Few things are as satisfying to a gardener as picking a homegrown, sun-warmed berry right off the plant and tossing it straight into your waiting mouth. If you’ve never grown your own berries because you think you don’t have enough room — or you think it requires too much effort — boy, do we have some great news for you! Growing berries in containers is the easiest and most foolproof way to grow your own small-space fruit garden. Plus, it’s fun!
To show you just how easy it is to grow berries in pots, we’ve teamed up with THE source for backyard container berry plants, Bushel and Berry™, to bring you all the know-how you’ll need.
Why grow berries in containers?
Berry plants are great candidates for container gardening, especially if you pay careful attention to which varieties you choose to grow. For gardeners with limited space or for apartment dwellers who grow on a balcony, porch, or patio, growing berries in containers affords a level of flexibility you won’t get when growing these plants in the ground. Containerized berry plants can easily be moved from one side of the deck to the other to maximize sunlight exposure throughout the day, so even if you have a semi-shady space, you can still grow plenty of fruits. Oh, and the pots can easily be moved to a new apartment when your lease runs out!
Growing berries in containers also means the plants are very accessible for harvesting; simply park the pot right outside the back door and you won’t even have to take your slippers off to pick a handful of berries for your cereal. Plus, you’ll have more control over watering and fertilizing.
As if all of these great reasons to grow berries in containers aren’t enough, the icing on the cake is that potted berry plants also make gorgeous decorative accents for your outdoor living space.
The best berries for growing in containers
Now that you know why you should grow berries in containers, it’s time to talk about the best plants for the job. The truth is that not all berry plant varieties perform well in containers. For example, many varieties of full-sized blueberry bushes can top out at five to six feet tall and you’d need a super-big container to make them happy. And the rambling roots and long, prickly vines of raspberries and blackberries are notorious for taking over the garden, making full-sized varieties of these two fruits very poor candidates for containers.
Thankfully, plant breeders have been hard at work developing short-statured, container-friendly varieties of all three of these fruits. These particular cultivars are the ones you should seek out; they’ve quite literally been made for the job!
Here’s the skinny on some of these container favorites.
The best blueberries for containers are those that reach a mature height of just one to three feet. Look for Bushel and Berry™ varieties at your local garden center that have been bred specifically for growing in containers, such as Pink Icing®, Blueberry Glaze®, Jelly Bean®, and Peach Sorbet®.
Another perk to using these container-friendly cultivars is that they’re all self-pollinating. “Regular” blueberries require pollen from one variety to pollinate another because they’re not self-fertile. In other words, to get berries on those bushes, you’d need two or more bushes of different varieties in order to get berries. With self-pollinating blueberries, on the other hand, all you need is one plant. They make growing berries in containers super easy.
Raspberries and blackberries:
Cane fruits, such as raspberries and blackberries, were once relegated to the “back 40” due to their tendency to take over the garden. Until a few years ago, these aggressive growers were practically impossible to grow in containers with any amount of success. But compact cultivars, like Raspberry Shortcake® raspberries and Baby Cakes® blackberries, have changed that.
Their dwarf stature and thornless canes make growing these cane fruits in pots not just possible, but also fun! The plants top out at about three feet tall and do not require staking. I have several Raspberry Shortcake® plants in one of my raised beds and the fruits are full-sized and delicious.
Strawberries are one of the most prolific plants for a small-space fruit garden, and gardeners have been growing them in pots for generations. Whether they’re grown in hanging baskets, pocketed strawberry jars, or upcycled containers, you don’t really need to purchase a specific type of strawberry to have success. Most varieties will do just fine in containers.
But, if you want berries that all ripen together in early summer, pick a June-bearing type. Or, if you want a handful of berries every day all summer long, plant an ever-bearing (or day-neutral) strawberry variety instead. You can also grow tiny alpine strawberries in your pots. These fragrant little berries produce all summer long and have a delicious, subtly floral flavor.
Growing berries in containers: The best route to success
After you’ve decided on which small fruits to grow in your container fruit garden, it’s time to get planting. Beyond variety selection, the biggest factors in successful container gardening are picking the right container and filling it with the right potting soil mix.
When growing berries in containers, selecting the right pot size is essential. If your pot is too small, you risk affecting the health of your plants, and ultimately, reducing their growth and yield. Smaller pot sizes also require more watering and fertilizing to keep the plants fit and productive.
When choosing a pot, always opt for the largest container possible. Plan on needing a minimum soil volume of five to eight gallons per blueberry bush. For cane berries, eight or more gallons will support a nice colony of plants. And for strawberries, wide-rimmed containers allow for more plants per pot. Plan on three plants for every twelve inches of surface area.
Regardless of its size, there should also be a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot.
Potting soil mix:
As with all types of container gardening, growing berries in containers requires careful attention to building a good foundation for your plants. To keep your plants happy, fill the containers in your small-space fruit garden with a 50/50 mixture of high-quality potting soil and compost (either commercially produced or homemade). The potting soil ensures the pot is well-drained, keeps it lightweight, and if the potting soil has an added organic fertilizer, it helps feed the plants, too. The added compost aids in water retention, introduces beneficial soil microbes, and releases nutrients to the plants over time.
Caring for your container fruit garden
Watering is the most critical step in growing berries in containers. Unfortunately, it’s also often the most neglected. Without proper irrigation, containerized plants will suffer and yields will definitely be affected. The amount of water your pots need is dependent on the weather conditions, humidity, the type of container you used, and the maturity of the plants themselves. The easiest way to know when it’s time to water is to insert your finger into the soil. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water. If it’s not, wait another day and check again. It’s really as simple as that. In the summertime, I water my container fruit garden on a daily basis, if we don’t get rain.
If you selected a high-quality potting soil that already has an organic fertilizer included, there’s no need to add supplemental fertilizer during the first year of growth. But, in subsequent years, an annual spring fertilizer addition is a good idea. For blueberries, top dress the soil with a 1/4 cup of an acid-specific organic granular fertilizer. For cane berries and strawberries, lightly scratch a 1/4 cup of a balanced, complete organic granular fertilizer into the top inch of soil every spring, being careful to keep the granules off of the foliage. Avoid using synthetic chemical fertilizers on edible plants.
What to do with potted fruit plants in the winter
If you live where temperatures regularly dip below freezing, when cold temperatures arrive, you’ll have to ensure the roots of your container fruit garden are protected from deep freezes.
There are a few different ways you can overwinter your plants when growing berries in containers.
- Insulate the pots by surrounding them with a cylinder of chicken wire fencing that’s about a foot wider than the pot itself and filling the empty space between the pot and the fencing with fall leaves or straw. Remove the insulation in the spring, when the threat of prolonged cold weather has passed.
- If you have a compost pile, sink the pots into it up to their rim. This protects the roots from freezing. Come spring, simply lift the pots out of the compost pile and move them back to the patio.
- You can also overwinter the container berry plants in an unheated attached garage or cold cellar. I drag my potted blueberry bushes into the garage every winter; they get watered once, in early February, and that’s it. When early spring arrives, I put them back out on the porch.
- If it doesn’t get too cold where you live, you can also try overwintering the plants by simply moving the pots to a protected area, right up against the house. Blueberries are especially hardy and often survive in containers down to -10° F.
As you can see, growing berries in containers is both fun and rewarding. With a little forethought, it won’t be long until you’re picking plump, juicy berries of your own!