UCCE Master Gardeners of Sacramento County
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UCCE Master Gardeners of Sacramento County

Backyard Berries Monthly Tips

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Getting Started

Blueberries and cane berries grow well in Sacramento.  Below is information to help you make them thrive.

Blueberries
Blueberries

For details on varieties, growing, trellising, pruning and much more, refer to Growing Blueberries in the Sacramento Region. (PDF)

Choose varieties adapted to heat.  Blueberries from the Southern Highbush group are best suited to Sacramento’s hot summers and relatively warm winters.  Northern Highbush varieties can also do well.

Select a location with at least 6 hours of sun.  Afternoon shade is preferred to morning shade.

The most important thing about growing blueberries successfully is pH. Blueberries REQUIRE a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. Normal in Sacramento is about 7. Plan to test every year as pH changes over time.

For less than $20, it’s easy to check soil pH yourself at home. Kits require distilled water to make a soil solution.  You might prefer a probe that inserts into the soil.  There are many of both on the market, one example each included.  Find these at local garden stores or online.

  • Rapitest Soil Test Kit by Luster Leaf*  (also tests soil nutrients)
  • Soil pH Meter, Jellas 3-in-1 by Jellas* (probe also tests moisture and light)

(click to enlarge)

Kit* - tests pH and nutrients
Kit* - tests pH and nutrients
Probe* - tests pH, light and moisture
Probe* - tests pH, light and moisture
Soil sulfur lowers pH*
Soil sulfur lowers pH*

*No endorsement of these products/companies is intended, nor is criticism implied of similar products/companies that are not included. UC Cooperative Extension

For the most accurate analysis of your soil, consider sending a sample to a soil test lab. (PDF)  Call for pricing. 

To adjust pH in your soil, use soil sulfur (available at garden stores - follow directions on the box for quantity) and incorporate into the soil before planting.

Blueberry plants are self-pollinating; meaning they will produce fruit with only one plant.  However, a second plant of another variety that blooms about the same time will result in considerably more fruit for both.

See more on planting, seasonal care and harvest in the monthly lists below.

Blackberries and Raspberries
Cane Berries

For details on recommended varieties, growing, trellising, pruning and much more, refer to Growing Cane Berries in the Sacramento Region. (PDF)

Select a location with at least 6 hours of sun.  Plants are available with or without thorns in many varieties.

Cane berries (Blackberries, Boysenberries and Red and Black Raspberries) aren’t as fussy about soil pH as blueberries, but for optimum growth and fruit, they prefer a pH of 6 to 7—normal in Sacramento is about 7.

Blackberries and boysenberries grow in expanding clumps and will root where canes lay on the ground.  Support canes on a trellis.

There are three types of Raspberry plants (check labels): summer bearing, black and everbearing (also called fall bearing).  Raspberries can be invasive.  Grow them in a raised bed or be prepared to control their growth.  

Summer bearing and black raspberries produce new canes from the ground at the same time they bear fruit on last year’s canes.  Harvest is May through June. 

Everbearing (also called fall-bearing) varieties grow new canes in spring that produce fruit in the same season.  The preferred pruning method results in harvest in late summer into fall.  See more on this below under winter pruning.

Raspberries need some afternoon shade during fruit production in summer in the Sacramento region.  This is especially the case for fall-bearing raspberries to prevent fruit from burning.

See more on seasonal care and harvest in the sections below.

Monthly Checklists

For detailed information on all aspects of growing berries, please refer to:

Prune blueberries
Prune blueberries

Prune cane berries
Prune cane berries

January/February

Blueberries

  • Prune.  For new plants during their first 2 years, prune spindly, dead, diseased or damaged branches.   Older plants (3 years or more) need more pruning. See pruning details in: Growing Blueberries in the Sacramento Region (PDF)
  • Plant bare root or dormant potted plants when they are available at nurseries, usually late December through February. 
    • The most important thing about growing blueberries successfully is soil pH.  You should get a pH meter or testing kit and learn to use it.  See above for choosing a pH meter.
    • Blueberries REQUIRE a pH of 4.5 - 5.5.  Normal in Sacramento is about 7.  To adjust pH in your soil, use soil sulfur (available at garden stores) and incorporate into the soil before planting.   (Show picture of a box)  Here is a chart describing how much to use to lower the pH before you plant. 
    • Plants from the Southern Highbush group are best suited to Sacramento’s hot summers and relatively warm winters.  Northern Highbush blueberries can also do well.  See the list of plants we grow at the Horticulture Center on the last page of our Growing Blueberries in the Sacramento Region (PDF) This is not a complete list of plants available at nurseries! 
    • Blueberries appreciate some afternoon shade, but will tolerate full sun.  Select a location with at least 6 hours of sun.
    • Plants are self-pollinating; meaning they will produce fruit with only one plant.  However, a second plant of another variety that blooms about the same time will result in considerably more fruit for both. 
    • Blueberries are shallow rooted about 3 to 4 feet wide.  Dig soil this wide and 1 to 2 feet deep.  They need well-drained, porous soil high in organic matter. With hardpan, consider raised beds or containers.

Cane Berries

  • Prune.  See pruning details for all cane berries in: Growing Cane Berries in the Sacramento Region. (PDF)
    • For most cane berries, cut new canes back to 5 to 6 feet and shorten lateral branches to 12 to 18 inches.
      • If you didn’t remove last year’s fruiting canes, cut those back to the ground—they will not produce fruit again and will make the plant difficult to control.
    • For fall bearing (everbearing) raspberries you have two choices-- remove the entire cane to the ground or cut off the top half of the canes that fruited last year.
      • The UCIPM preferred method (better harvest and easier to do) is to remove the whole cane to the ground in winter.  New canes will start from the ground in early spring, and produce fruit in the late summer/fall.
      • If you leave half of the cane, you will get a crop from them in June and another harvest in fall from new canes.
  • Plant bare root dormant cane berries.  Choose a sunny site with at least 6 hours of sun (afternoon shade for raspberries).
    • Soil pH of 6 to 7 is ideal.  Most berries are shallow rooted, 3 to 4 feet wide and about 1 foot deep.  Add well-decomposed organic matter to the soil to help with drainage (or use raised beds or containers). 
    • Space blackberries and boysenberries about 4 feet apart, raspberries about 3 feet.  Irrigate and cover the soil around each plant with plenty of mulch, such as wood chips.
  • For more on raspberries, also refer to  http://cagardenweb.ucanr.edu/Berries/Raspberries/

Soil sulfur lowers pH*
Soil sulfur lowers pH*

March

  • Plant blueberries and cane berries purchased in pots.  Refer to January/February above for details.
  • Cane berries - fertilize and mulch.  Gently move existing mulch away from plant without digging into shallow roots.  Spread fertilizer, water it in and then cover with plenty of mulch.
  • Blueberries - Test soil pH, fertilize and mulch.
    • For established plants where the soil pH tests above 5.5, apply half of the required sulfur now and follow up in October with the other half needed. 
    • Find Soil Sulfur* at garden stores.  
    • Carefully move existing mulch away from the plant taking care not to damage shallow roots.  Sprinkle the sulfur and fertilizer on the soil under the plant, water it in and cover with mulch. Sulfur and fertilizer should be applied at the same time.
  • Check irrigation and begin watering when rain stops.
    • Test, repair, and flush out the irrigation system, including sprinkler heads and drip emitters.
    • Verify that the irrigation timer is working and set for the amount of water needed.
    • Moist but not wet soil is critical during blueberry and cane berry fruit development.
Thrips damage on blueberry
Thrips damage on blueberry

April

  • Cane berries and blueberries are blooming.  Some blueberries will begin bloom before Christmas.
    • Remove flowers from newly planted blueberries. This allows the plant to spend energy developing strong roots rather than fruit.  You can harvest in year two!
  • Add a thick layer of mulch (such as wood chips) under your berry plants to protect shallow roots and keep soil moist.
  • Manage pests.  Thrips are sometimes a problem on Blueberries.  Heavy infestations cause new foliage to curl or twist.  If you see this, shake a branch over a piece of white paper to see if tiny specs (insects) are present.  Thrips Pest Note, UC ANR Publication 7429.  

Blueberries ripening
Blueberries ripening

Bird netting
Bird netting

May

  • Begin harvesting early season blueberries.
    • Like other berries, Blueberries don’t all ripen at once so many pickings are needed.  This is one reason they are so expensive to buy. 
    • Wait one week after berries turn blue before picking for the sweetest taste.  Ripe blueberries will fall into a bowl or bucket when you gently “tickle” the cluster of berries.
    • Fruit on blueberries grown in afternoon shade will ripen about 1 month later. It will not affect the quantity of fruit.
  • Begin harvesting boysenberries, summer-bearing raspberries and black raspberries.
  • Harvest blueberries and cane berries about every 3 days to keep up with newly ripened berries.
  • Prevent birds from eating your ripe berries.  We use a structure made of PVC pipe covered with bird netting for blueberries.  Seal openings or birds will sneak through or under.  Drape netting over trellised cane berries.  Lift netting to harvest.
  • Check irrigation. Moist but not wet soil is critical during blueberry and cane berry fruit development.
  • Tie cane berries to a trellis if not already done.
Harvest cane berries
Harvest cane berries

June

  • Begin harvesting blackberries late this month.
  • Continue harvesting blueberries, boysenberries, summer-bearing raspberries and black raspberries.
  • Check irrigation. Moist but not wet soil is critical during blueberry and cane berry fruit development.
Protect raspberries from sunburn
Protect raspberries from sunburn

July

  • If fall-bearing raspberries receive afternoon sun, provide shade cloth to prevent sunburn on the fruit and leaves.
  • Blackberry and boysenberry fruit will also benefit from some shade cloth to keep the fruit from scorching.
  • If blueberries send up long shoots without growth on the bottom, consider cutting them back by half to encourage branching out and more fruit for the following spring.
  • Check irrigation. Moist but not wet soil is critical during blueberry and cane berry fruit development.
Remove canes that made fruit this year
Remove canes that made fruit this year

August

  • Once blackberries, boysenberries, summer-bearing raspberries and black raspberries have finished fruiting, cut all canes that bore fruit to the ground and tie up five to eight new canes. 
  • For blackberries and boysenberries, shorten new canes to 5 or 6 feet long.  This will make January pruning simpler.
    • If you plan to propagate new plants over the winter, don’t shorten the new canes.  See November for propagation tips.
  • Begin harvesting fall-bearing (everbearing) raspberries.
  • Check irrigation. Moist but not wet soil is critical when blueberry and cane berry plants set buds that will produce fruit next year.
Fall-bearing raspberries
Fall-bearing raspberries

September

  • Continue harvesting fall-bearing (everbearing) raspberries, and provide shade as needed to prevent sunburn on fruit and leaves.
  • Check irrigation. Moist but not wet soil is critical when blueberry and cane berry plants set buds that will produce fruit next year.

Fertilize now*
Fertilize now*

October

  • Fertilize* and mulch cane berry plants.  Gently move existing mulch away from plant without digging into shallow roots.  Spread fertilizer, water it in and then cover with plenty of mulch.
  • Fertilize and mulch Blueberries; add sulfur if needed.
    • For established plants where the soil pH tested above 5.5 in spring no need to test again.  Apply second half of soil sulfur now. 
    • Find Soil Sulfur* at garden stores. 
    • Carefully move existing mulch away from the plant taking care not to damage shallow roots.  Sprinkle fertilizer and sulfur (if needed) on the soil under the plant, water it in and cover with mulch. Sulfur and fertilizer should be applied at the same time.
Propagate cane berries
Propagate cane berries

November

  • Propagate new blackberry plants.  Allow new canes to rest on the ground or a pot of soil to root over winter.  Transplant when roots have formed.
Many blueberries display fall color
Many blueberries display fall color

December

  • Enjoy fall color from some blueberry plants.
  • Clean up around berries.

*No endorsement of products/companies is intended, nor is criticism implied of similar products/companies that are not included. UC Cooperative Extension

4145 Branch Center Road, Sacramento, CA 95827       Master Gardener Phone:  916.876.5338             Fax:  916.875.6233

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