Growing Berries in Containers-- The First Year

Last spring we set out to try a number of different container growing methods for vegetables. We demonstrated a few at the Piatt County Extension office, both commercially available and repurposed containers were featured. I planted a few different containers of tomatoes and peppers at my house as well. I thought I was done until one fateful trip to the garden center.

One sunny spring day at a local garden center, some blueberry and raspberry plants caught my eye with a sign that said "great for containers". My mind immediately went to the blueberries we have planted around our garden at home that have struggled to stay alive, let alone produce berries. Blueberries need acidic soil that is difficult to achieve and maintain in central Illinois. We have amended the beds the blueberries are in with generous amounts of peat moss and used fertilizers for acid-loving plants, but they continue to struggle. I knew of the blueberry variety 'Patio' for containers-- I inherited one from a friend that moved away during grad school. Unfortunately it perished on the shady balcony at my apartment. Maybe it was time to give blueberries in containers a second chance?

I selected the variety 'Sunshine Blue' to try on my patio. It grows to a maximum height and width of 3-4 feet.  Blueberries are shallow rooted and need consistent moisture and well-drained soil. I know how hot my patio can get in the summer and how quickly containers placed there dry out, so I invested in a fairly large (26" x 20" and 10 1/2" deep) self-watering container for my blueberry experiment. In all honesty, I spent more on the container than I did on the plant. The container I bought is wider than it is deep-- my thinking was to give the shallow blueberry roots as much space as I could. I planted it in a 1:1 mix of peat moss and potting mix, plus I added a couple of inches of shredded bark mulch on top to conserve moisture. 

The same day I bought the 'Sunshine Blue' blueberry, I also found a new dwarf thornless raspberry variety named 'Raspberry Shortcake'. This raspberry is part of the "Brazelberries" series, consisting of 'Raspberry Shortcake' raspberries and four varieties of blueberries all bred to be grown in containers. It should get 2-3 feet high and wide when mature. We have raspberries planted in our yard that grow and produce extremely well-- I wanted to try this plant mostly just to see if it would perform well in a container as advertised. I planted this plant in standard soilless potting mix in a 14 inch wide and deep self-watering planter as well-- and yes, I did spend more on the pot than I did on the plant in this case too. I was determined to have berries at all costs!

Both plants were filled with blooms and immature berries when I bought them. I figured if I managed to keep them well watered on my patio I could have at least that crop of berries to enjoy. Both produced a good amount of fruit for fairly small plants. As fall approached, I wondered if trying to overwinter these plants would be a colossal waste of money or one of my better ideas.

I moved both pots into our attached, but unheated garage and crossed my fingers. I watered them only very occasionally, maybe every other month all winter. The plants lost their leaves and went dormant just as if they were outside in the garden.

As the weather teased us with warmer temperatures the last couple of weeks, I was thrilled to find the first signs of growth in both the raspberry and blueberry plants. They survived!

I'm hopeful with a dose of fertilizer and some warm spring weather I will be well on my way to another tasty berry crop. I will post an update later this spring!