Zone 8 Berry Care – Can You Grow Berries In Zone 8

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By: Liz Baessler

Berries are a fantastic asset to any garden. If you want a good crop of fruit but don’t want to deal with a whole tree, berries are for you. But can you grow berries in zone 8? Zone 8 berry care is a careful balancing act between summers that get too hot and winters that do not get cold enough. Keep reading to learn more about growing berries in zone 8 and how to select zone 8 berries.

Can You Grow Berries in Zone 8?

While some berries are more suited to cooler climates, the plants are very widespread and as a rule very forgiving of broad temperature ranges. If you want to grow a berry, chances are good that there are at least some varieties that will work for you.

Many berry plants are more than cold hardy enough for zone 8 winters. The problem with zone 8 berries tends to be, in fact, a lack of cold. Many fruiting plants need a certain number of “chill hours,” or hours below 45 F. (7 C.) in order to produce fruit. When you’re selecting berries for zone 8, it’s important to make sure you have enough chill hours for your particular variety to fruit.

Popular Berries for Zone 8 Gardens

Here are some of the most popular berry plants and the varieties that are most suited to zone 8 gardens.

Blackberries – Blackberry bushes are very well adapted to warm climates. Some varieties with low chill hour requirements are Arapaho, Kiowa, Ouachita, and Rosborough.

Raspberries – Dormanred is the best adapted to zone 8, but Heritage may perform well too.

Strawberries – Grown as perennials from zones 5 through 8, both the common strawberry and its smaller cousin the wild strawberry perform well in zone 8.

Blueberries – Blueberry bushes that have low chill hour requirements include Georgia Dawn, Palmetto, and Rebel.

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Gooseberries and black currants are mainstays in European gardens, but they have never taken hold in North America. Perhaps the gooseberries' tart flavor and thorns or the currants' disease problems have discouraged gardeners here. However, a relative newcomer crosses the best of both species and results in an easy-to-grow bush fruit that tastes great eaten fresh or in jams and pies.

'Josta' berry (Ribes nidigrolaria) takes the looks of a gooseberry, removes the thorns, and makes it sweeter. It combines the vigorous growth and rich flavor of a black currant with disease resistance (including to white pine blister rust and mildew).

The tangy-sweet flavor of a jostaberry (pronounced yust-a-berry) is a mix of grape, blueberry, and kiwi-fruit. In recipes, substitute the 1/2- to 1-inch berries for cranberries. Though josta-berries are great in jams, jellies, and pies, mine never make it to the kitchen because I enjoy eating them right off the bush.

My three bushes, now a central part of the garden for their exquisite beauty, ease of care, and tantalizing fruit, continue to reward me with consistent harvests for little work.

The Old and New of Jostas

This German-bred berry was introduced in 1977, but recent breeding at USDA in Oregon has produced new varieties with better flavor and color. 'Orus 8' is said to be the best tasting, but it does produce a few thorns. 'Red Josta' has red highlights on a near-black berry it is very productive and a little sweeter than a black currant. Two other recently introduced German varieties will be available to home gardeners in the year 2000.

'Jogranda' ('Jostaki' or 'Jostagranda') has violet-black berries that are slightly larger than the original 'Josta' berry and grow on spreading, slightly drooping branches that need support. 'Jostine', with spreading bushes, produces large to medium-sized berries that ripen slightly after 'Jogranda'. Although most varieties are self-fertile, 'Jogranda' and 'Jostine' are best planted as a pair for cross-pollination.

The fast-growing, long-lived bush can easily grow 6 feet tall. It can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 8 and has survived temperatures down to -40° F. It has good summer heat tolerance and needs only 1,000 hours of winter chilling, making it a good bet in milder areas such as northern Georgia, Alabama, and Texas.

Plants are sold both bare-root and in pots. Set out bare-root plants in early spring, potted plants anytime. Space them about 6 feet apart in well-drained, slightly acid soil. Grow in full to part sun in hotter regions, afternoon shade is best. In late winter, fertilize with compost or aged manure, then add an organic mulch, such as straw, in early summer to help keep roots cool and soil moist.

Maintenance is simple. Prune in late winter, cutting out broken or drooping branches. To encourage the growth of fewer, larger berries and new replacement shoots, cut the oldest one or two canes to the ground. Jostaberries are easily propagated by hardwood stem cuttings.

Because bushes flower in early spring, they may need protection from late-spring frosts in cold climates. They bear fruit by the second year on year-old wood, and fruiting spurs of older wood often produce up to 12 pounds of fruit per bush. Berries start off green, closely resembling a small gooseberry, and hang firmly in clusters of three to five. In early summer, they reach their final size and develop a translucent deep purple, almost black skin. The vitamin C-packed fruits are ready to pick by late June in my zone 8 climate.

Kris Wetherbee maintains a garden and orchard in Oakland, Oregon.

Edible Landscaping - Edible of the Month: Honeyberry

Some honeyberry varieties produce fruits that look and taste like blueberries. However, they mature two weeks before strawberries.

Sometimes it's good to stretch your horticultural imagination. While there are plenty of great berry crops to grow in gardens, there also are some unusual ones that might be worthy of your attention. Amelanchier or service berries are a good example of a native shrub that is commonly grown as an ornamental, but has varieties (called saskatoons) that produce excellent fruit as well.

The shrub that I'm excited about right now is the honeyberry. Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea) is in the honeysuckle family. Like many ornamental honeysuckles, honeyberry bushes are widely adapted, have few pests, and are easy to grow. But unlike most honeysuckles, honeyberries produce small, elongated, blue fruits that taste like blueberries.

Honeyberries are native to eastern Russia and hardy to -40F (zone 3), but can be grown as far south as USDA hardiness zone 8. They've been used as a food crop for hundreds of years in Asia and Eastern Europe, but are only recently catching on in North America. The shrubs grow 5- to 7-feet tall and wide. They flower early in the season and produce fruits before strawberries ripen. So in many places, they will be the first fruits you harvest. The fruit quality varies depending on the variety. Most often it is described as blueberry-like, although some people will describe the taste as closer to that of raspberries or saskatoons. They are best eaten fresh out of hand or used to flavor yogurts, ice cream, breads, or made into jams and jellies. The fruits are also high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

Honeyberry shrubs grow best in part sun in the south and full sun in the northern locations. You'll need at least two different varieties for cross pollination. Because of the plant's ultimate size, honeyberries are well adapted to being used as a hedge or a foundation plant in an edible landscape. The plants are attractive even when not flowering and fruiting, with grey-green foliage and yellow fall leaf color. Some honeysuckles can be invasive and the jury is still out on whether honeyberry falls into this category, so keep an eye on it.

For an unusual berry crop, there are already a number of named varieties. Here is a selection of what's available to date.

'Berry Blue' – A large variety that grows to 8 feet tall and produces large berries as well.

'Blue Belle' – A 4- to 5-foot tall and wide variety that produces roundish, deep blue berries.

'Blue Bird' – An early blooming, 6 foot tall and wide shrub that has elongated dark blue fruits.

'Blue Forest' – This dwarf variety only grows 3 feet tall and wide and has a more spreading form than other varieties.

'Blue Velvet' – This variety features attractive grey-green foliage and very large, medium blue fruits on a 4 foot tall and wide bush.

' Kamchatka ' – A variety from Siberia, it's a late bloomer, making it a good choice in areas with late spring frosts. It's produces dark blue fruits on semi-upright, 3- to 4- foot tall shrubs.

Honeyberries grow best in moist, well-drained soil. The ideal pH is 6.5, but they are adapted to a pH range of 5 to 8. Unlike many other berries, they produce well in a partly shaded location and on wet, clay soils, although they do best on a well-drained soil.

Honeyberry shrubs can grow 3 to 7 feet tall and wide depending on the variety. It makes a carefree, edible landscape plant in a hedge or used as a foundation plant.

Space plants 5- to 7- feet apart in rows. Mix and match varieties for proper pollination. Honeyberry shrubs like a humus-rich soil. Dig a one foot diameter hole and amend the soil with peat moss and compost.

Like blueberries, honeyberry shrubs have shallow root systems, so benefit from a good layer of organic mulch. Spread bark, sawdust, or leaf mulch 2- to 4-inches deep around the shrubs. Replenish annually. The mulch will keep the soil evenly moist, helping the berries reach maximum size and allowing for better nutrient uptake by the roots as the mulch decomposes. Fertilize your bushes based on a soil test. If you're growing on very poor quality soil, or if you notice nutrient deficiency symptoms on the leaves and small fruits, consider adding a complete organic fertilizer in spring.

Honeyberries have few insect and disease problems, but you may have to net bushes to discourage birds from eating the ripe fruits. Keep plants well watered and weeded, especially when young. Little pruning is needed on bushes younger than five years old other than removing dead, diseased, or broken branches. After that, periodically remove older limbs and spindly shoots to make room for thicker, young limbs to grow. Ideally you should have four to six older limbs and a few younger shoots per shrub. Prune in late winter. Since honeyberries bloom so early in spring, the shrubs may need protection from late spring frosts.

Honeyberries start producing fruit the first year after transplanting, but may take a number of years to reach full production. They flower early, and most varieties produce fruit two weeks before strawberries. Let fruits turn blue throughout for the best flavor. Often fruit skins will turn blue while the flesh is still green, resulting in a tart flavored berry. They fruit for two to three weeks in spring and will produce fruit for up to 30 years.

Other information on Honeyberry:

Charlie Nardozzi is an award winning, nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, talks, tours, on-line, and the printed page. Charlie delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. He's the author of 6 books, has three radio shows in New England and a TV show. He leads Garden Tours around the world and consults with organizations and companies about gardening programs. See more about him at Gardening With Charlie.

Growing Blueberries

Photo/Illustration: Scott Phillips

Everyone I know goes gaga for blueberries (Vaccinium spp. and cvs., USDA Hardiness Zones 3–9). Whether it’s because they think the plants make attractive additions to the landscape (due to their plethora of spring flowers and excellent fall color) or because they swoon over fruit that’s delicious and nutritious, it’s hard to find a gardener who wouldn’t love to plant a blueberry in their beds. But, although easy to grow once established, getting blueberries off to the right start with proper planting and fertilizing is vital to ensure a plentiful harvest.

Test the soil and adjust the pH to provide the proper environment

Sometimes a pretty leaf color isn’t a good thing. If your soil isn’t acidic enough, your plants will be iron deficient and turn a bright yellow.
Photo/Illustration: Danielle Sherry

If ever there were a time that a soil test is essential, this is it. If you don’t already know the properties of the bed that you’ll be planting into, then you will need to do a soil analysis before you plant your berry bushes. Blueberries need acidic soil with an ideal pH between 4.5 and 5.2. If your soil pH is too high, your plants will be iron deficient, causing the foliage to turn yellow between the veins. This deficiency can eventually kill your plants. There are a few ways to acidify a sweet soil. You can spread 2 to 3 ounces of fine ground sulfur (per bush) over the soil and scratch it in. This method will work, although it will typically take at least a year for this amendment to have any effect on your soil’s pH. To decrease the pH fast, use moist peat moss to backfill your planting hole. This quickly raises the acidity, allowing you to have a healthy and productive first season.

There’s a reason highbush types are the favorites. Due to their white bell-shaped flowers and vase-like structure, they are ornamental plants that produce edible fruits.
Photo/Illustration: Frank Clarkson Photo/Illustration: Frank Clarkson

Planting times for blueberries vary depending on where you live. If you live in a milder section of the country (Zones 7–9), you can plant in spring or fall. Planting too late in the season in colder zones (Zones 3–6) isn’t ideal because the plants will struggle to get established before the ground freezes, so spring is your best option. The type of blueberry you plant will also be dictated by where you live. Highbush blueberries are the most popular kind for home gardens because they are good-looking, low-care, and produce the largest amount of berries. Each highbush blueberry plant should be spaced 5 to 6 feet apart in a full sun to partial shade. If, however, you’d like to create a hedge out of your bushes, only space them 3 feet apart.

Tip: Skip bareroot plants

Photo/Illustration: Frank Clarkson

Sometimes people will ask me about bareroot plants that you’ll occasionally see at the nursery or get through mailorder. I have never had much success with these and it generally takes a few years for the plants to size-up and start fruiting. As one farmer friend put it to me, “Life is too short to waste time on finicky blueberry bushes.”

Pick the right type

Photo/Illustration: Ann Stratton Lowbush
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy Monrovia

Most blueberries are hardy to –20° F, but each variety has a winter-chilling requirement—or the amount of time that the plant must be dormant. This is measured in the number of days that the plants endure temperatures under 45°F. When selecting your bushes, be sure you investigate their chilling requirement and match that with your locale. Also, remember to buy two or more plants of the same type—but a different cultivar—because cross-pollination increases the crop size.

The most common blueberry bush grown by the home gardener because it produces the largest volume of fruit, highbushes mature into a manageable 5 to 6 foot tall and wide shrub. There are northern and southern highbush blueberries, each requiring a different amount of cold to produce berries (referred to as “low-chill” and ”high-chill”). Highbush varieties are generally categorized by when their fruit ripens early, mid, or late-season.

Also known as “wild” blueberries, these compact plants (2 feet tall and wide) bear smaller-size fruit. You can still expect decent harvests from these plants and the tiny berries pack a more flavorful punch than other blueberries making them ideal for cooking and baking. These plants get tiny white flowers in spring and maroon foliage in fall (pictured) in northern zones.

Photo/Illustration: Danielle Sherry Pink Lemonade
Photo/Illustration: Courtesy Great Garden Plants

These are hybrid bushes whose size is between a high and lowbush blueberry, averaging around 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. They are hardy to all but the northernmost and southernmost sections of the country. The plants produce medium-size berries.

Pink Lemonade

This highbush blueberry grows approximately 5 feet tall and wide. As the name suggests, the fruit is bright pink when ripe, but has the same flavor as a regular, blue berry. The flowers on these bushes are a light pink, too, as opposed to the white of traditional types. In fall, the foliage turns red.

Dig, flood, mulch, and feed for the best results

First you’ll need to dig a proper planting hole and then backfill only halfway.
Photo/Illustration: Danielle Sherry Next, flood the hole with water to force out any air pockets.
Photo/Illustration: Danielle Sherry A few weeks after applying mulch, sprinkle a ring of fertilizer around the plant to get it off to the best start.
Photo/Illustration: Danielle Sherry

The planting process starts with a hole twice as wide and just as deep as the containerized plant. I then place the plant into the hole and partially back-fill (using moistened peat moss if needed for pH). Next, I water in thoroughly–essentially flooding the hole. Allow the water to seep in completely before you finish back-filling. This forces out any air pockets around the plant, which could lead to poor root development. Finish things off by applying a 3 to 4 inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant and extending out at least 2 to 3 feet in all directions. Blueberries are shallow-rooted and despise drying out, so mulch helps keep the moisture consistent around the plants. Weeds compete for moisture, too, so mulch also helps to keep them at bay.

I typically don’t fertilize my plants until two or three weeks after planting—or whenever I remember. Just like other acid loving plants such as rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9), blueberries like to be fed with fertilizers specially formulated for their tastes, although this isn’t essential. I like to apply a ring of fertilizer a foot away from the crown of the plants. Scratch the fertilizer into the soil and then give the plants a healthy dose of water. In the first year of planting, I make sure that the plants stay moist by using a soaker hose. If the rain stops for a week or more, I turn the hose on and give the plants a drink.

If all goes right, I start harvesting a small amount of berries within the first year of planting. It may not be enough to fill the freezer at first, but by the second or third year I’m practically begging my family members to take plastic bags of berries home.

Watch the video: Wondervideo: Blueberry Timelapse

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