Get Growing: Berries galore

Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2014

Strawberries in June, blueberries in July, blackberries in August and raspberries in the fall. More and more gardeners are growing small fruits, or as they are called in England, soft fruits, as well as tree fruits. You can eat berries fresh for breakfast or snacks, freeze them or make pies or jams. Sonia Schloemann, fruit specialist for UMass Extension, gave a very informative talk last week at the Garden Club of Amherst on growing these luscious delicacies.

Now is the time to plant small fruits and a good selection can be found at nurseries such as Nourse Farm in Whately. Strawberries can be grown in small spaces, even in hanging baskets. Most varieties still are June-bearing but ever-bearing cultivars are growing in popularity, Schloemann said. She warned not to plant the strawberry crowns too close together because the mother plant sends off runners or daughters which will expand the strawberry patch considerably over time. “Your best friend is air circulation,” she added. Proper spacing will reduce the chance of disease problems. The need for hand-weeding is the biggest challenge with those red berries, she cautioned.

As for blueberries, they can be an ornamental asset in the landscape as well as a wonderful source of fruit. A hedge of blueberries provides flowers in the spring, fruit in the summer and brilliant red foliage in the fall. You do need to plant two different varieties for pollination and blueberries like a more acid soil, the same kind preferred by rhododendrons and mountain laurel. You should amend your soil to the proper pH or acidity level and add lots of organic matter because blueberries are shallow-rooted, she said. She gave lots of information on pruning, which is essential for good fruit production.

Raspberries can be grown either as a summer or fall crop, the latter being easier to manage. Brambles bear fruit on second-year canes, so it is important to cut down those that have fruited in the fall and “tip” or cut off the tips of the second-year canes in the spring to keep them compact. Blackberries are summer-fruiting and also need annual cutting back of spent canes.

She recommended for more information on growing fruits and for more information on finding specific varieties.

GRAPES: Imagine having lunch at a rustic table under an arbor covered with grape vines. Grapes are also small fruit like berries but they require different kinds of pruning and care. Tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sonia Schloemann of UMass Extension will offer a workshop on growing and pruning grapes at Wards Berry Farm in Sharon. This is part of the annual Mass Aggie Seminars sponsored by UMass Extension. Fee is $50. Register at

HADLEY GARDEN CENTER: To celebrate spring the Hadley Garden Center is offering special workshops and events tomorrow. The Center for Ecological Technology will present a demonstration on composting techniques from 10 a.m. to noon. At 1 p.m. Dan Ziomek of the garden center staff will demonstrate pruning fruit trees. Children are invited to plant a pansy to take home from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Each child may select a pot and plant a pansy in it, for free. 584-1423.

FUNGI: Learn about gardening with fungi tomorrow from 10 a.m. to noon in a workshop at Fungi Ally Farm in Hadley. Learn simple indoor cultivation on straw, toilet paper rolls and phone books. For more details: 978-844-1811 or

RAIN GARDENS: Donna Williams will give a workshop on rain gardens tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Wales.

THESAURUS WOOLWARDIAE: An exhibition of orchid paintings by Florence Woolward will be on display in the Church Exhibition Hall of the Smith College Botanic Garden in Lyman Plant House starting April 11. The prints of her original paintings, a travelling exhibit from the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis and Kew Garden in London, were created by Woolward in England over 10 years in the 1800s. They document the orchid collection of the Marquis of Lothian, Schomberg Kerr. The 20 prints will be augmented by herbarium specimens of local native orchids from the Smith College Library. Viewing hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Jan. 31, 2015. There will be a lecture on April 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Neilson Library Browsing Room by Dennis Whigham, a scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

PUBLIC SHADE TREES IN AMHERST: Gather your neighbors together in Amherst and apply to become the recipients of the 2014 Neighborhood Tree Steward Project. Last fall Blue Hills Road was chosen for the project and 10 street trees were planted under the supervision of the town tree warden and the Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee. Owners of the properties on which the trees were planted pledge to water and care for the trees for three years. If your neighborhood is interested, contact Nancy Higgins at You can also obtain more information at the town’s Sustainability Festival on the Amherst Town Common, April 26 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The application deadline is June 1.

Cheryl B. Wilson can be reached at


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