By Anne Sanders
Transylvania Extension Master Gardener 

Strawberries And Blueberries, Oh My! Little Bites Of Heaven – Brevard NC

 


It’s spring and I’m on a fruit kick. What more luscious dreams than of growing your own blueberries and strawberries! Actually thinking of blueberries and strawberries always makes me feel patriotic with all that blue and red going on. But, I digress.

Strawberries are easy to grow in Transylvania County, either in rows in your garden or trailing out of those fancy strawberry pots you can pick up at any garden center. Who would have thought that garden strawberries had their start in Brittany, France in the 1750s? The French successfully crossed a variety of strawberry from eastern North America with a variety which had been brought to France from Chile in 1714. A round of applause to them for their role in the heritage of the modern garden strawberry. After all, what would a good cheeseburger be without a strawberry milkshake?

Let’s talk about planting some of these delicious fruits in your own yard or garden. Strawberries can be planted in full sun for best production, but part shade will do. They like soil with a bit of sand, and respond well to fertilizer or a light application of composted manure throughout the growing season. If you are setting out new plants you might want to wait until mid-May, after we have passed the chance of a late frost. If you do decide to plant in the ground rather than in pots, the plants will do better if the planting site is raised in a small mound, just about double the size of those made by moles.

Strawberries propagate by putting out runners, so once you have established plants you may need to thin some out and relocate the new shoots. Strawberries begin to mature in mid-summer, and should be left on the plant until deep red as the fruit will not continue to ripen once picked. Remember too, whether planted in the ground or in containers, the plants should be kept well watered during the active growing season. Strawberries can withstand harsh conditions, but just like you and me, those plants need water.

Strawberries are good for your health. Low in calories, cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium, just eight of these little suckers provide more vitamin C than you get from eating an orange. Strawberries are also a great source of daily fiber (they do taste a whole lot better than that pharmacy stuff) and are high in anti-oxidants, too. Recent studies have shown that eating strawberries is good for the brain, cuts heart attack risk in women, and can reduce high blood pressure. Truly, why wouldn’t you grow and eat these fabulous fruits?

And what goes better with strawberries than blueberries (well, don’t forget the vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, of course!)

Blueberries are quite hardy in Transylvania County and the high-bush varieties can be found at most any local plant sale or garden center. They thrive both as cultivated garden plants or growing in the wild. Wild or low-bush blueberries, Rabbiteye and Dryland, are famous for their intense blue color and since they are fire-tolerant their production often increases after a wildfire destroys other vegetation. North Carolina is one of the places with the largest high-bush blueberry production in the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, North Carolina State University has produced several new varieties of the southern high-bush blueberry.

Unfortunately, unlike strawberries, blueberries do not provide instant gratification and do take some patience.

Whichever varieties you choose to grow, you should plant at least two different ones for cross fertilization. When planting, apply two-to-four inches of mulch around the new plants and give them one-to-two inches of water per week for the first spring and summer. Prune severely at planting and then only to remove weak or damaged canes for the next three years. And I hate to say this, but don’t allow the bushes to fruit until their third or fourth year (yikes!) Just be resolute and pinch off the buds after they form. This may give you nightmares, but will result in much stronger and healthier plants that will produce for many years to come.

Once your blueberries begin to produce (after those three excruciating years of picking buds), drape the plants with netting so the birds won’t beat you to the long-awaited harvest. When the fruit is truly ripe, it should just fall into your hand when touched. Enjoy them fresh or easily freeze to whip out mid-winter for a pie to remind you that winter is passing and spring is not far behind.

(The Gardens of Silvermont, behind Silvermont Mansion, are staffed by working Master Gardener Volunteers each Thursday from 9-11 a.m. They welcome visitors and are happy to answer questions. This year, Gardening Clinics will be held at the Transylvania Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings; the next one will be May 2. Also, suggestions for articles on gardening topics can be sent to mmickew@ncsu.edu (note “Article Idea” in the subject line).

 
 

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