Berries are an impressive and beautiful addition to any yard, plus you can truly enjoy the fruits of your labor. Berry plants, bushes and brambles come in a wonderful variety of sizes and shapes and can offer visual interest from January through December. With so many options you can meet the needs of even the most discriminating palate and find those that will thrive in the somewhat tricky climates of our region.
Raspberries, blackberries, and trailing blackberries (‘Marion’, ‘Boysen’, and ‘Logan’) are all caneberries, sometimes referred to as brambles. These will climb and spread to fill an empty spot or can be trained along a fence. Blueberries come in high bush and low bush types as well as dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties. Attractive as ornamentals, they welcome spring with white or pink blossoms, offer colorful foliage in fall and add contrast with shades of gold or red wood in winter. Plants can be grown in beds, rows, hedges, or even in containers. Strawberries are another favorite of the home gardener and are small enough to allow for a lot of creativity when it comes to planting. Strawberry types are June-bearers, everbearers, and day-neutrals; meaning with a little planning you can have strawberries all summer long. Most home gardeners plant their strawberries in hills or rows but I have seen them grown in everything from tiered raised beds to an old cowboy boot. There are many other berries for home gardeners to try, so watch your seed/plant catalogs if you are interested in trying something a little more exotic.
Most berries need full sun for best performance and yields; however, some will tolerate partial shade. Each type of berry has different needs when it comes to soil type and watering, so it is a good idea to check in with your local Master Gardener or find one of the many great books out there on growing berries at home. For instance, one interesting requirement for blueberries is that they need to have acidic soil. This takes some planning and preparation in our region since our soil is naturally alkaline.
Now for my favorite part! Once you have harvested your glorious berries, I encourage you to enjoy them fresh. It is hard to beat the flavor, texture, and nutritional value of fresh berries. They are great on cereal or yogurt, in pancakes or other baked goods or just right out of your hand. If you have some berries left over or really enjoy preserving some of your garden’s bounty, there are several options for berries. Most can be dried or dehydrated and then stored for use throughout the winter and coming year.
These are great in homemade granola or trail mix, in baked goods or again, right out of your hand. Sometimes I will add a handful of dried berries or other fruits to my winter pies to help boost flavor (try dried blueberries or huckleberries in your next peach pie!) My favorite way to preserve berries is to freeze them. In the heat of the summer when I end up with a bumper crop of raspberries or find that wonderful, secret patch of huckleberries, I want to preserve them quickly and without heating up my kitchen.
I take a time-efficient approach to this by rinsing the fruit lightly if necessary (I don’t use any chemicals on my berries), draining, and then packing them immediately in quart size freezer bags. Frozen berries work great in pies and other baked goods but they are also a fabulous base for a healthy fruit smoothie. This is a great way to start off your day with a healthy portion of fruit, vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants. WSU Extension does offer food preservation classes occasionally and these are a great way to learn to preserve food safely and effectively for the best quality and flavor.
I hope you will give berries a try in your landscape.