Berries for the Home Gardener

There are few things more delightful then a handful of homegrown berries after an afternoon of working in the garden. There are several berries to choose from, with the main considerations being reliable winter hardiness and season of fruiting.

Strawberries

Strawberry plants consist of mother plants that produce fruit and offshoots called daughter plants. Mother plants produce berries for 2-3 years before dying back and allowing daughter plants to take over production. There are several types of strawberries – “June bearing” strawberries produce a very large crop in early summer, “everbearing” which produces two medium sized crops in early summer and late summer, and “day-neutral” which produces small crops from early summer to first frost. Its best to plant strawberries in April or May, as it gives them time to root and produce a few daughter plants. Remove blossoms the first year so the plant puts more energy into root production. The Iowa State University Southeast Research and Demonstration Farm recommends varieties like ‘Jewel’ and ‘Allstar’ for June bearers, ‘Ozark Beauty’ for an everbearer, and ‘Tristar’ for a day-neutral.  Plants should be planted 24” apart.

Blackberries

Blackberries can be a challenge to grow in Iowa – most cultivars only flower and fruit on canes that are 2 years old, and winter injury can limit how many canes even survive to their second year. The hardiest cultivars of blackberry are ‘Darrow’ and ‘Illini Hardy’, and newer cultivars exist that produce fruit on 1st year canes such as ‘Prime-Jim’ and ‘Prime-Ark 45’. Like other berries, its best to plant in early spring to allow for a long season for rooting. Plants should be planted 3’ away from each other to allow for new canes to come up. During winter, mound up mulch near the base of each plant to protect the roots, but pull it back in early spring before new growth comes up.

Raspberries

Raspberries are another fruit that is borne on second year canes, however they are generally much hardier than blackberries. There are two categories: summer bearing and everbearing. Summer bearing canes produce a large crop in late summer of their second year. Everbearing cultivars produce a crop in early fall of the first year, and a crop in early summer of the second. Although raspberries are traditionally red, there are yellow and black raspberries as well. Individual canes only produce fruit once and can be cut down after harvest.

If you are unsure which berries you want to grow, try joining a local Co-op farm so you can taste test a few cultivars ahead of time. There are more options for berries – like blueberries, aronia, and serviceberries. These are shrubs and trees, so make sure to provide them with enough space.

Prepared by Lindsey Smith, Collections Curator