By Barbara Pleasant
Easy to grow, quick to bear and naturally resistant to disease, supernutritious berries are the best fruits to grow organically. Plus, they rarely lose their newly fertilized flowers to late spring freezes — a common heartbreak with tree fruits. Whether you want ready-to-pick fruit “candy” or juicy smoothie berries, you can match up multi-talented varieties with the right sites and enjoy a full season of great-tasting berries, from spring strawberries to fall raspberries.
Begin by choosing one or two berries you’re willing to pay dearly for at the farmers market, like melt-in-your-mouth blueberries or tart black currants. Any berries grown by local farmers will grow at your place, too. Plenty of sun brings out the best flavor in most berries, but they also like a few hours of afternoon shade where summers are hot. For those with cool climates, some berries are happy with morning sun and afternoon shade.
Ready to choose the best berries for your yard? In addition to the overview below, be sure to check out the in-depth articles on the berries linked below, as well as our customized search tool, the Seed and Plant Finder to help you locate specific berry varieties.
Growing Raspberries and Blackberries
Growing Less Common Native Berries
Most tree fruits must grow for five years or more before bearing a modest crop, but you can start picking strawberries and fall-bearing raspberries and blackberries after only one year. Even slow-growing blueberries start bearing in two to three years, and reach full production in about six years, continuing to produce for decades. Berries are more dependable than tree fruits because they usually dodge late spring freezes.
Most berries grow beautifully along a woodland edge, so it should be no surprise that they prefer acidic soil. The soil’s acid/alkaline balance (pH) is rated on a scale with 7 as the neutral point. Most vegetables grow best in soil with a near-neutral pH (6 to 7), but berries need more acidic conditions in order to take up nutrients efficiently. Soil pH can vary from one part of your yard to another, so use an inexpensive soil pH test kit to make sure you choose the best sites for your berries. If your soil is nowhere near acidic, grow your berries in containers filled with a mixture of potting soil and an acidic soil amendment such as pine bark, composted leaves or pine needles.
Blueberries, northern: 4.5 to 5.5
Blueberries, rabbiteye: 5.5 to 6.0
Currants and gooseberries: 5.5 to 7.0
Raspberries and blackberries: 5.6 to 6.2
Strawberries: 5.8 to 6.5
Saskatoons: 6.0 to 7.0
To learn more about using edible fruit in your home landscape, check out the new book Landscaping with Fruit by Lee Reich (Tower, 2009).