J.B. asks from South Saint Paul, MN on April 15, 2010
Garden Question: Prepping a Garden for Berry Plants??
Right now I have a perennial garden that is now just daylilies. I am selling them on craigslist and have someone coming to get them. After the bulbs are out I plan to fill in the holes with soil, then prep the area for putting in raspberry and strawberry plants. I just don't know exactly what to do. The area does get some pretty bad weeds. That is why I'm taking out the bulbs. I wanted to take out everything, then till everything under. We also plan to raise the bed to be up about 6 inches from the rest of the yard. It will essentially be a big wooden garden box. What do I need to do to keep some the weeds at bay and then should I be doing something to enrich the soil?
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J.W. answers from Minneapolis on April 16, 2010
Strawberries will spread and cover very quickly - some mulch or straw will keep the weeds down until that happens. The raspberries will also grow into large bushes very quickly - straw or mulch until then will also work. Remember you won't get much growth (or many berries) this summer, the plants will be working on growing and establishing themselves. (You can pinch off the blooms to encourage growth - the plants spend their energy growing then instead of trying to make berries.) Next summer you likely won't have to worry about weeds much at all, and you'll be enjoying your berries!
N.R. answers from Des Moines on April 16, 2010
If any of the weeds have seeds or seed heads on them, do not till them under. They need to be pulled by hand and not put into the compost pile, either. Some weed seeds can stay alive in the soil for up to 10 yrs., so just turning the weed under or spraying the weeds first, will not necessarily eliminate future weeds.
After you've taken care of the weeds first, amend the soil with compost. I like mushroom compost, also, but also like compost that has small bark chips in it. I'll often mix compost half & half with a bag of small or shredded bark. Fine grained compost alone, without bark, seems to turn hard in the ground more quickly. Spread the compost/bark mix about 12" deep on the ground, then plow or hand turn it into the ground to mix with the existing soil.
Raspberries & strawberries are not planted very deeply - plant so that the crowns are just below the soil line. Once raspberries have produced berries, that particular plant (cane) will never bear raspberries again. But that plant will produce additional plants from it's roots. Prune the old cane to the ground (or remove) because it won't ever produce again and just takes up garden space. Raspberries can easily become very invasive, spreading by root under boards, fences, into lawns, etc. Deeper garden edging (min. 6") is best to keep raspberries in bounds.
Strawberries produce new, productive plants by on the ground runners. At the end of each season the original (old) plants should be removed, also, making room for new productive plants.
Since new raspberry plants are produced by below ground roots, and new strawberry plants are produced by above ground runners, I would not use newspaper or weed barriers as it will block the plants ability to reproduce. Newspaper & weed barriers (landscape cloth) work well for perennials but not for berries that require horizontal reproduction in order to produce new, fruit bearing plants.
Blueberries are a shrub so newspaper mulch around them works fine. You should plant 2 different varieties for better pollination, and fertilize with an acid type fertilizer if you live in an area where the soil is not naturally acid, such as Minnesota.
If you use grass clippings for mulch, be sure it hasn't been sprayed with weed killers or pesticides. Don't use grass with seed heads on it, otherwise grass will easily sprout in your berry patches and be hard to remove once it starts spreading. The same applies for hay or straw seed heads. Grass clippings without seed heads works well (if not too deep) for mulch for raspberries, as they can spout up through the grass to reproduce new plants. New strawberry runners cannot develop roots and attach themselves into the soil, if mulched with grass clippings. Grass clippings work well for perennials, though.
L.J. answers from Omaha on April 16, 2010
The internet has great sources for growing edibles. I like to use companion planting to improve yields and the transfer of nutrients from one plant to another. Seeds of Change is a good one, but if you use keywords like growing berries, companion planting and berries, and so on, you should get good advice. Also, tilling under may not get rid of your weeds unless you make sure all seeds are very deep within the soil. Also, mulching with grass cutting is a great way to keep weeds down while providing excellent nutrients to your berries.
P.M. answers from Portland on April 15, 2010
I'd want to avoid pesticides of any kind, especially because your family will be eating the berries. My favorite way to prepare soil is to top it with 2-3 inches of a good soil amendment (mushroom compost or homemade compost are great) and turn it under to at least 6 inches deep. After your plants are in, put a layer of mulch around them to discourage weeds from sprouting. Most weeds require sunlight to germinate, so 2-3 inches of ground bark, pine needles, or weed-free straw will work. Bark mulch will look nicest.
You can also mix in half a cup or so of organic fertilizer as you plant. Here's one nice site that explains effective and safe fertilizer use: http://www.cleanairgardening.com/npkexplanation.html. You don't say what kind of berries, but if blueberries, they'll want an acidifying fertilizer.
Enjoy those berries!
J.S. answers from Green Bay on April 16, 2010
One natural way I keep weeds at bay is to put down newspaper around my plants just under the dirt. Use several pages thickness and only the newsprint, not the glossy ads. The newspaper keeps the weeds from coming through, but lets moisture through and by the end of summer has become compost for your plants. This way, the only weeding I need to do is the weeds that come up right next to the plants, which cuts down on weeding time greatly!
M.C. answers from Chicago on April 15, 2010
yes, I would enrich the soil with a good compost and when you have done that,I would get Preen, the one that is not harmful to humans and animals.
I have blueberries, raspberries , blackberries and strawberries.
It is a lot of fun.