Posts

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.

Sunflowers, Annual

Unique Edible Plants for Fall Cooking

With fall on its way we are all starting to think about our cool season vegetable gardens. In addition to well-known fruits and vegetables, there are also a wide variety of edible annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs which you may already be growing ornamentally in your landscape. By learning to incorporate these plants into our cooking, we can add some unique flavors to our meals. Whether you are new to edible gardening or are just looking for some new plants to add to your established fall garden, consider adding some of these herbaceous edible plants to your landscape this year.

Herbaceous Edibles

Taro

Generally grown for its foliage, one of its species is called “elephant’s ear” due to the size and shape of its leaves. Taro has an edible corm which can be used in the same way as a potato. It is known for its purple color and can also be used to make chips, tea, ice cream and candy. Taro is grown commercially as a food crop in Hawaii and many other parts of the world, and grows well in wet soil, making it an excellent choice for areas in your garden with poor drainage.

I like this recipe from ChefInYou for Taro Root Roast.

Flowers

Pansy, Annual

Pansy

A popular flower for fall containers and garden beds! The petals of pansies have a mild, fresh flavor and can be used as a garnish for cocktails, salads, soups and desserts. Try sugaring them to make a beautiful candied garnish for baking.

Tuberous Begonia

The flower petals of tuberous begonia have a light citrus taste and crisp texture. These are commonly used in salads, sandwiches, yogurt or ice cream. You can also use them as a garnish – sugared or plain. Edible varieties of begonia include: B. annulata (aka B. hatacoa), B. auriculata, B. barbata, B. gracilis, B. hernandioides, B. malabarica, B. mannii, B. picta, B. palmata, B. Semperflorens and B. fimbristipula (used to make a tea).

Learn to make sugared flowers from this video at Southern Living.

Sunflowers

In addition to the seeds, the entire sunflower plant can be eaten from the roots up to the flower. Eat sprouts thinned out from your garden bed on salads, tossed in your favorite dressing. Try a sunflower bud, which tastes like an artichoke – these are delicious roasted in garlic butter! Mature sunflower leaves can be used in stir fry, provided you remove the tough center ribs. Stalks can be used in the same way as celery for their crunchy texture and mild flavor. If you want sunflower seeds, place sunflower heads in a bright location and allow them to mature so you can collect the seeds for use in your cooking and snacks.

Food and Wine offers a variety of ideas for using all parts of sunflowers in your cooking.

Ornamental Vegetables

Ornamental Cabbage ISTOCK

Many of the vegetables we know and love come in beautiful, ornamental versions – which are still edible! Make the most out of every square inch of your landscape by filling in your garden beds with the beautiful foliage of vegetables like ornamental cabbage and kale. Onions and garlic also produce lovely blooms (think of allium – they are in the same family). You can then use ornamental plants in your fall cooking, just as you would the non-ornamental variety.

Important Tips for Using Edible Plants

Before you begin your edible garden, it is vital to remember the following rules when deciding which plants are safe to eat from your garden.

  1. Be conscious of which plants you will be eating when applying pesticides and fungicides. Knowing which products are safe to treat plants you are growing for food is very important. Any plant you eat must be grown organically, without the use of pesticides or other chemicals.
  2. Be certain you are using an edible variety of plant. If you are not sure that the plant you have is safe to eat – bring it in for us to identify, or start from scratch by planting the correct varieties (or seeds of those varieties) in your landscape.
  3. Start small. Our stomachs need time to adapt to new foods. Try eating small amounts first and give your body time to adjust to new ingredients. If you have food allergies, be especially conscious of the foods you are consuming.

If you have questions about starting your own edible garden, come in to any of our stores to talk with a plant specialist!

Rosemary, Orgegano and Basil, Herbs

Easy to Grow Herbs

David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Herbs are a great way to take the plunge into growing your own edibles. They have a wide variety of uses, are easy to grow and fit very well even in small gardens! By establishing a herb garden on your patio, windowsill, or balcony you can reap the benefits of its fresh flavors and aromas all summer long.

Whether you are growing herbs indoors or out, it’s best to place them in a location where they will receive at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.

The following are some of the easiest types of herbs to grow:

Basil

A fast-growing herb, basil is a favorite among gardeners of all levels. Known for its rich peppery flavor and fresh aroma, it makes a great addition to pizza, pasta, salads and sauces. Basil does not need quite as much sun as other herbs and likes to be kept moist. When growing basil, be sure to prune the flowering tops to allow new leaf growth.

Chives

In addition to great flavor, chives have beautiful blooms. The leaves give a light spring onion flavor. This is probably the easiest herb to grow! To harvest it, simply cut at the base of the plant, one to two inches above the soil,  as if trimming grass and bring your fresh cut chives right to the kitchen. Do not cut more than a third of the plant off at a time to allow healthy regrowth.

Mint

Mint gives off a strong aroma and flavor that can be used in appetizers, entrées, desserts and cocktails. Try adding it to homemade tzatziki or steeping to make tea. Mint is an aggressive spreader, so you will want to plant it separately from your other herbs in a pot or container. To harvest mint, cut the stems up to one inch from the ground or just pick the leaves as you need.

Rosemary

Delicious fresh and dried, rosemary brings wonderful flavor to your meat and poultry dishes all year long. This herb is drought tolerant and requires little maintenance, making it a great option for gardener’s who travel frequently or have a tendency to neglect their plants. There are many varieties of rosemary. Look for winter-hardy varieties such as Arp Rosemary, Trailing Rosemary and Salem Rosemary. When gathering rosemary, pick the new, fresh growth at the top of the plant, leaving the old stalk alone.

 Oregano

Oregano is a great choice if you love cooking Italian food. This herb’s flavor is strongest during the summer, and it is very to grow at home. You can harvest oregano leaves as you need them. The leaves have the best flavor flavor right before the flowers bloom in the summer.

Lavender

Lavender’s vibrant color and lovely scent will make your herb garden pop. This versatile herb can be used in baking, cooking, teas, candles and even in a variety of home remedies. It is very easy to grow, just plant it in well-drained soil and your lavender will flourish. When harvesting, treat it the same as rosemary, leaving the old stalk alone and cutting off newer growth.

Thyme

Thyme is great to use when cooking meats and vegetables. This low-maintenance herb thrives when you let it be and allow nature to take its course. Collect thyme leaves as you need them, although they will be packed with the most flavor in the summer just before the plants bloom.