Growing Berries in Containers
Do you like popping straight-off-the-vine, sun-ripened, juicy-sweet berries into your mouth by the handful? Us? Yes, definitely!
To us, it’s a case of nostalgia. When we were children, we jumped at the chance to navigate our way through those thorny blackberry bushes – just to get the prize of that sweet berry! We sure loved getting those berry-stained fingers.
If you have similar memories, we are here to help you get back in touch with your youth and start your own berry patch in gardening containers! Read on to get started.
Berry Basics: The Best Types of Berries to Grow in Containers
Understanding how berries grow, and the different types available will aid you in your decision of which ones to try in your garden. All berry plants produce the most fruit in full sun and require at least 6-8 hours per day.
The best types of berries to grow in planting boxes are:
The following berries are better suited for traditional in-ground gardens or raised beds
These tasty berries require a lot of room to spread, making their root systems unsuitable for container gardening.
- Goji berries
Among some of the most popular “super foods” out there, Goji berries do not enjoy growing in a saturated environment and should be grown in the ground.
While usually depicted alongside popular berries like strawberries and blueberries—cherries are actually stone fruit just like plums, peaches, and nectarines that grow on trees; and cannot be grown in EarthBox® gardening boxes.
- Other unusual berries
If you’re looking to grow cloudberries, tayberries, boysenberries, loganberries, or other uncommon fruit, always do your research first before planting in gardening containers. Root masses, water requirements, soil and pH preferences are all crucial in how well anything will grow in a container garden, especially perennials.
Looking to grow a particular plant? Reference our Learning Center at EarthBox.com/Learning-Center; or check with your local nursery, garden center, or county extension service for information pertaining to your area to see what are your options. You may be surprised by what you can grow!
pH recommendation: 5.5-6.5 (slightly acidic-neutral)
When shopping for strawberries to grow in containers, be mindful of the type you choose—certain types send out runners, and other types don’t even produce any fruit in their first year.
- Day-neutral types, which produce strawberries throughout the growing season and produce fewer runner plants, are great for containers. Some day-neutral varieties to consider include: Tribute, Tristar, and Seascape.
- Everbearing varieties, which produce fruit two or three times in a growing season, may also be chosen for growing in gardening containers. “Alpine” is a variety that produces tiny, sweet strawberries that do not send out any runners, making them highly popular for containers, and near perfect for growing in the EarthBox®. When growing Everbearing varieties that do send out runners, snipping the runners off will help the plant put its energy into producing more fruit.
- Avoid June-bearing types that produce only one crop per year, and often don't bear fruit their first year at all. June-bearing strawberries are best grown in the ground.
You’ll know when fruit is fully ripe and ready to be harvested when the entire berry has turned red, typically 4-6 weeks after they blossom. To harvest, carefully snip the stem above the cap—don’t pull or rip the fruit off the plant, since most strawberry varieties bruise easily. Strawberries are best (sweet and juicy) when picked during the morning hours and consumed within 3 days of harvest; any longer, and they can begin to degrade. Be sure to store freshly picked strawberries in the refrigerator, and don’t wash them until you are ready to use them. Strawberries can also be preserved by freezing or made into delicious jams and jellies that will last for months.
Since many perennial strawberries fizzle out after only a few years, it’s easiest to treat them as annuals and just replant a new crop each year.
pH recommendation: 4.5-5.5 (acidic)
Blueberries don’t just prefer soil that is more on the acidic side—they thrive in it! Unlike other crops that depend on dolomite to aid in neutralizing the acidity of peat-based growing media, blueberries will actually grow better in the EarthBox® if you forgo the dolomite completely when planting. Using a balanced slow-release fertilizer is best, such as EarthBox® 7-7-7 Plant Food.
Despite having shallow root systems, blueberries need a lot of room to grow above the soil. Plant only one per system to avoid over-crowding and leave enough space around the container. Smaller varieties such as “Top Hat” and “Sunshine Blue” are great for containers since they require less care and pruning. Self-pollinating blueberry varieties, such as “Peach Sorbet” and “Jelly Bean” are excellent for gardeners lacking natural pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
Resist the urge to pick blueberries right when they turn blue; they are ready for harvest about 3 days after their color turns blue and then dulls. Once initially harvested, more should be ready to pick every three to five days thereafter.
pH recommendation: 5.5-7.0 (slightly acidic-neutral)
Since containerized blackberries require a lot of water, the EarthBox® growing system is perfect for them. Like strawberries, blackberries also come in three types:
- Thornless trailing
- Thornless erect
- Thorny erect
If you choose a thornless trailing type of blackberry plant, it will need to be trellised, which the EarthBox® 7’ Staking System can take care of. If you opt for an erect variety, it may not require any added support.
Blackberry plants do best with a balanced fertilizer, such as EarthBox® 7-7-7 Plant Food. Avoid fertilizers that have an increased nitrogen (N) percentage to prevent overgrowth of foliage. Since blackberries prefer a neutral or mildly acidic growing environment, always add dolomite to help reduce the natural acidity of the peat-based growing medium.
Some thornless trailing varieties that do well in planting boxes include “Chester,” “Natchez,” and “Triple Crown.” Also, the thornless erect varieties of berry that do not require trellising and staking are ideal for container-grown blackberries. Amongst those are: “Arapaho,” “Kiowa,” and “Ouachita.”
Berries require a balanced, slow-release fertilizer when growing in containers, such as EarthBox® 7-7-7 Plant Food
Common Berry Pests and Problems
Berry plants, while typically hardy, are still prone to certain pests and problems:
- Birds – a barrier, such as EarthBox® Bird Netting is an effective way to stop these berry thieves. You can also tie reflective streamers around the container to scare birds away. Be sure to put out plenty of birdseed and suet cakes on the opposite side of your yard to keep birds satisfied elsewhere.
- Slugs – placing copper tape around the bottom of your planting box will prevent slugs from crawling up to the plant.
- Fruit Flies – frequent treatments with Insecticidal Soap, combined with using the EarthBox® Insect Net can help keep fruit flies away from ripening berries.
- Gray Mold – a fungal disease typical to strawberries; causes the crown and fruit to rot
- Anthracnose – causes fruit to rot; common with strawberries
- Rust – a fungal disease which can lead to reduced yield; common with blackberries
- Mummyberry – a blueberry disease that causes fruit to rot and twigs to die back; typical in humid weather.
The best method to prevent diseases from occurring on your berry plant is to keep gardening containers adequately spaced for good air flow; remove dead leaves and debris from the container and around the base of the plant; keep the ground around containers clean and free from litter and plant matter; and use fungal sprays as a preventive treatment before plants become infected.
Tell us in the comments: What berries have you tried growing in your EarthBox® gardening boxes? Share your tips for success!