IN THE GARDEN: Growing berries at home a sweet science

Saturday, August 19, 2017 - 12:10

It is berry picking time in Alaska and the race is on to forage for your favorites and add to those special recipes of jams, jellies, pies, muffins, etc.

If you grow your own berries in your yard, they are ready now to pick. In sunny locations you may have been picking them for a while. Whether you pick them for your breakfast, or freeze for later use when you are not so busy, berries are delicious and worth the wait and space in your yard.

Berry crops grow best in full sun. Success in growing berries depends on selecting a prime spot on your property and providing favorable soil conditions. When considering where to grow your berries consider and plan for a long-term investment of this space. Berries can be invasive and will require your attention to prevent spreading outside of the growing area.

Good drainage and a sandy loam high in organic matter is the perfect recipe for growing raspberries and strawberries. These berries prefer a pH between 5.5 to 7.5. Avoid planting these berries in wet areas or areas where potatoes have been grown previously within the past three years due to soil diseases that could affect your plants. Prior to planting, provide a well balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10. Evenly til the fertilizer in the soil. I use steer manure and leaves added to my mature berries yearly and they love it. Make sure that your berries get adequate water.

Raspberries are perennial plants that will live for 15-20 years. The canes are biennial which means they grow one year (primocanes) and produce fruit the next year (floricanes). Floricanes will die after they have fruited and should be pruned down to the ground in the fall. New primocanes are grown each year from the base of the old canes. The new floricanes will fruit in the following year and need to be trained to your trellis.

There are summer-bearing and fall-bearing varieties of raspberries. A few of the many cultivars that are cold hardy for our area are listed below:

Summer-bearing:

*Boyne is a summer-bearing, early harvest for our area.

*Canby is disease resistant and provides an early harvest.

*Festival is hardy, and available in mid-to late season harvest.

*Haida is very cold hardy, late summer harvest.

*Kiska is an Interior Alaska cultivar, hardiest raspberry in Alaska, developed by UAF and has a lower quality fruit.

*Latham is a root rot resistant, very cold hardy cultivar, from Minnesota

Fall bearing:

*Amity grows in Southcentral and has some rot resistance.

*Redwing is cold hardy and root rot susceptible

*Summit provides an early fall harvest which is hardy with some root rot resistance.

If you want high volume of fruit and the best freezing berry grow a summer-bearing raspberry. Fall bearing berries have been found to be best for fresh eating.

Strawberries grow best in full sun and soil that is well drained rich and fertile. Before planting you should add a 10-20-20 fertilizer. Plant your strawberries in the spring in raised beds 10-12 inches. Cultivars that grow in Alaska are broken down as, June-bearers, ever-bearers and day-neutrals.

June-bearers will produce one crop per year. Ever-bearers are grown as annuals in some areas of Alaska, including our area. I grew these and they did not come back. Day-neutrals produce a continuous crop through the growing season. Nursery growers often lump day-neutrals and ever-bearers together and call them ever-bearers.

Growing strawberries successfully depends on the cultivar that is best suited for your location. I am going to include cultivars that are good for our area only, in the Southcentral Alaska region:

*Pioneer is the earliest, but provides a low quality, but hardy without mulch.

*Matared is early fruiting and excellent quality and needs mulching for hardiness.

*Susitna is a mid-season Alaskan variety that is good for frozen fruit. Plants need mulching for winter.

*Skwentna is a midseason, Alaskan variety and good frozen fruit, hardy to the Interior areas.

*Toklat is mid-season berry, Alaskan variety hardy to the interior and is a large berry.

Here are some of the day-neutral strawberries varieties:

*Tribute is disease resistant and hardy.

*Tristar is the earliest fruiting and disease resistant.

There are other berries that can be grown in Southcentral, but these two berries seem to be the most prevalent. Keeping these berries under control is a trick if you can accomplish it. My berries are trying to escape from their area constantly. The birds, bugs and bears take their share. Herein lies the challenge in Alaska: If you can grab your berries before the bugs, bears and birds, you are doing well. It is all a balance, good luck! We must keep calm and garden on.

Chris Wood is a certified master gardener from Eagle River. For questions or ideas about future columns, write to her at chriswood_ak@yahoo.com

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