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Blackberry, Shrub

Basics of Growing Summer Berries

It’s summertime and here at Merrifield Garden Center we’re excited about all of the summer berries we have available! Berries add a fun pop of color to any garden or porch, make a refreshing snack, and are a great addition to sweet recipes. Our most popular seasonal berries include blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.

Each type of berry is perfect for large outdoor spaces, but we do have dwarf varieties of blueberries and raspberries that are good for small spaces! Just make sure they receive plenty of sunlight. If looks are important to you in the off-season for berry bushes, we would recommend one of our many blueberry varieties, which have attractive fall foliage and beautiful white spring flowers. If you need help choosing the right plant, our specialists are happy to help.

With our guide to basic care for berry bushes, you should have an abundant selection of berries ready for picking in no time!

Raspberry, ISTOCK

Important Care Basics

Regardless of which berries you choose to grow, there are a few general care guidelines that are applicable to all varieties.

  • Watering: You will need to water your berries differently depending on where they are planted. When you first plant your in-ground berry bushes, check them 2-3 times per week and water them when the soil is dry according to our watering instructions. Usually, I find that 1-2 times a week is plenty. When your plants are well-established (usually about 6-9 months after planting for berry bushes) they will need less water. A lot of the varieties we offer in our stores are native – plant them in the right location and they will grow on their own with little maintenance once established. If you choose to plant your berries in a container, you will need to water them more frequently – even daily in hot weather.
  • Sunlight: All berry varieties prefer a lot of sunlight, but will tolerate some shade if full sun exposure is not an option. Shade is not detrimental to your berry bush’s health, but generally the more shade the plant gets, the less fruit it will produce.
  • Fertilizer: You can add fertilizer to increase your crop yield, but remember that over-fertilization, or fertilization when your plant is already receiving everything it needs, could make the plant experience undesirable, rapid growth. We recommend using Biotone, an organic option, or Merrifield Starter on your berries.

If there is anything you are uncertain about when growing your berries, we encourage you to call us or visit one of our stores to speak with a plant specialist!

Wildlife Prevention

Everybody enjoys seeing some wildlife in their backyards, but most of us prefer to keep the birds, squirrels and other critters away from our gardens! Depending on your preferences and the types of animals attempting to feast on your berry bushes, we recommend the following deterrents:

  • Fencing is a necessity if you have problems with deer, rabbits or other animals. Taller fencing keeps out deer and larger animals, while shorter fencing keeps out rabbits, hedgehogs and other small critters.
  • Bird netting prevents birds from stealing your fruits from above. Wait to install bird netting until the berries/fruits start ripening. If you install bird netting too early, the plant will start to grow into and through the netting.
  • Repellents are another option if you really don’t like the look of fencing or netting surrounding your plants. Look for a repellent that is safe for edibles to ensure that your berries stay safe to eat. When applying repellents to your berry bushes, apply them to the ground and around the plant, according to package instructions. Be aware, many of these repellents have a strong odor.

Picking Your Berries

Now that you have successfully grown your berries, it is time to start picking! The most straightforward determinant timing your harvest is color. Most blueberries will be blue, blackberries will be black, and raspberries will be red. This seems obvious, but there some cultivars of these plants grow in other colors, such as our ‘Fall Gold’ raspberries and ‘Pink Lemonade’ blueberries. Remember, it could take anywhere between 1-3 years for the first harvest if your plant your berry bush when it is still very small. Blackberries, blueberries and raspberries have a spring flowering and early-summer fruiting season. The fruit staying on the plant for approximately 4 weeks. Try growing multiple varieties of berries to stretch out your harvest.

Pro tip: If you have larger plants, train the plant on a trellis or fence so it grows in a more two-dimensional direction. This will make it easier for you to reach the berries and less likely that you will be scratched by a thorn in the process.

Note: another one of our favorite berries are strawberries. Head over to our annuals department to purchase and plant them in the spring.

Celebrate Earth Day & Arbor Day

Michael Fahey, Merrifield Plant Specialist and ISA Certified Arborist

Every year we get excited about Earth Day and Arbor Day. These holidays mark two special days when the entire country comes together to celebrate and protect our natural resources. We encourage you to celebrate by embarking on a planting project with your family and friends. This year we’re celebrating a few of our favorite spring trees and shrubs that grow extremely well in our Northern Virginia area.

By planting trees and shrubs, you are cleaning the air, creating a habitat and food source for local wildlife and increase the value of your home. Not to mention, the act of planting itself is a big stress reliever! Head outside this week and plant a tree or shrub in honor of these two holidays.

Blueberries

You can have the sweet taste of blueberries right in your backyard by planting a native blueberry shrub. Blueberries are one of the biggest nutritional powerhouse fruits, providing anti-aging, cancer and disease fighting antioxidants. Luckily, these tasty shrubs prefer acidic soils, which makes them well-suited to Northern Virginia. They make a great addition to the garden as accent shrubs or even screening plants. The birds love blueberries just as much as we do. Protect your fruit by draping a large piece of bird netting over the shrub or using a large tomato cage.

Virginia Fringe Tree

Fringe trees produce panicles of airy, white, fragrant flowers that hang off its branches. This Virginia native produces beautiful blooms from late spring to early summer. To keep your Virginia fringe tree looking its best, plant it in moist, fertile, well-drained soil in part-sun to full-sun. The female versions of this tree will produce bluish-black fruits that attract birds. This tree is very easy to care for and makes a great addition to urban spaces as it tolerates some air pollution and is drought tolerant.

Serviceberry

Serviceberry is a standout native tree that provides four season interest to the garden. It produces beautiful billows of lacey white flowers against bright green foliage in the spring, tasty dark blue berries that our feathered friends enjoy in the summer, standout foliage in shades of red and orange in the fall, and silvery bark in the winter. Serviceberry is very versatile in the landscape as it is drought tolerant and happy in an array of sun conditions. Also known as Juneberry, people often use the fruit to make jams and pies.

Oaks

The oak tree family is abundant with many different species with varying heights and leaf shapes. Oaks are most beloved for their ability to provide shade in the landscape and standout color in the fall. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • White oak: Our national tree, the white oak is beautiful and majestic and feeds more wildlife than any other tree in the country.
  • Willow oaks: Its narrow leaf structure provides dappled light instead of dense shade. This fast-growing oak also thrives in wet soil.
  • Northern red oak: These oaks produce the most stunning, deep crimson fall color.
  • Bur oak: Part of the white oak family, the bur oak is pollution tolerant and has a sprawling growth habit and corky bark. This is a favorite for areas near a pond as it attracts wood ducks.
  • Saw tooth oak: This fast-growing oak has a unique leaf shape, interesting acorn and bark texture.
  • Columnar oaks: These reliable oaks are a great way to add trees to small spaces. A few of my favorites include ‘Regal Prince,’ ‘Kindred Spirit,’ and ‘Green Pillar.’

Azaleas

Azaleas are one of the most popular shrubs in our area due to their ability to produce funnel-shaped flowers in an array of vibrant colors in spring. Lucky for us, azaleas thrive in acidic soils, making them a great evergreen and flowering shrub in Northern Virginia. To keep your azaleas performing their best year-after-year, prune them once the blossoms fade, but before the new blossom buds appear. You can also thin out vigorous, over grown branches to stimulate new growth from the interior of the plants. Fertilize with Merrifield Flowering Plant Food or Holly-tone to support healthy growth and flowering for next year.

Rhododendrons

Spectacular clusters of bright, bell-shaped blooms and bright green, large, leathery leaves that remain on the shrub year-round make rhododendron a standout shrub choice in our area. Rhododendron come in a variety of bloom colors and sizes and will produce flowers for weeks. They prefer moist, well-drained, acidic soil and make great additions as foundation plants, woodland plantings or border plants in sunny to partly shady locations.

Camellias

We love camellias for their ability to provide exquisite blooms in single, double and full peony form when not much else is flowering in the garden. Plus, their glossy foliage is evergreen! These surprisingly low maintenance shrubs come in many forms and range in bloom color from soft pink to dark red to white. These beauties thrive when planted in acidic soil, making them a great choice for a mixed shrub bed, specimen plant or screening plant in Northern Virginia. Camellias are deer resistant and prefer to be protected from the hot afternoon sun.

Japanese Maples

The show stopping color a Japanese maple adds to the autumn garden is unmatched! These beautiful trees add instant grace and beauty to the landscape with their delicate leaf structures and vibrant colors that turn to shades of crimson, gold and orange in the fall. Japanese maples come in a variety of forms and leaf shapes, making them a great addition to your landscape as a specimen plant or focal point in a mixed bed.

This elegant tree provides a beautiful canopy of color that offers dappled light to understudy plantings, making it a great companion for shade perennials. Japanese maples are heavy organic feeders. Before planting, work compost or other organic matter directly into the ground. To keep your Japanese maple looking its best, plant it in well-drained, acidic, moist soil.

Kwanzan Cherry Tree

The Kwanzan cherry tree produces an abundance of stunning deep pink, layered, rose-like flowers from mid-April through May. Its new foliage emerges reddish copper in the spring, turns a dark green in the summer, and transitions to yellow, orange or bronze in the fall. Its upright, vase shaped form make it a great choice for a specimen tree or for lining a walkway, road or driveway. Plant your Kwanzan cherry tree in full sun conditions in acidic, well-drained, moist soil. The Kwanzan cherry tree does not produce any fruit, making it an excellent choice for a low-maintenance garden.

Pieris Japonica

Also known as lily-of-the-valley bush, pieris japonica is a dense evergreen shrub that produces drooping clusters of bell-shaped white flowers in early spring. Its foliage emerges orange-bronze but turns a deep, glossy green when mature. Pieris japonica makes a great foundation shrub or border plant and looks great paired with other acidic soil loving plants, such as azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias.  Plant pieris japonica in organically rich, well-drained, acidic soil in full sun to part shade conditions.