Raspberries, those delectable little red berries, are not well-adapted to North Carolina. The plants do not tolerate heat and, as we all know, North Carolina has plenty of heat! A breeding program at NCSU is working on heat tolerant cultivars, so hopefully in a few years we can tell you something different!
The good news, however, is that in Lee County we can grow other small fruits, such as blueberries and blackberries, in the home garden. Small fruits are good for your health because many contain disease-fighting antioxidants. The plants can be grown in a fruit and vegetable garden or placed amongst the landscape for edible beauty.
Blueberries provide year-round beauty in the landscape in addition to the yummy berries. Before planting blueberries, be sure to take a soil test a few months in advance. The plant needs well-draining, high organic matter soil with a low pH. You can adjust the soil with sulfur to decrease the pH and lime to increase the pH. Add compost to increase the organic matter content. Plant on raised beds to help drain water, especially in clay soils. There are two types of blueberries that can be planted here: Southern highbush and rabbiteye. The rabbiteye blueberry is native to the South and highly adapted to growing conditions here. Whichever type you choose, the bushes can be planted in the fall and the spring, but be sure to water while establishing. After planting, prune to leave only 1-3 of the most vigorous shoots. Blueberries do not require large amounts of fertilizer and can be easily damaged by too much. Apply only what a soil test recommends.
Blackberries are another wonderful fruit that rivals the blueberry in health benefits. Unlike raspberries, blackberries can tolerate heat. There are both thorny and thornless varieties. Unless you want to make a thorny hedge, I would recommend thornless varieties. Now you don’t need to bring the bandages out when you go picking! A nice cultivar for home gardens is “Navaho” since the berries hold well in the refrigerator. Again, take a soil test four months before planting in order to properly amend the soil. Blackberries need lots of water so, if possible, place them near a water supply and use mulch. Blackberries fruit on last year’s wood, so do not winter prune, except to shorten secondary shoots, remove dead or weak wood, or thin. After summer fruiting, cut out all the old canes and cut back new canes to between 30 and 36 inches in length. Blackberries available in the store are usually a shiny black, but they are really wonderful picked when dull black at home.
Blueberries and blackberries are a good start to having summer berry snacks fresh from the garden. Happy pickin’!
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