The Good Earth: It's easy to make space for small fruits
Small fruits are among the easiest plants to grow in containers. Even starved-for-space city gardeners can get their homegrown sugar fix by growing a variety of small fruits in pots on a patio or terrace.
Small fruits are classified as such because of the stature of the plants and the size of the fruits. Because each small-fruit variety has its own ripening schedule, growing an assorted mix of small-fruit selections enables gardeners to have something delicious to pick throughout the entire growing season. As you decide which of the following small fruits to add to your garden, keep their harvest times in mind, as well as their growth habits and flavor.
• Strawberries are probably the easiest of all the small fruits to grow in containers. Use a quality potting soil in a large container or hanging basket and locate the plants where they'll receive full sun from morning to mid-afternoon.
Strawberry varieties fit into two categories: June-bearing and ever-bearing (also called day-neutral). The former produces berries that all ripen within a period of a few weeks in early summer. These are the best strawberry varieties to grow in containers as they'll produce the same season in which they were planted.
If you'd like to overwinter a pot of strawberry plants, bury it in the compost pile or garden for the winter and mulch with a 2-inch thick layer of straw. Come spring, dig up the pot, hose it off, and put it back on the patio or deck.
• Blueberries are extremely hardy — some varieties survive down to minus 35 degrees. These shrubs will survive quite nicely in a container, even without any added winter protection. They thrive in acidic soils with a pH range of 4.0 to 5.0, so add a cupful of granular fertilizer formulated specifically for evergreens to the potting mix every year.
For container growing, some plant varieties are specifically bred to thrive in tight quarters. These selections do not require a cross-pollination partner like standard blueberries do. Newer varieties like “Jelly Bean,” “Blueberry Glaze” and “Peach Sorbet” are perfect for containers and should be widely available at local nurseries next spring. Locate your blueberries in full to partial sun.
• Raspberries are traditionally considered best for gardeners with some extra room to fill — but that's no longer the case. “Raspberry Shortcake” is a beautiful and productive new introduction that is short in stature and perfect for containers. Its compact growth has little tendency to ramble when planted in the garden, and it doesn't need a pollination partner. Red raspberries are fully hardy and should survive the winter in a container without any added protection.
• Currants are another wonderful addition to your container garden, not only because they are attractive, but because they mature to only 3 to 5 feet. Currants are fully hardy to minus 40 degrees and are resistant to most diseases and pests. Plus, the flowers are attractive to hummingbirds and many species of songbirds enjoy the ripe fruit.
Currants require full sun to partial shade and most currants are self-fertile, meaning that a single shrub will form fruit without a pollination partner, though most produce better yields when partnered with a different variety. Potted currants need no extra winter protection.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.