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Sage Garden Blog

Planting Hardy Berries in Zone 3

A delicious range of berries can easily be grown in the home garden, including for those who have limited space. The selections that we'll discuss today are all rookie friendly and do not require specialized soils or other challenging preparation to flourish (some berries, like blueberries, do require very specific needs and are therefore much harder to establish and grow). These will all yield a bounty of tasty, healthy berries each season!

The Golden Rule(s)

If there is one thing that will help the cause of growing berry plants, it is planting in full sun. Almost all popular fruiting plants only live up to their full potential if they receive a minimum of 6 - 8 hours of direct sunlight per day, preferably starting in the early day and trending towards more shade later in the day. So, while I have said growing berries is easy, it is only productive in full sun.

The other main consideration is drainage, as standing water or persistent sogginess is typically a problem for fruit-bearing plants.

So, start with these two considerations and things tend to go well.

 Bush vs. Vine

Once you have determined that you have well-drained soil and a full sun location, the next consideration is what type of dimensional spaces you have available. Berry plants tend to be either shrubs or vines, so you'll need to know how you would integrate either of these growth styles into your space. One cool thing about the vining plants is that you can take advantage of vertical spaces, creating both landscape intrigue and space-wise planting; but they will need support! Shrubby berry plants usually require around 4' x 4' of space, so keep this in mind as you assess (though some orchard plants are much smaller, like strawberries, and these can even be grown in pots).

It is also important to note that some berries require more than one plant for pollination, which I'll review as we get to know the different plants below.

 Basic Planting Instructions

Planting hardy berries is ideally done anytime between June through the end of September (and even into October while the ground is still warm).

When planting, dig a hole twice the width of the pot, to the same depth as the pot, then fill the planting hole with water. Break open the roots of each plant you are installing to encourage quick spread into the new location. Many gardeners add bone meal at the time of planting, but no other fertilizers are required until new plants are established (once established, Evolve Organic Fruit and Berry plant food is ideal).

Situate each plant in its hole and backfill with native soil, levelling up your plants so that stems sit just above ground level. Water well, several times during the first seven days, then weekly through the rest of summer and into fall.

When establishing perennial fruit-bearing plants, plan for yields to get better and better over several years (exception: strawberries, which may fruit well even in their first year). It is common to look to the three-year mark as the start of regular harvests.

Now let's check out some popular backyard berries:

 Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

This is a wonderful twist on a prairie native classic: instead of having a large pit inside each fruit (i.e. chokecherry), the chokeberry has several small seeds that do not need to be pitted when processing. The fruit matures to a deep red-purple in late summer and is famous for having very high levels of healthy antioxidants. Chokeberries can be used for fresh eating (although astringent), and for processing into juice, pies and preserves. You only need a single plant for fruiting and plan for a chokeberry to grow into a taller shrub. Chokeberries are naturescape friendly, providing habitat and food sources for birds.

 Elderberry, American (Sambucus canadensis)

Much like the Chokeberry, Elderberries are becoming popular for their health benefits, owing to high levels of antioxidants and vitamins (you can check out the WebMD link for elderberries, for more info, here).Elderberry flowersThis shrubby plant is popular in landscaping, with graceful foliage and showy white flowers in July, followed by late summer berries. Unlike the other berries listed here, elderberries should not be eaten fresh (which causes stomach upset), but instead processed into juice or jellies using a process that includes heat (which breaks down the stomach-upsetting compounds). Elderberry plants do not require another plant to fruit, but yields are higher where there is the opportunity for pollination between plants. Elderberries are also very naturescape friendly, providing habitat and food sources for birds, as well as nectar for a wide range of pollinators.

 Goji Berry (Lycium barbatum)

Believe it or not, this exotic fruit is exceptionally cold tolerant and thrives on the prairies! Originally from colder regions of Asia, goji berries easily settle into local gardens and bear delicious fruit in late summer. The berries are long, and vivid red-orange, and taste so much better as fresh fruit compared to the dried berries available from grocery and health food stores.

Goji berries are another high anti-oxidant fruit, and one of the main reasons people eat them is for the health benefits (but they really taste amazing too!).

Goji berries are self-pollinating, so only one plant is required for fruiting. They grow as vining shrubs, with more of a vertical style, and therefore benefit from support. It is not uncommon to have some winter die-back on the previous year's stems, but this is handled through simple pruning in late spring.

 Grapes (Vitis vinifera)

Grapes are like the lavender of the small fruit/berry world, evoking the "good life" that is associated with everything Mediterranean! Although we cannot grow table grapes in the way those in warmer climates can, there is still so much satisfaction in growing and harvesting the purple, red and even green grapes available to zone 3 gardeners.

It is important to note that grapes are vigorous vines, and therefore you'll need to plan for strong support (fence, side of the house, sturdy garden structure, arbour etc). Some types of hardy grapes do require a second specific grape variety for pollination, but the most popular hardy type - Valliant - does not.

Although there are fancy ways of growing grapes for maximum productivity, most people let them ramble and prune according to intuition - which works just fine if you are happy with lots of grapes vs. the maximum amount of grapes.

 Haskap (Lonicera caerulea)

If you have ever tried growing blueberries and become frustrated by their fickle requirements, haskaps will make your day. Haskaps are highly adaptable plants that are also exceptionally cold tolerant, and unlike most spring-flowering fruit, even their flowers can handle late spring frosts. Originally from Siberia and northern Japan, these may be the perfect berry for cold climate home gardeners!

The fruits look like elongated blueberries and taste like a blend of blueberry and raspberry. Haskaps can be enjoyed fresh, dried, frozen or processed into jam, syrup or even wine. These plants bloom early and the fruit ripens in early summer. The berries can look ready to harvest before they are actually ripe; check that the berries are purple from the outside right through the berry and you'll be much happier with the taste experience! (another clue that they are ripe is that the berries will fall easily from the stems).

Haskap plants are densely shrubby, growing to about 4' x 4', and often planted as hedgerows. If there is one detail not to miss, it is that haskaps have very specific requirements for pairing up. Planting a single haskap will result in little-to-no fruit while pairing incorrect companions will yield low productivity or poor flavour.

We have labelled all of our haskaps with the names of their specific companion matches, which makes pairing easy - however, there is more limited selection at this time of the year and we no longer have companion sets. That said, it is an opportunity to grab these while on sale and the plants look very good; just keep track of the info on the tag so you can pair up once matches are available again (or, we may have varieties on hand that complete your existing pair requirements from prior plantings).

 Kiwi Berry (Actinidia arguta)

I've talked about hardy kiwis quite a bit over the last few years, as it is a such surprise that a kiwi fruit could survive and bear fruit in our chilly climate. But it is true! These plants are originally from Mongolia and are definitely zone 3 hardy. The kiwis that grow here are much more like a berry compared to the larger grocery store imports, and they grow in grape-like clusters that mature in mid-to-late summer. The flavour is exceptional!Kiwi plants are vigorous, good-looking vines and require a fence or other sturdy structure to support them. In fact, before they became popular as an orchard plant, the kiwi berry was promoted as an attractive hardy landscape vine. Some plants (usually males) develop bold pink and white variegation.

The key to success with kiwis is knowing that you require both male and female plants for fruiting to occur (i.e. at least one male and one female plant). Unfortunately, there has been a shortage of female kiwi vines available this season - so we currently only have a lovely group of handsome males available. But, if you wanted to get the guys established, there will likely be female plants available at some point this season, or in spring 2023.

Kiwi fruits are best enjoyed fresh, and the grape-sized berries are eaten with the skins on (unlike the grocery store type). In my opinion, the locally grown kiwis taste much better than any storebought ones, as they are sweeter and can be harvested perfectly ripe. Very satisfying!

 Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)

Possibly the most popular berry at Sage Garden, raspberries come in many different styles. There are red, purple, yellow and dark purple fruits, and some types are able to bear fruit from July through fall.

Raspberries are one of the few orchard plants that will survive in-ground and in larger containers. For example, we've grown raspberries in half barrels, and they'll definitely survive in raised beds. This type of planting strategy can be an asset, as raspberries do tend to spread.

The most important technical detail about raspberries is that they either bear fruit exclusively on last year's canes (floricane types), or they can bear on any year's growth, including new canes (primocane types). Florican types therefore cannot be cut down each year (although thinning every second cane is a good idea), while primocane types can be trimmed to the ground each season.

Raspberries are first and foremost a delight when available fresh, but when they are ripening too fast to eat right away, the berries can be frozen or processed into jam. Yummy!

 Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa)

After raspberries, strawberries have to be the small fruit most often planted by home gardeners. After all, harvesting fresh strawberries is almost a right of summer. Strawberries are small plants that can grow anywhere, from individually in pots or hanging baskets on a balcony to a full-on berry patch in the yard. Everbearing strawberries even work as indoor plants if given enough light.

Strawberries come in June bearing and everbearing types. June bearing typically has larger fruit but only produces for a short period in early summer. These are the u-pick types. Everbearing types are small-fruited but so tasty, and can produce from June right into fall (and even indoors, if kept under lights).

One detail to consider when planning your strawberry patch is that plants only remain productive for a few years, and generally need to be divided or replaced to maintain vigour. For varieties that have runners, this process simply involves dividing off new plants and culling the older ones. At the moment we have lots of Woodland strawberries available, which have small, incredibly delicious fruits!

← Mid-July: an important time to fertilize Want to grow some free plants? Let them go to seed! →

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