aberrygood idea Home gardeners grow backyard fruit for big benefits

Darren Sheriff of North Charleston grows fresh berries in his backyard.

When Darren Sheriff thinks berry shrubs, he has visions of the locally grown ones Lowcountry residents get a taste for this time of year.

Sherriff, a Charleston County Master Gardener, counts thornless blueberry, blackberry, boysenberry, raspberry and strawberry bushes, and a white mulberry tree, among the many shrubs and plants growing in his yard.

The bramble bushes are flowering, getting ready to produce berries around the end of June or early July, Sheriff says. The white mulberry tree is already loaded with fruit.

During spring and summer, Sheriff says, he does a lot of picking and freezing of the berries produced in his yard. He also makes about 20 pints of jam and jelly, thanks to the fruit from his three- to seven-year-old plants and tree. His harvest is great without a whole lot of effort.

Berry shrubs are as easy to grow as strictly ornamental shrubs, according to Lee Reich, a gardener and author who contributes to The Associated Press.

Reich writes, “Pests rarely pose a threat, which is fortunate, since you’re likely to plant ornamentals near living areas where you can enjoy their looks, and you don’t want to have to spray anything near where you dine al fresco or where children regularly tumble on the grass.”

Something to keep an eye out for, however, is birds.

“If you have a bird problem, you can buy netting, and that pretty much stops the bird in their tracks,” Sheriff says.

Generally, light watering, fertilizing once in the spring and again in the summer, and pruning the canes when they start to die is about all the work that is required, Sheriff says. He grows all of his plants in large containers.

According to Reich, most berry shrubs will require regular pruning. This will help keep the shrub productive and limit diseases. When it’s time to prune, which happens around the plant’s fourth winter, simply cut a few of the oldest, thickest stems to ground level, Reich writes.

Raspberries are a little challenging to grow because they don’t like too much heat, Sheriff says. He grows them on the east side of his house, where there is less sun and they don’t get as hot.

Growing blueberries also is a bit challenging because they require two cultivars for cross-pollination, says Sheriff. Among the cultivars he chooses are Brightwell, Woodard and one called pink lemonade that produces a pink blueberry.

He urges Lowcountry gardeners to make sure they choose the types of blueberries that grow well here, such as the rabbiteye or Southern high bush. He also notes that blueberries like soil with a very low pH and that is somewhat boggy. Water them 1 inch about twice a week, twice as much as most others.

“I recommend people to give growing berries a try,” he says. “The price of fruit in the grocery stores is astronomical and only getting higher. Plus, if you grow it yourself, you know what kind of fertilizer you have been using and if any pesticides have been used on it.

“If you want fruit this year, it’s best to get a three-gallon or five-gallon plant, basically get the biggest one that you can afford.” He estimates they can be purchased for about $15-$20.

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.