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Wednesday, October 5, 2022
Growing Together: Blueberry fields forever. And other berries, too
Ripening_Blueberries

We don’t often think about it, but some edible, berry-producing plants can also add an ornamental element to your garden.

When the pandemic began, there was a notable increase in people’s interest in growing their own vegetables and fruit.

Most of the time we think that our vegetable or berry plants must be in their own separate space and our shrub and flower gardens in a different area. Some berry plants, though, are both usable and attractive and can be easily incorporated into your ornamental gardens.

Blueberries

For blueberries to thrive, the soil must be well aerated, moist, high in humus, and most importantly, very acidic.

They are best planted in soils with a pH range of 4.6 to 4.8. Enrich the soil in each planting hole by mixing in a bucketful of composted leaves or pine needles, which will help maintain acidity and provide optimum nutrition, aeration and moisture.

Blueberries produce more and bigger fruit when planted with at least one other variety to allow for cross-pollination. The berries don't reach their full flavour and aroma until a few days after they turn blue. To check whether they are ready for harvest, just tickle the clusters of berries and only the ripe ones will fall off.

Not only do the plants provide you with the yummy berries, but they can also be attractive into your ornamental beds.

In spring, you have a mass of small, white, bell-like flowers. The clusters of blue, edible fruit in summer will attract birds into your garden, so you may have to beat them to the berries.

In fall the dark, glossy leaves turn a nice wine-red colour. Most highbush blueberry varieties will grow to four to five feet high and wide.

Strawberries

What’s more delicious than freshly picked strawberries?

There are basically three types of strawberry plants to choose from: June bearing, Everbearing and Day Neutral.

June Bearing strawberries give you a single, large crop each year during a two- to three-week period in June and provide the largest fruit of the three types.

Everbearing strawberries yield two to three harvests of fruit intermittently during the spring, summer and fall.

Day Neutral strawberries will produce fruit throughout the growing season.

Strawberries are best planted in the spring as soon as the soil is dry enough to be worked, or in late fall. They can be grown in most garden soils, however, they do best in well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter like compost.

When planting, make a hole large enough to spread the roots out.

Instead of limiting the location of your strawberry plant to the vegetable garden, why not include them in the border of your garden as a groundcover?

The white flowers in early spring turn into bright red fruit in the summer months.

In the fall, the leaves turn a bright reddish orange colour. Its low, sprawling habit makes it a great edging plant.

Haskap Berries

Haskap berries, also known as Blue Honeysuckle, Canadian Honeyberry or Blueberry Honeysuckle are one of the newer berry plants on the market in Ontario.

The dark, bluish/purple berries look like a cross between a blueberry and a grape. Their sweet-tart flavour is like a cross of blueberries and raspberry with a kiwi-like texture.

They have a higher level of antioxidants than blueberries and ripen in mid- to late June. Use the berries as you would use blueberries – good fresh, or freezing, in baking, jams, jellies or juice.

It is always best to have two different varieties to cross-pollinate for better fruit. Check the inside flesh colour of the berries to make sure that it has changed from green to completely purple before picking.

The four- to five-foot shrub originated in Siberia, so you know that it is cold tolerant. Haskap berries can be used as a decorative shrub or hedge in your garden. The plants prefer an evenly moist but well-drained soil and do well in both full sun and shade.

Saskatoon Berries

The Saskatoon berry plant is a hardy growing, large shrub that tolerates full sun to part shade. It was an important food source for both indigenous Peoples and the early pioneers.

It was also a source of wood and as a medicinal plant. The clusters of dark blue berries are used in a wide variety of ways from pies, jams, jellies, syrups, ice cream toppings, wine, liqueurs and flavoured concentrates.

They may be used fresh or frozen and can be dried to yield raisins or fruit leathers.

The Saskatoon berry is also an excellent ornamental shrub for the garden, growing eight to 12 feet high and six to eight feet wide. 

It produces masses of fragrant, frilly white flowers in early spring before leaves emerge. By mid-summer, the blueberry-like fruit ripens and will attract birds from far and wide. In the fall, the leaves turn apricot-orange in colour, giving you three seasons of interest in your garden.

Including some of these plants and others will guarantee you have a “berry” beautiful garden.

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca