I have some room in my backyard for some small fruit plants. What do you recommend?
It does not take a lot of room to grow some berries. You could even plant a few in containers on your patio or deck.
Strawberry plants take the least amount of room. There is even a special strawberry pot designed to hold about a dozen plants. Strawberry plants make a nice ground cover. They are most productive when they are spaced about 6 inches apart. They should be thinned when they get thicker by removing the oldest plants. The youngest plants produce the most fruit.
There are three types of strawberry varieties. The varieties produced commercially in Western Washington and Oregon are the June-bearing type, which produces a heavy crop for about a month from mid-June to mid-July. This is a good type if you want to freeze fruit or make jam. The older everbearing strawberries produce two crops, one in June and again in the fall. The newest type, called day neutral, are sometimes also called everbearing. They produce fewer berries continuously from May through October. There are several varieties, but Seascape seems to be the best adapted.
The blueberry is the best adapted to our climate and acid soil conditions. There are large numbers of commercial blueberry growers in our area. Blueberries make attractive landscape shrubs so they are even suitable for the front landscape. It is a good idea to put in two plants for best pollination.
Blueberries come in early, mid-season and late-bearing varieties. If you plant one of each, you will have fruit from June to September. Sunshine is also a smaller variety suitable for containers. Blueberries require very little pruning or other maintenance.
The next best choice is raspberries. They grow with upright canes that need posts and wire or twine for support. If you plant a single row of plants a foot apart, they will produce suckers to make a thick row 2 or more feet wide. New sucker plants will widen the row as much as you want to let it. I prefer to limit row width to 2 to 3 feet so plenty of light reaches the inner row and fruit is easier to pick.
After two years, the raspberry canes die and need to be removed. Just remove those that don’t leaf out in the spring. Now popular are the red fruit varieties. Black and gold fruit varieties are also available. Shortcake is a smaller variety that can be grown in containers.
Raspberries and blackberries are also widely grown commercially in our area. Blackberries require support and annual pruning and training. They have longer vines that should be trained along horizontal support wires.
When you make a new planting, I recommend mixing in 2 or more inches of bark dust or compost. Except for blueberries, add 5 pounds of lime per 100 square feet. Additional lime should be scratched into the soil surface every year.
Berries should be fertilized with a general purpose fertilizer (such as 16-16-16) when they are planted and every spring after they are established.