Editor's note: Kathy Boullin, a Swansons Nursery expert, recently led a seminar on planting and growing small fruits and berries in the PNW garden. It was such a great discussion about planning, planting, and caring for small fruits and berries that we wanted to share some of her expertise with you here on the blog!
What Can I Grow in the Pacific Northwest?
We are fortunate that so many small fruits and berries thrive in the Pacific Northwest. Here are some of the many berries that do well in our climate.
Things to Think About Before Planting
Think about what kind of soil you have. Does it hold moisture? Does it drain well? What is the pH? Knowing these details can help you know how to amend your soil to best suit the plants you choose to grow.
For example, did you know blueberries prefer an acidic soil? If your pH tends toward alkaline and you would like to grow blueberries, you can add elemental sulfur or acidifying fertilizer to help acidify the soil. If your soil has a lot of clay or is very compacted, add a high-quality compost like G&B Organics Soil Building Conditioner, which helps aerate the soil and helps it retain moisture.
How much light does the area you want to plant in receive? Most fruits and berries need at least 6-8 hours of direct sun daily - what we call a full sun situation - to thrive and produce harvests.
Think about how much space you have. This will help you decide if you have room for multiple grapevines or if a compact, container-friendly blueberry variety would better suit the space you have available.
Knowing why you’re growing small fruits and berries can help you choose the best varieties. Do you want to eat the berries fresh, have them for pies, or for canning? For example, If you will be freezing or canning in large batches, choose varieties that ripen all at once rather than little by little over a long period.
Personal Time & Energy
Planting and maintaining a fruit garden requires personal time and energy. Consider how much time you can devote to your garden on a regular basis. If you can give a few plants an hour every week, that’s probably sufficient. If you can devote 4-6 hours a week to your entire garden, that’s pretty great!
Tips For Growing Small Fruits & Berries
There are many excellent blueberry varieties the PNW. Blueberries will provide more than delicious fruit; they offer outstanding ornamental value as well. In fall and winter, the leaves and the bark of young branches turn glowing shades of yellows and reds.
All blueberries will bloom at approximately the same time but the fruit will ripen at different times from July through October depending on the variety. Think about whether you want blueberries that ripen all at once for freezing or canning, or if you prefer a longer harvest for fresh eating throughout the season.
Typically, you’ll have the best fruit production with two blueberry plants. If you only have room for one, choose a self-fertile variety. However, we still recommend two plants if you have space because even the self-fertile can produce better yields with two plants.
Choose a location that receives full sun and has well-drained, acidic soil high in organic matter (such as compost). Although blueberries like moisture, they don’t like to be sitting in soggy soil!
Generally speaking, anticipate that you’ll likely need to water deeply 1-2 times per week. With any fruiting plant, avoid overhead watering and sprinkler systems; a drip or soaker hose is an excellent watering method.
In the first year, pick off all the flowers so that the plant can focus its energy on developing a strong root system. This is hard to do but you’ll be rewarded with better crops in later years!
In containers, try smaller, dwarf varieties such as Peach Sorbet, Jelly Bean, Blueberry Glaze, Pink Icing, or Top Hat. We can't guarantee variety availability, but if you don't see one of the above while shopping, just ask us about other varieties that do well in containers.
For more information on types, care, and pruning, see our blueberry care sheet.
Strawberries are a fantastic crop for garden beds and containers. When choosing a type, consider how much room you have for your plants to spread and also if you would like them to ripen all at once or throughout a long season. Strawberries are self-fertile so only one variety is necessary.
There are three classes of strawberries:
June-Bearing (also called summerbearing) strawberries produce one large crop in June and have many vigorous runners.
Ever-Bearing strawberries produce a smaller crop in June, then fruit again in late summer to frost.
Day-Neutral strawberries fruit continuously throughout summer and fall and have very few runners.
Choose a sunny site. Six hours of sun is a minimum and ten+ hours is best.
Strawberries prefer moist, well-drained soil. Avoid overhead watering to help reduce fungal diseases.
Harvest by cutting the stem rather than pulling the strawberries.
Fertilize lightly in the spring and again after harvest for summer-bearing varieties.
For more information about growing strawberries and making a DIY wooden strawberry planter, click here.
When you choose your raspberry plants from our Nursery, don't be surprised to see plants that look too small to bear a bountiful harvest. Take our word that with the right environment and care, you'll have plenty of sweet treats. There are two types of raspberries to consider: everbearing will usually give you a crop mid-summer and in early fall, while summer-bearing varieties will give you one big harvest in late summer.
Choose a location that receives full sun to part-sun and has well-draining soil.
Consider your space and plant supports before putting your cane fruit in the ground. Raspberries benefit from having a support system. The traditional method of trellising cane fruit (raspberries, blackberries, etc.) is to create two rows of posts and tying up wires, although stakes and twine also work. Raspberries also have roots that travel and will sprout new canes. Be mindful of where you're planting; it's a great idea to give them their very own garden bed. If you can provide a raised bed, that's all the better.
Raspberry plants have relatively shallow root systems, so keeping a weed-free bed will minimize root competition. A layer of compost mulch helps a lot.
As previously mentioned, suckers grow from travelling root systems. Keep an eye on canes that will pop up around your garden and prune them out if they're in inappropriate areas.
As with most fruiting plants, take care not to allow your plants to dry out during the summer, especially as they're bearing fruit.
For more information about growing and pruning, see our caning berries care sheet.
Grapes are another fruit that we're fortunate to be able to grow well in the PNW. There are two types of grapes to consider: wine grapes and table grapes. Table grapes often produce better than wine grapes, so unless you're making wine, we recommend selecting a table grape variety.
Choose a location that has a lot of sun, heat, with lean, well-draining soil. Grapes can thrive in rocky soil and they don't need a lot of love and attention to produce well. Grapes love warmth; top dressing with gravel or planting next to an area with reflective sun are great ways to hold heat in.
Grapes are self-fertile, and so you don't need more than one plant. One plant needs a lot of room to spread. If you'd like to have multiple grape plants, we recommend putting them at least 8 feet away from each other and training them in opposite directions on a trellis.
For more detailed information, see our Grapes Care Sheet.
We at Swansons strive to help you find the information and advice for gardening that you need. Search this website for past blog posts and visit our NW Gardening Tips page.