gardenphyllisophyBy Phyllis Galowitz

You can always find me at the library on Friday afternoons. That’s my day to volunteer, catch up on local news and see my friends while I cover books and get the new books and DVDs ready for borrowing. This past Friday, one of my Gazette/Library friends asked my advice on berry growing in containers. I didn’t have an answer for him but said I would do some research and was especially happy to do so because that was the topic I had picked for this month’s garden column in the Gazette. I’m doing more and more container gardening since my river birches have grown so big that they completely shade what used to be the vegetable garden. The only spot that gets full sun now is on the deck, near the kitchen, which is more convenient anyway. It’s near the water faucet and just steps from the kitchen door, not to mention that my advancing age makes it so much easier not to have to bend down to the ground and then get up with nothing to hold on to.

It turns out that the trick to growing blueberries at least, is container gardening! I’m so excited to read that, since the two bushes that I’ve already planted are not doing so well. The reason they aren’t, it turns out, is that unlike most things growing in the garden, blueberries prefer acid soil as well as full sun and lots of water. Planting them in their own container, it’s easy to take care of those individual needs. They do not need much fertilizer. Twice a year, in early spring, a dose of blood meal, cottonseed meal or anything meant for acid-loving plants like azaleas or rhododendron, is fine. Another advantage to growing them in containers is that they can be moved to a protected spot, such as near the wall of the house or fence, which will extend the season and the pot can be easily wrapped in burlap when the weather turns cold. They can also be covered with netting as the berries ripen, to keep birds from eating them before you do. Berries freeze well, so if you have an abundant crop and you’re tired of eating so many in a short time, freeze them for when you’ll really appreciate them. I won’t throw out the first two plants that are not doing well. I’ll try to give them the proper care and see how they do in comparison to those in the barrel.

In our area, Northern Highbush will do well. Plant a couple of different varieties for a better chance of pollenization and because they will ripen at different times, you’ll be lengthening the season. Use a half-wine barrel or a container approximately 24” wide and 18” deep.  Just for the first year pick off the flowers as they appear. (You won’t get berries during the first season but more strength will go into the plant for the following seasons.) Fill the pots with one part potting soil and one part peat. Top dress with pine chips to hold moisture and to keep the proper PH level. Prune off damaged shoots. Be sure to make holes in the bottom of the barrel for drainage and remember to place the pot on wheels so that it will be easier to move. Beautiful flowers in the spring and colorful foliage in fall make the bush worthwhile, even if you must wait patiently for the berries!

Last year, I planted all kinds of salad greens, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers and herbs, mixed with edible annuals. They all did well and it was great to cut the outer leaves for an absolutely marvelous salad every evening, minutes before eating it. Just thinking of the coming season’s crop makes my mouth water!~