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FAQs - Small Fruit

assorted berries

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I have cleared out an area in my backyard and was wondering what I need to do to start a strawberry patch.

Can currants be grown in Maryland?  Someone told me that they were banned from being planted in the State. If they can be grown what kind of conditions do they like and do they do well in this area?

My family loves blueberries and I would love to grow some. We live in a townhome and therefore do not have much room to plant them in the ground. Is it possible to grow them in containers?

I have been using a soil pH tester to check the pH of my fruit plants. The pH varies from 5.7 to 6.7. The soil where my grapes are growing measures 7.0.  In addition to grapes, I am growing strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Is this something I really need to do anything about and how do I go about doing it?

What is the procedure for wintering over strawberry plants? If some cover is suggested what are good materials and how much should be used?  

I have cleared out an area in my backyard and was wondering what I need to do to start a strawberry patch.

Strawberries can be successfully grown in either matted rows or a bed defined with a border. The recommended time to plant them in our area is March through May. Field grown plants can be set out earlier than tissue cultured plants which are more sensitive to cold temperatures. They need full sun and very well drained soil that has been amended with organic matter. It is wise to have a soil test done before you plant because it is easier to correct pH and nutrient deficiencies before planting. A pH of between 6.2-6.8 is desired. Pinch off flowers for the entire first season on June bearing types to produce stronger, more productive plants in the future. soil testing on the website too.

Can currants be grown in Maryland?  Someone told me that they were banned from being planted in the State. If they can be grown what kind of conditions do they like and do they do well in this area?

It is true that at one time growing currants (Ribes spp.) in Maryland was restricted.  This stems from a law that was issued by the federal government limiting their growth because black currants are an alternate host for white pine blister rust.  The ban was lifted in 1966 but there is still confusion about the legality of planting them.  ‘Crusader’ and ‘Consort’ are two resistant black currant cultivars.  All red and white currants are resistant to this disease.  Currants do grow well in Maryland.  Choose a partially shaded site, afternoon shade is preferable. Currants do best in fertile, loamy soil that has good drainage. 

My family loves blueberries and I would love to grow some. We live in a townhome and therefore do not have much room to plant them in the ground. Is it possible to grow them in containers?

Blueberries grow best when planted in the ground but can be grown in containers if that is not an option. Highbush blueberries are hardier and have roots that will withstand the cold. A large container with good drainage such as a halved wine barrel is necessary. It is recommended to select one of the smaller varieties like 'Bluetta'.  A combination of 1/3rd soilless potting mix, 1/3rd topsoil and 1/3rd compost works well as the potting media. Keep the soil evenly moist and make sure it does not dry out during the hot, dry part of the summer. Protect the roots over the winter by placing the container in a sheltered location perhaps next to a building then covering the top and sides of the pot with fallen leaves.

I have been using a soil pH tester to check the pH of my fruit plants. The pH varies from 5.7 to 6.7. The soil where my grapes are growing measures 7.0.  In addition to grapes, I am growing strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Is this something I really need to do anything about and how do I go about doing it?

As a general rule, small fruit prefer a pH range of 5.8 to 6.8.  The exception is blueberries which prefer a pH of 4.2 to 4.5. Your numbers are not that far off and it doesn’t sound like you need to do anything.  We suggest you have the soil tested by a soil testing lab. This would give you a more accurate reading as sometimes pH testers are not that reliable.  Take multiple samples of soil from where you are growing your fruit and mix them together to send to the lab. Once a year, in fall or early spring, topdress the beds with compost where you are growing your fruit to help improve the soil.

What is the procedure for wintering over strawberry plants?  If some cover is suggested what are good materials and how much should be used?  I planted my bed in May.

Strawberries should be mulched for protection from the cold and to prevent frost heaving. Frost heaving is an upward movement of soil that occurs during periods of freezing temperatures that can possibly dislodge plants. Apply 4" of clean wheat, oat, or rye straw after the ground freezes. Other materials would include pine straw, chopped leaves or a heavy-weight floating row cover. Leave the mulch in place until about mid-March or early April after danger of freezing is past. Remove the straw covering the plants and place it in the aisles around the plants to suppress weeds. When fruits begin to develop, re-apply a thick mulch under foliage and around plants to minimize disease.

Please send us a question at Ask the Experts if you have a small fruit question you would like answered. Digitial photos can be attached to your question.

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