Grow Your Own Berries
Who doesn’t love a fresh ripe berry, picked right off of the plant? If you’ve never tried it, you might be surprised what you can grow on a fire escape, stoop, or porch.
At the Teaching Garden, we grow strawberries, blueberries, thornless blackberries, salmonberries, gooseberries (pictured below), and currants (pictured above)! They are all perennial in our climate here in NYC, meaning you can plant once and with a little bit of care you can harvest for many years to come.
Let’s talk about the most common berries to grow here in NYC:
Strawberries are fantastic for small space gardening. They can grow in hanging baskets, upcycled pots, or special pocketed strawberry containers. Strawberries spread with runners, which means they will spread rapidly across a yard or a container. If growing in a raised bed, be prepared for them to spread across the whole bed.
There are two types of strawberry plant – June bearing and ever-bearing (or day-neutral). June bearing will give you lots of ripe fruit in June, and ever-bearing will give you a little bit of fruit all summer long. We like to purchase a mix of strawberry plants each year because plants only actively fruit for about 4 years. We purchase bare rooted plants, but you can also purchase small potted plants from nurseries. Simply plant your starter plants outdoors in the early spring, roughly 1 foot apart from each other. If starting strawberries from seed, start them indoors in the winter or be prepared to wait a full year for fruit.
Look for hardy high-bush, container-friendly varieties of blueberries. Full sized bushes can be 5-6 feet tall and would not be happy in even a large container garden. Most container varieties are partially self-pollinating, which means you’ll get fruit with just one plant - but if you have space, planting more than one bush will significantly increase your harvests.
You can purchase young blueberry bushes at nurseries. Blueberries tend to begin fruiting at three years old. Try to plant in the early Spring.
Blueberries have shallow roots and like frequent watering and well draining soil with a low pH. You can sometimes purchase special low pH soil mixes. You can also purchase sulfur to add to your existing soil to lower the pH.
Raspberries and Blackberries
These berries spread very easily, and can grow very large very quickly and give a great harvest even in a small space.
Again, look for compact container varieties, which tend to grow to about 3 feet tall. Taller varieties will need to be trellised, or held up by supports.
There are two options for purchasing raspberry plants – young potted plants, or canes. You can plant young plants out from Spring to early Summer. Canes should be planted out in the early Spring at least 18 inches apart. Cut canes back to around 9 inches tall to encourage new growth.
Blackberries should also be planted out in the early Spring.
All container varieties are also appropriate for raised bed gardening. A few tips:
Don’t forget to fertilize often.
Choose the largest container you can. For berry bushes, this means at least 5-10 gallons. Strawberry plants are much smaller and will do well in pots with large surfaces. Remember, the smaller the pot, the more frequently you need to fertilize and water.
If you are upcycling a pot, make sure there are adequate drainage holes.
Plants will go dormant in the winter, that doesn’t mean they are dead! There are a few ways you can protect the roots of your plants from freezing:
You can insulate your pots by surrounding them with wire fencing or a larger pot, roughly one foot wider than the pot you are growing in. Fill the empty space with dead leaves or dry straw to insulate the roots. Simply remove the insulation come springtime.
Alternatively, dormant plants overwinter well in an unheated garage (if you choose this option, make sure you check on your plants by February to make sure they haven’t completely dried out – they may need a little bit of water since they are not receiving any natural precipitation) or simply up against the house where they will be protected from cold winds.
If growing in a raised bed, simply cover the bed with a few inches of straw or wood chip mulch for the winter.
If you are growing a berry bush, remember to prune each Fall and Spring to encourage good air circulation and new fruit-bearing growth!