Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


I’m fresh back from a trip to Oregon where I had the pleasure of meeting the folks at Fall Creek Nursery. The nursery is a large wholesale nursery that provides a ton of blueberries to both garden centers and commercial blueberry fields and they’re located just outside Eugene, Oregon.

Fall Creek Nursery hit my radar earlier this year when they announced a new variety would be coming out for spring of 2013: ‘Raspberry Shortcake’ raspberry. It immediately captured my full attention: ‘Raspberry Shortcake’ is a dwarf thornless raspberry bred for growing in containers. You can have fresh raspberries right on your deck or balcony and not have to worry about scratchy thorns or a crazy raspberry patch.

Happily, this cool advance in plant breeding didn’t come with a sacrifice in flavor: The fruits are juicy and delicious! (Our hosts at Fall Creek Nursery served a big bowl of them at lunch. Yum!)

I took the photo here on the patio where we had lunch — though the fruits on this one weren’t ripe yet (the plant had been cut back in the spring to delay fruiting) others at the nursery were bursting with fruit.

( By the way: If you’d like to be one of the first gardeners to try ‘Raspberry Shortcake’, a limited number is being offered in the BHG Garden Store that will ship in the mail this autumn. If that’s of interest, you can order it here.)

appleblogI get a fair number of questions from readers (and non-gardening friends, too!) about growing fruits from seed.

It seems like a great idea — why buy a $35 apple tree, for example, when you can just buy one for a couple of bucks at the store and plant the seeds. But unfortunately, it’s not nearly that simple in reality.

Most fruit trees are hybrid varieties, and do not reproduce reliably from seed. It’s similar to people — you’re not an exact replica of either of your parents.

In a lot of cases, you actually lose the best traits of the parent — vigorous growth, good quality fruit, or disease resistance.

Another reason that growing apples, peaches, cherries, etc. from seeds of produce from the grocery store is that it takes a long time for them to first bear fruit. So you may end up waiting years for your tree to give you harvests, only to find it’s mediocre fruit.

Additionally, many fruit trees are grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock. That means the tree is actually growing on another variety’s root system; this root variety keeps the tree smaller (only 15 to 20 feet tall, for example, instead of 30 feet or more).

That said, if you have the patience and space for from-seed fruit trees, you can certainly plant the seeds and see what you get.

Note: Some gardeners do this with tropical fruits for low-cost houseplants. Avocado, mango, papaya, and starfruit, for example, all grow readily from seed and make attractive houseplants!

Usually by the middle of November my strawberries are safely snuggled under several inches of mulch, ready for winter cold and snow. But this year has been so mild that I’m holding off with the final covering until we get a few nights down around 20 degrees F. As I was trimming back perennials I scattered a light later of ornamental grass stems over the berry plants. The strawberry leaves are turning red, indicating that they’re going into dormancy, but I’ll wait for the final blanket of mulch until the ground has a thin frozen crust.

Trimmings from ornamental grasses make good winter mulch for strawberries.

Trimmings from ornamental grasses make good winter mulch for strawberries.

Years ago when I ran a commercial pick-your-own strawberry farm, I used chopped cornstalks to mulch the 5-acre berry patch because cornstalks were available essentially for free from nearby farmland, and my uncle Troy, who felt sorry for a poor struggling beginning farmer, gave me a good deal on his labor for chopping and stacking. It took a couple of weeks of long, hard labor to mulch the entire commercial patch, but it won’t take long to finish covering my 150-square-foot home garden patch of berries. When real November weather finally arrives, I’ll cut back the rest of my grasses and use the cut stems for additional mulch. If you don’t have enough ornamental grasses to provide all the mulch that you need, weed-free straw is another good option. Avoid the temptation to pile on fallen leaves, however. They mat down and smother the berry plants.

Earliglo strawberries resting on a bed of grassy mulch.

Earliglo strawberries resting on a bed of grassy mulch.

Next spring you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor. Remember to rake the mulch away from the crowns when temperatures warm into the 70s for several days in a row (usually late March or early April here in central Iowa). Leave a couple of inches of mulch on the ground near the plants to keep the developing fruits off the soil. The berries will remain cleaner and more disease-free. Pictured at right are some Earliglo strawberries from my backyard patch. They’re one of my favorite varieties for flavor. What varieties grow best where you live?

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