Small Fruits for the Garden

Friday, October 2nd, 2009 by Jenny Watts

Wonderful fruits come from the home berry patch. In addition to fresh eating and luscious pies, cobblers and strawberry shortcakes, berries are easy to freeze and can be made into delicious jams and colorful juices.

Small fruits come in a wide assortment of colors, flavors, shapes and sizes. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries, blackberries and grapes give us an enormous variety to choose from. Not only are they colorful and tasty, but most small fruits are easy to grow. They are very productive and most kinds bear a year or two after planting.

Grapes are one of the oldest fruits in cultivation. With just a few vines you can harvest enough fruit for delicious, fresh grapes, grape juice, grape jelly or raisins. Plant early, mid-season and late varieties for an extended harvest. Grapes must be pruned to get top production from your vines, and now is a good time to begin that job.

Raspberries and blackberries and their many cousins, are usually referred to as the brambles. They are frequently treated as gourmet fruit, not because they are hard to grow, but because they don’t ship well. But they are easy to grow in our climate, so choose some of your favorite cultivars now and start your own bramble patch.

The bush fruits include blueberry, currant, gooseberry, huckleberry and lingonberry. What you don’t eat fresh can be made into delicious sauces, conserves, pies and other desserts, or frozen for later use.

There are two types of blueberries: highbush and rabbiteye. Highbush are the most popular home-garden blueberries. They will do best in locations with some ocean influence in the summer. Rabbiteyes are ideal for warmer climates.

Currants produce generous quantities of tasty fruit with very little maintenance. Gooseberries are wonderful for preserves and refreshing summer wines. They will grow in full sun or partial shade. Huckleberry is native to our redwood forests and makes tasty little fruits that are delicious in pancakes!

The favorite home-grown berry is, of course, the strawberry. Picked ripe from the garden, they are rich and flavorful. Fresh strawberry shortcake, strawberry ice cream and strawberry pie are just some of the ways to use them. The plants are inexpensive and bear a full crop within a year of planting.

Think about adding some berry plants to your garden this winter during bare-root season.

Native Berries

Friday, January 30th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Delicious raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, boysenberries and blueberries are all available now for early planting.
    • Start seeds of perennial flowers like columbine, coreopsis and echinacea.
    • It’s bare root season, which means you can save money on fruit trees and roses by planting them now. A wide selection is now available.
    • Start an asparagus bed so you can enjoy their young, tender shoots straight from the garden. Choose from thin spears, thick spears or purple spears!
    • Spray fruit trees with a dormant oil spray. Spray from the bottom up, including the undersides of limbs and the ground around the tree, to prevent early spring insect infestations.

Natives Berries for the Landscape

One of the greatest delights of late summer is to come upon a wild patch of huckleberries that are ready to pick. This slow-growing, native evergreen shrub has delicious blue berries which ripen in late summer and early fall and are enjoyed by humans and wildlife alike.

Evergreen huckleberries vary in height from 3 to 12 feet tall depending on their growing conditions, but can be kept smaller with pruning. They grow taller in shady locations and are smaller with greater sun exposure. A handsome choice for woodland gardens, berry patches, and even containers, evergreen huckleberry is an ideal “edible landscape” shrub.

Known botanically as Vaccinium ovatum, this lovely shrub has small shiny leaves that are dark green above and pale green underneath, with copper-colored new growth. The spring flowers are particularly attractive. They hang like clusters of pink, urn-shaped bells very much like heather or manzanita blossoms, to which they are related.

Huckleberries make excellent landscaping plants since they have such attractive evergreen foliage and showy edible fruit. They are good for anchoring soil and flourish in sun or shade with some summer watering, acidic soil and good drainage. The soil should be rich in humus or peat and covered with an organic mulch to conserve moisture.

In fall, the plants are covered with delicious, juicy, purplish-black berries. They are delicious fresh and also make excellent jelly, pies, pancakes and muffins. They were a traditional food of Native Americans who sometimes traveled great distances to harvest them.

Huckleberries grow naturally in the redwood forests, often in clearings or at the edges of groves and are tolerant of a wide range of light levels. Good companion plants are western sword ferns, salal (Gaultheria shallon) and rhododendrons.

Salal is another western native shrub that is a very attractive and versatile plant. It can also grow in sun or shade, reaching 5-6 feet tall in the shade and only 2-3 feet in the sun. Ideally it grows in somewhat moist, well-draining, acidic soil in part shade. Like huckleberry, they root themselves by underground runners, spreading out in that way. The foliage of both huckleberry and salal is often used in flower arrangements.

The dangling, pinkish-white urn-shaped flowers of salal are followed by edible berries in summer and fall. In midsummer the berries are red and by fall they turn black. Their flavor is sweetened by frosty weather, though they are not too tasty eaten alone. They are better when cooked and sweetened, and can be mixed with blackberries in home canning.

Saskatoon service-berry, Amelanchier alnifolia, is native along the Pacific coast from
Alaska to California. It is attractive as an ornamental shrub or may be trimmed as a hedge. The small, sweet, purple berries are grown commercially, and are used in pies, jams, and fruit rolls and for making jelly and syrup.

Edible plants can be important additions to your landscape, providing beauty as well as tasty and healthy treats for your family.