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GARDENING

With a Little Planning, You Can Grow the Berry Best

January 03, 1998|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There are differences between home-grown and store-purchased berries.

Store berries have been picked when still firm. At that point they are generally tart, tasteless or only mildly sweet. But when allowed to ripen on the vine--as most gardeners find--there is probably no fruit sweeter or juicier than a berry.

Raspberries, blackberries and boysenberries are available bare-root in the nurseries and through mail order this month. January and early February are best to plant. Most berry vines planted now will bear a crop this summer or fall.

Though many berry types require cold winters and don't like overly hot summers, there are several kinds that do well in Southern California, says Carolyn Harrison, co-owner of Sonoma Antique Apple Nursery in Healdsburg, Calif., a mail-order company that carries a variety of bare-root berry vines.

"The boysenberry [made famous by Walter Knott of Knott's Berry Farm] grows well in Southern California," she says. "This is a very large, almost seedless, soft, juicy, dark maroon berry with a distinct tangy flavor and wonderful aroma."

The Ollalie blackberry also grows well here. It has very sweet, firm, large and long berries.

Most raspberries are difficult to grow in our climate because they don't like hot summer days. Willamette, however, does well here as long as it's kept watered and placed in an area with afternoon shade.

Easy-to-grow berry plants fit into most gardens. Keep the following tips in mind:

* Raspberries, blackberries and boysenberries are vining plants that tend to sprawl and do best when trained on a trellis or wall in a weed-free area. All need at least a half day of full sun to produce well.

* If it is raining and you aren't able to plant, keep the root ball moist. When waiting more than a week to plant, pot up the canes in planting mix and keep them watered until you're ready to plant in the ground.

* Before planting bare-root berries, check your soil's pH, which can be done with a kit found in the nursery. Blackberries and boysenberries like a soil from 5.5 to 7; raspberries are more particular, requiring 6 to 6.8.

If you need to acidify your soil, amend with peat moss and gypsum. When soil is too acidic, add agricultural lime. If the soil is heavy clay, add planting mix or well-aged compost.

* Don't add fertilizer to the planting hole, as the roots are very sensitive and may burn. Six weeks after planting, fertilize with a well-balanced food, staying away from the plant's base. Thereafter, fertilize yearly, when you prune, with blood meal and bone meal or tree and shrub food.

* Plant berry vines 1 inch deeper than they grew at the nursery and 2 to 3 feet apart.

* Prune berries in their second year in December, January or early February.

Remove at the ground all canes that fruited the previous season and leave new canes to bear the next season.

* Keep berry vines well-watered. Mulching with a 2- to 3-inch layer of bagged mulch or well-aged manure will keep the plants moist and cut down on weeds.

Sonoma Antique Apple Nursery offers a free catalog. Call (707) 433-6420.

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