Close your eyes and imagine popping a juicy, sweet berry into your mouth. It's OK if you stop reading for a moment as your mind savors the idea of sweet, summery delight.
Those small fruits fresh from the garden are worth dreaming over and planning to plant in the garden.
Now that I have your attention again, here are a few tips for turning your dream into reality. Easy to grow, small fruits love moist soils and sun. Put them in a sunny area, but give them plenty of mulch with a drip line running underneath to provide and conserve moisture. Weeds are a challenge for berry patches, especially grasses. Keep them from crowding your plantings and stealing water or nutrients from the crop.
Birds, deer, bears, rabbits and squirrels love fruit and can nibble up your crop before you can pick it. Mesh netting covering berry patches is ideal for keeping birds and squirrels away, and sturdy fencing can dissuade deer or rabbits. Bury 36-inch tall chicken-wire at least 6 inches deep, bending the bottom slightly outward to keep rabbits out. Deer fences should be at least 8 feet tall.
Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) and blackberries (Rubus spp.) are bramble fruit growing on arching canes. They're ideal for fresh eating, baking, jams, jellies and sauces.
Give this perennial room to grow, planting them 2-3 feet apart in spring. Summer bearers are biennial; their canes need two seasons to produce fruit, so support with wire or twine corrals. Fall bearers fruit their first season and don't need support.
Pests to watch for are raspberry cane borers (Oberea bimaculata), which burrow through cane centers, causing wilting and death of the plant. The raspberry crown borer (Pennisetia marginata) also causes canes to die by tunneling through them and girdling at the crown. Remove and destroy all droopy, dying canes.
For easiest care, try primocane varieties, which fruit in fall on first-year canes. Mow down primocane types in late winter to rejuvenate the patch, ensuring big yields year after year. Blackberry lovers will cheer for two new primocane varieties that escape loss from winter kill if mulched.
The top producers in the small fruits trials here at our office in Longmont are primocanes Anne, autumn Britten, and polana. Heritage is a popular producer of medium-large, sweet red raspberries. Triple crown blackberry is a vigorous producer of sweet fruit.
Strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa), are darlings in the garden, and come in three types. Junebearers fruit all at once early in the season, then stop flowering or fruiting for the rest of the summer. Everbearers have a heavy crop early, then give smaller amounts through the remaining season. Day neutrals produce all season long.
Deep, rich soils are what strawberries need, so work compost into a sunny area before planting. Plant Junebearers 2 feet apart in rows 4 feet apart, everbearers and day neutrals 1 foot apart in three rows spaced 1 foot apart. Replace straw mulch every spring to remove pests and disease.
Pests to watch for are slugs and millipedes, which love the fruit as much as we do, so mulch to keep fruit from touching the soil. Control slugs by placing small tubs of stale beer in the bed — they'll crawl into the beer and drown. Change the beer daily.
Young plants fruit better than mature ones; change your strawberry bed every three years. Collect the young, rooted daughter plants in spring, remove the rest of the plants, till in compost and replant.
For Junebearers, try Earliglow for early, sweet berries. Everbearers that do well are Ogallala, a medium, sweet strawberry, and for huge, tasty fruit, try Fort Laramie. The day neutral strawberry Tristar finishes the season in fall with loads of medium-sized flavorful strawberries.
Carol O'Meara is the extension agent in horticulture entomology for Colorado State University's Extension in Boulder County. Contact her at email@example.com.