One of my favorite childhood memories is picking wild blackberries in Inverness during summer vacations. Those that made it back to our house were delicious over oatmeal cereal or baked in a yummy blackberry cobbler. All the scratches and cuts were well worth it!
Growing berries in your garden is relatively easy and can provide tasty treats throughout the summer and fall.
Blackberries come in two basic types: erect or trailing; both have thorny and thorn-less varieties. Trailers require a wire support system. All blackberries grow best in full sun in deep well-drained fertile soil. To ensure a good crop of berries, keep the soil fairly moist, but not wet throughout the growing season. Topping the soil with mulch and adding compost and leaves helps maintain moisture in the soil and moderate extreme temperatures during summer heat. Like the wild Himalaya blackberries that I still enjoy, all varieties of blackberries are vigorous and long-lived.
Prune blackberries in mid-summer to maximize next year’s crop. After harvest, cut out all canes that fruited this year as they’ll not fruit again. Preserve some new canes as these will bear fruit next year.
Varieties that do best in California are either trailing or hybrids between uprights and trailers called semi-erect. Blackberry cultivars that do well in Marin include ‘Apache’ (thornless), ‘Olallieberry’ (thorny, trailing), ‘Triple Crown’ (thornless, prolific), ‘Boysen’ (thornless) and ‘Marion.’
Rabbit eye, low-bush and high-bush are the three types of blueberries grown in the United States. The low-chill varieties of the Southern high-bush blueberry, Vaccinum corymbosum, a vigorous shrub, are the best adapted for our region. Plants are attractive, long-lived shrubs that do best in full sun or partial shade in areas where summers are hot. Recommended varieties for Marin include ‘Misty,’ ‘Earliblue,’ ‘O’Neal,’ ‘Sunshine Blue’ and ‘Sharpblue.’
It’s best to plant 2- to 3-year-old plants as it takes at least three years for blueberry plants to become established and healthy. Although it goes against the grain, remove all blossoms as they appear in the first one to two years. Plant in acidic soil (pH 4.5 to 5.5) that is kept moist during the growing season. Good drainage is critical to prevent root rot as these berries do best with ample watering. Top dress with a layer of pine needle mulch to conserve moisture, allow adequate aeration, maintain correct pH levels and suppress weeds. Blueberries have shallow roots so they don’t like to be disturbed.
When choosing strawberries, select plants grown in containers or as bare root. In early spring, set plants 12 inches apart in a sunny location so the growing point is above the soil line and the roots are buried. As the plants have shallow roots, water regularly so plants receive about 1 inch of water a week. Don’t let the soil get soggy, but do try to keep it moist. Mulch around the area to conserve moisture and keep the berries clean.
Day Neutral and Short Day are the two basic types of the common garden strawberry. For Marin gardens, Day Neutral varieties —’Seascape,’ ‘Selva’ and ‘Albion’ — which produce the bulk of their fruit from April through October do well. As for Short Day, the recommended varieties, ‘Chandler,’ ‘Sequoia,’ and ‘Rainier’ deliver one crop a year in late spring or early summer.
Raspberries have the same cultural needs as blackberries — deep soil, moderate fertility with ample organic matter, and consistent moisture. They do best when grown on wire trellises in regions like Marin where springs are cool and warm up slowly. They grow well throughout Marin, but do less well in foggy regions. Summer-bearing raspberries produce one crop in early summer and everbearing bears its main crop in the fall and another in early summer.
Recommended summer-bearing varieties include ‘Canby,’ ‘Comox,’ ‘Nootka,’ ‘Skeena’ and ‘Willamette’; ‘Amity,’ ‘August Red,’ ‘Fall Red,’ ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Oregon 1030’ are good fall-bearing cultivars.