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"Growing Berries in the Northwest," by the Whistling Gardener

It should be no surprise that our northwest climate is perfect for growing all kinds of berries. Simply look around at the omnipresent and noxious Himalayan Blackberry, and one can easily deduce that berries will grow with little effort on our part.
Raspberries in the Whistling Gardener's backyard. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

It should be no surprise that our northwest climate is perfect for growing all kinds of berries. Simply look around at the omnipresent and noxious Himalayan Blackberry, and one can easily deduce that berries will grow with little effort on our part.

The presence of vast commercial fields of berries to the north in Skagit County and farther into British Colombia, should remove any doubt that gardeners can be successful in their own backyards. The hardest part for us is to decide which varieties to grow, as there are way more choices than there is room. Here are some suggestions to consider for backyard berry growing…

Blueberries: Traditional high-bush varieties come in early, mid, and late ripening times, which means that you could harvest berries from early July into August. “Chandler” seems to produce the largest berries, but there are others in the medium to large range that are also very flavorful - you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

If you want to mix it up a bit, consider “Pink Popcorn” which sports pink blueberries or “Razz” which claims to have overtones of raspberry flavor. For a more decorative plant that functions well in the landscape, try “Cabernet Splash” with its dark burgundy colored spring foliage. The leaves will mature to a cabernet/green in the summer and finish the season fiery red. For anyone wishing to have an “edible landscape,” “Cabernet Splash” is the perfect choice.

Raspberries: It is important to understand that raspberries come in two models, June bearing and everbearing - there are multiple varieties within both of these categories. If you like to make jams and jellies, it is best to plant the June varieties, as they come on all at once. On the other hand, if you just like to graze throughout the summer, then go with the everbearing types. “Indian Summer” is a good pick for everbearing, and “Candy Red” or “Meeker” are two good ones for June bearing. For a twist, give “Cascade Gold” a try, it’s a June bearer with golden yellow fruit. If you are short on space or even limited to containers try “Raspberry Shortcake,” a June bearer that is thornless, which makes for easy picking - it only grows to two feet tall.

Strawberries: Like raspberries, strawberries also come in both June bearing and everbearing varieties. For years “Tri Star” was the go-to variety for non-stop summer-long production, but “Seascape” and “Sweet Kiss” are dependable flavorful varieties as well.

For June crops, “Shuksan,” “Hood” and “Rainier” are very reliable and delicious. For a unique variety, “Hawaiian Berry” is a novelty strawberry with red and white berries that boasts a hint of pineapple flavor. For you nativists, try “Temptation,” an everbearing variety that is an alpine strawberry hybrid with compact growth and good naturalizing habits.

Blackberries: What with all the wild blackberries out there, one might wonder why a gardener would plant blackberries (also known as brambles). Simply put, modern cultivated blackberries have larger berries and many varieties are THORNLESS. Yep, no thorns. “Black Satin,” “Colombia Star,” and “Thornless Boysenberry” are three varieties that have no thorns and extra-large fruit. “Prime Ark Freedom” is a special thornless one that produces a June crop and then a second crop in the fall, so it is considered everbearing. It also claims to grow upright and not need staking, which could be a bonus if you are short on space.

In addition to the above main categories of berries, gardeners can also grow some of the more obscure types such as cranberries and lingonberries - both of which make a nice ground cover for the edible landscape enthusiast. Both of our native huckleberries (evergreen and deciduous) can be grown in a backyard setting and will even take some shade.

Honeyberries are a native to the northern hemisphere and are extremely hardy for our area. They produce an elongated bluish fruit that has a sweet-tart flavor, is higher in antioxidants than blueberries and is good eaten fresh or frozen. These plants prefer full sun and can reach six feet tall and as wide in ten years. “Blue Moon,” “Blue Pacific,” “Cinderella,” and “Borealis” are the main flavorful varieties.

Goji berries are another new introduction to the northwest, although they have been in cultivation in China for thousands of years. They form a slightly thorny shrub that grows four feet by four feet, when maintained in the garden. The fruit is bright red and high in antioxidants and vitamins. Grow them in containers for best results, as this will contain the spreading root system and help heat up the soil, which makes them bloom and fruit earlier. “Crimson Star” and “Sweet Lifeberry” seem to be the preferred varieties.

Whatever berries you decide to grow, the sooner you plant them the sooner you can start harvesting. Most all of the above varieties should be available and ready to plant this time of year. Go have some fun growing berries in the northwest!

Sunnyside Nursery will be hosting a free class, ‘Fresh Backyard Berries,” Saturday, February 8th, 2020, at 10:00 am. For more information, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and you can send your gardening questions to him at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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