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Wed, Dec. 11

Growing better grapes, brambles, and berries

Courtesy photo<p><br/>The black satin blackberry plant is thornless and produces delicious fruit.

Courtesy photo<p><br/>The black satin blackberry plant is thornless and produces delicious fruit.

Blackberries and raspberries have proven themselves in local gardens by producing amazingly well in our mountain landscapes. I highly recommend starting with at least a one-gallon-size potted berry plant 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 a full three years ahead in fruit production over the bare-root option. The typical gallon size plant costs between $10 and $15 and is well worth the advantages of an accelerated start.

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. 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. There is a new raspberry plant being introduced this year, the canby red, that also is thornless. Both of these varieties allow for pain-free harvesting without the picker's arms looking like survivors of a cat fight!

Blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants need to be planted as soon as the ground thaws, even if there's snow on the ground. Plant them while they're still dormant and you will have zero loss to 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.

My family and I have enjoyed successful grape harvests from each of my gardens throughout Yavapai County. As with berries, because this is the time to plant, selection is plentiful right now. Whether you like table grapes, seedless, or wine grapes, there is only one secret to choosing the best plants. Buy the tallest, leggiest plant 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.

For a decent harvest all of these fruiting plants need rich soil, consistent water and more food then most landscape plants. Blend the native earth with 1/3 mulch, sprinkle some of my "All Natural Plant 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 "Planting Successes" 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.

This Saturday's free garden class is "Growing Better Grapes, Brambles, and Blueberries." I plan to hand out this new guide to everyone at the class. The great thing about using a large greenhouse as a classroom is that, rain or shine, the weather is perfectly regulated for both plants and people. Join us at 9:30 a.m. every Saturday during spring for informative gardening classes.

***

I have some family news to share. Although we must say good-bye to one more of our children preparing to leave the Lain family home, this is a very proud week for my wife and me. Our son James wants to pursue a career in healthcare as a nurse, and this Tuesday held a big moment for him in that direction. That's when he enlisted in the Army as a medical specialist. The next step in pursuing his goal begins when he leaves for basic training on May 17. James, your friends and family wish you the best, but your father is especially proud of you. Way to go, James!

***

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain's personal mission is to help local homeowners garden smarter and get our local garden timing right. Throughout the week, Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center, located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, or contact him through www.wattersonline.com.

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