Just as we’ve done for as long as each of us remembers, we welcome back the first week of spring! We also have the pleasure of witnessing flowering trees ushering in the return of the planting season. Once again our plants will be hungry as they emerge from their winter’s dormancy. It is very important to feed our entire landscapes to guarantee their health and vitality as they grow into April. Fertilizing a landscape is not rocket science. It is easy, and only requires about an hour in the yard with two simple foods. To properly feed a landscape get the largest bag you can find of ‘All Purpose Plant Food 7-4-4’ and ‘Soil Sulfur’. I spread these foods with my hand held spreader. The plants don’t care which of the products is spread first, as long as I distribute them throughout the entire yard.
This will be hard for you hardcore gardeners to accept, but I do not work either of these products into my yard because it’s not necessary. When thrown over rock yards the food granules work their way past the rock and through the weed fabrics. They eventually will dissolve down into the plants’ root systems, slowly feeding growth for the next three months.
Both of these additives are important especially to plants that produce either fruits or flowers. Blackberries and raspberries have proven themselves in local gardens by producing amazingly well in our mountain landscapes. When considering a new berry plant I highly recommend starting with at least a one-gallon size potted berry instead of a bare root plant. As I’ve mentioned before, bare root means a plant that is bare of all soil or new root growth. For a couple of dollars more you can have a fully rooted mature plant with a fully developed root structure. It will flush new growth this spring and be three years ahead in fruit production over any bare root option. The typical gallon size plant costs between $9 and $15, and the advantages of an accelerated start are well worth the extra cost.
Where you plant berries in your garden is fundamental to their success. These fruiting wonders produce best when they have at least 6 hours of sun. Most will produce even more fruit in full sun locations.
I’ve picked a lot of blackberries in my years, always ending up with scratched arms. Now there is a new variety out that is my absolute favorite for its extremely large fruits and its lack of thorns. It is the Black Satin Blackberry, a prolific producer of the tastiest fruits that begin arriving in midsummer. The plant itself is a beauty with small soft pink flowers that fade to white as they precede fruit formation on erect, thornless canes. The Canby Red Raspberry also is thornless. Both of these varieties allow for pain-free harvesting without the picker’s arms looking like survivors of a catfight!
Blackberries, raspberries, Nanking cherry, and currants need to be planted as soon as the ground thaws. It is best to plant them while a chill is still in the air. Plant them while they’re still dormant and you will have zero loss from transplant shock. The added bonus from planting now is that they come out of their winter naps at the same time as all other fruiting plants in the area. Because this is the peak of the planting season for these fruits, there are more varieties and greater quantities in stock. Selection is at its best so help yourself to the cream of the crop.
This is an exceptional grape growing region as well. Whether you like table grapes, seedless, or wine grapes there is only one secret to choosing the best plants. Buy the tallest leggiest plants available. I look for the tallest plant, preferably with a single stem. Then plant each as deeply as possible. Put the plants in with soil right up to the first branches starting to form on the main stem. Grapes are one of those odd plants that will root up and down the length of the stem and in a dry climate this characteristic produces superior grapes. I have planted grapes in two-foot deep holes! This technique is not for berry plants, but it works every time with grapes. As with berries, because this is the time to plant, grape selection is plentiful right now.
For a decent harvest all of these fruiting plants need rich soil, consistent water, and more food than most landscape plants. Blend the native earth with 1/3 mulch, sprinkle some of my 7.5-5-7.5 “Fruit & Berry Food'” on top of the planting surface, and top dress with a 3″ layer of shredded bark.
During the growing season feed plants at two-month intervals and water about once a week. Ask for my local ‘Planting Guide’ handout for exact drawings, measurements, and details the next time you visit the garden center.
Blueberries can produce very well, but they take a little more care then other berry plants. I just created a new handout specific to blueberries, so if growing blueberries is your passion, ask for this handy, informative guide to producing the absolutely best blueberries ever.
Plant of the week is the Scarlet Storm Flowering Quince. A profusion of bright two-inch scarlet flowers provide a magnificent display through March. The double, camellia-like flowers have yellow centers and layers of overlapping petals. Without thorns or fruit this plant’s care free, dense, spreading habit makes it ideal as a specimen, espalier, and for a hedge. When established, Scarlet Storm is all show and noted for its drought hardiness.