in one location, as it will not be easy to move afterwards.
Well Drained Soil
Soil should be well-drained but needs to remain consistently moist. If you find a potting mix designed for rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias, then this is your better option. Alternatively, you can buy an acidic soil mix with plenty of organic matter like peat moss or sphagnum moss.
The plant can be set for the root ball to be about 4 inches below the top of the pot. The roots should be near the bottom, but you need the water and then add a light layer of mulch, like pine needles, coarse bark, or moss.
You can review your options and fertilize once a month, with the same type of fertilizer used by rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias, but do not fertilize after August.
Surviving Over Winter
For your plants to survive the winter, you can wrap the container with either quilt batting, blankets, or bubble wrap, and berry bush should survive over the winter, but may not survive and provide berries for the third season.
When looking for the better varieties of blueberries for containers at your local garden nursery, you should look for Blue Sunshine (in the south), Northsky, which is very good for cold climates, Bluecrop, a drought-resistant type that also can withstand a little cold, and Earliblue, which ripens in June instead of July as the others do.
You can grow other kinds of fruit as well as dwarf citrus, pomegranate plants, figs, and even dwarf cherry trees. But, your easier option, is growing berries.