Picking Blueberries and Raspberries

northernmn(3/4)August 1, 2013

The picking of my Raspberries & Blueberries (several "1/2 high" varieties) is starting to get more rewarding. These are Boyne Raspberries and the larger ones are about the size of a nickel or maybe just a little bigger:

Boyne are a summer Raspberry and bear on floricanes (canes that are in their 2nd year). I also grow Autumn Britten which is a fall Raspberry that bears on primocanes. Canes that grew from the ground up this season. Normally they don't ripen until late August or early Sept. For some reason, they are extremely early this year, even though the frost out date was extremely late this year. They are larger and sweeter than Boyne, but they don't have the intense raspberry flavor that Boyne has. Pictured below are a few of the Autumn Britten that I picked today.

These Blueberries are several different varieties. To give you a size perspective,there are 6 cups of Blues in the large measuring cup. The small Blues, on the left side of the tray, that are an aluminum/blue color, are a lot like wild ones. Tom, I think these are the ones that you would prefer. the largest Blues are about the size of a penny.

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jel48(Z4 Michigan)

These look great! We are surrounded by wild berries here (MI UP, Keweenaw peninsula). People pick them by the gallon. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and thimbleberries. Still, we would like to have some domesticated ones growing in our own garden. This year, we have planted blackberries (three year old root stock) and quince. We plan to add blueberries and raspberries, but probably not until next year. I can only hope they produce as well as your are!

    Bookmark   August 2, 2013 at 7:03AM
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Very, very nice. The pan of blueberries made my mouth salivate while viewing. :) Yes, those little ones - I swear I can taste them when I look at them.

Can you put variety names to the particular blueberries for us?

Your raspberries also look wonderful. Got a decent (not excellent) crop of reds here that just finished up for now. Strange year down here for raspberries as well. I figure they are three weeks to a month behind which makes me wonder how good the late crop will be. I have a patch of an old variety whose name has been long-forgotten that I acquired from a nearby farm, had been there for at least half a century. Very nice berries, not huge but lots of flavor (typical of my tastes). Usually in late June/early July the year-old canes will produce one last time. Then in late August/early September the new canes will produce for their first time, and this is usually the bigger of the two harvests. The guy I got the plants from used to sickle mow off his patch every fall, sacrificing the first harvest in order to control weeds in the patch. Seemed to be a good strategy and I am now considering doing the same after having weed problems myself.

The sad thing is that he is not a raspberry person. He was taking care of the patch for others to harvest but got weary of the maintenance and put a herbicide to it. It is now lawn. Freaking LAWN! Incredible. I would harvest gallons of berries from that patch when it was my turn. Of course it is none of my business what he does with his property, but I am glad I acquired plants before he did that.

The black raspberries I have are "Bristol" if I remember correctly. Excellent berry, wonderful flavor, a thorny nightmare to pick but well worth the pain - just like the gooseberry. Am in the process of making a new 75 foot row so I can trellis properly, which should make harvesting easier.


    Bookmark   August 2, 2013 at 11:05AM
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Forgot to ask, how old are your blueberry and raspberry beds? I do not recall reading that info anywhere in your comments in the currant thread.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2013 at 11:10AM
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Tom, The Blues and raspberries are almost all 3 years old. Of coarse, the raspberries came out of the chute strong. The Blues had a tough winter, 2 winters ago. There wasn't much snow on the ground to protect them when several days of 35 below zero hit. There was about a 60% kill on all of the top growth. No plants died, but they were set back at least one year.

The exception on age are 2 Blue bushes that were both about 15 years old when they were moved from next to the house to the new fruit patch. One of these bushes had a root mass that split off 3 chunks naturally, that all became strong new plants. The parent and 3 off spring are the 4 plants that put out the small, tasty, aluminum/blue berries that I know you would enjoy. (See picture below) The parent plant is 3.5ft X 4 ft X 20 inches tall. Obviously mature. Unfortunately, I don't know the variety for sure, but I'd guess Northsky. The other older bush is also an unknown, but it has larger berries and is more upright.

The known 3 year olds are: 8 Chippewa, 8 Polaris, 9 St Cloud, 4 Blue Crop, 1 Superior, 1 Northblue, 1 Friendship, and 1 more unknown.

Based on your description, I would almost bet your raspberry is a Heritage. We have some close to the house and their production pattern, size, flavor profile, is exactly like yours. Plus it is an old classic that is very likely to have been in some old farm patches.

The raspberries here are doing better than expected. Especially considering the late start. We had such cold,wet weather when the Blues were blooming, the bees were almost non-existent. 1/2 high varieties of Blues need cross pollination to have a good crop. Based on the number of blossoms that they all had, the crop would have been much larger if pollinators were out in the cold and rain. I'm thinking that I will only get 3 or 4 times the amount of Blues that you saw in the picture. Raspberrry production will be at least 10 to 15 times what was pictured.

If we have a normal winter and spring this coming year, all of the Blues should be able to crank out 60 to 80 pounds. When fully mature, well over 100#s. Hopefully, some of my Sour Cherries, Plums, and Apple trees will help balance out the highs and lows in the future.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2013 at 9:57PM
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That is a pretty picture. What I wouldn't give to be able to walk out to that.

You have a nice selection of varieties. So what is your favorite based on production, flavor, plant hardiness, etc. ?

Tree fruits here did terrible this year but I do have some apples and pears on. Other folks around got decent pie cherries but not me. Nanking bush cherries and sand cherries also did poorly. Too wet and cold here last spring during flowering, very few pollinators were out. Harvested excellent mulberries couple weeks ago (should have taken a picture or two). Am keeping an eye on the progress of the chokecherries. Elderberry is coming along, concord grapes are in fantastic shape. Got to keep an eye on those grapes - have to net them when they start to turn or they will be utterly destroyed by robins.


    Bookmark   August 3, 2013 at 10:40AM
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."You have a nice selection of varieties. So what is your favorite based on production, flavor, plant hardiness, etc. ?"

I was afraid that you would ask me that! With only 2 of the 38 Blues plants being fully mature and the rest 3 years in my plot, some qualities are still in transition. Especially since they had a bad winter that set them back a year.
Here are some of my thoughts anyway:

Blue Crop is a zone push for me, but it would be better farther south in the state. My 4 plants want to grow tall and our winters just don't let them do that. They get the worst winter desiccation of the bunch. It has big berries, that look and taste like the grocery store varieties. I think these plants in a slightly warmer environment would be excellent producers.

Chippewa, St Cloud, and Polaris are all fairly close. The catalog hypes have them ripening at different times and a marked difference in the berries. I haven't seen that big difference. Maybe this is because we are experiencing a compressed season with the late start. They are hardier than Blue Crop, but they can still get some winter damage if too cold and no snow cover.

I only have one Northblue, but I wish I had more. Large berries that ripen fairly evenly in clumps. Makes for fast picking and I think it has the best flavor of the big berry types. Winters better than most, and had great fall color.
My #1 choice.

My mature "unknown" Blue with the little berries wins "best in flavor" but it picks sooooo slow. Berries ripen unevenly and they grow in small groupings. It requires the longest and most picks. It does crank out a LOT of those little berries. Even though it is now close to 18 years old, it still doesn't get over 20" tall. No winter dieback. The catalog descriptions for Northsky match this plant better than any other Blue descriptions. The 3 new plants from the roots of this one are already very productive.

Friendship and Superior both show good potential, and I think they will be good plants.

Of my other 2 unknowns, the older one is a solid keeper. Medium sized berries, good flavor, hardy, but another slooow picker. The little unknown hasn't proven itself yet.

The older that I get, The more important "ease of picking" is becoming. I'm going to give the Blue Crop another year to check out the winter damage. If it is bad again, my choice today would be to replace them with 4 Northblue.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2013 at 10:24PM
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Heritage raspberry. The name sounded familiar as soon as I read it in your post. Other folks around here have that variety, so I would not be surprised if that is what I have. I can understand how it would have been popular back in the 1950s, probably not many varieties to choose from back then either (at least compared to today). Looked up the specs and it sure appears to be what I have.

I completely understand the "ease of picking" thing. I am not there yet but I can see it becoming a more important consideration for me at some point in the not-too-distant future. Already my bad back necessitates sitting on an upended bucket or a chair to harvest anything rather than bending over. I am still crazy enough to drag a 10 foot step ladder into the mosquito-infested woods so I can harvest those little, nearly inedible wild chokecherries. That annual quest is very soon coming to an end as much as I desire their flavor in preserves. Some things just become too impractical as a person ages.

Thanks for your comments regarding your blueberry varieties. It will be very helpful to read for anyone in Minnesota who might be interested in growing them for the first time. Not trying to hijack this thread, but to anyone with such an interest this thread is in effect a continuation of an initial blueberry discussion, which included northernmn's method of blueberry bed preparation (very helpful!), that started here: Red Lake Currants. Perhaps northernmn will decide to copy and paste that info here to make things easier - not my thread, not my decision to make. :)


BTW, over the weekend I traded a half-gallon of frozen Red Lakes for a bag of fresh frozen sunfish fillets. Am glad I picked that last bush. :)

    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 12:31PM
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Blueberry Crisp picture. Also made a big blueberry pie, jam, and have purple teeth and faces around here.

I have a couple of modifications to make to the blueberry varieties critique of qualities. I rounded up a couple more people and forced them to eat a bunch of different varieties and give flavor 0pinions.

The "unknown" with little berries did stay on top for flavor. It also won top honors for "most difficult and time consuming to pick"

St Cloud was sweet, with very little acid (bite). Light on Blue flavor, but it was definitely there. Berries were medium size and not very easy to pick. Ranked above the next 2.

Chippewa and Polaris were kind of bland and also low acid. Medium sweet. Average ease of picking. Overall an "OK" to low rating.

Friendship had low production this year but it's medium/large berries had good Blue flavor. Still think this one will be good in the future.

Superior moved up into the overall #1 position by the group vote. Very good Blue flavor. Especially for a large berry. It was also sweeter with less acid than Northblue, but it still had some bite to it. Large berries formed in large clumps, ripened evenly, and were very easy to pick.

Northblue slid back one position because it had a less intense Blue flavor than Superior. I though that its sweetness and bite were in very good balance. Picks like Superior (clumps of large, evenly ripe berries).

We found out that the sweetness vs bite mix was very much a personal preference. Everyone agreed that a more intense Blue flavor was desired in a berry.

The number of berries that a plant set, was a definite factor in how large the berries grew. Cross pollination also affected size. Genetics only accounted a portion of berry size determination. There are many other factors that would determine how these varieties would perform for you.

As these plants get larger, winter's impact on them may become a big factor in how well they do in the long term.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 10:12PM
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The blueberry crisp looks delicious. Appreciate your updated notes regarding opinions of the different varieties you have.

Here are my photos of my soil kit for a container blueberry plant. Also included is a stock photo of my goal of a healthy, productive container blueberry plant. I hope what this picture shows is possible and not the typical mail-order promotional fantasy.

Photos show:

15 gallons (in large black container) of original native soil from north central Minnesota, taken from an area that has an established colony of wild blueberry plants. The soil is composed mostly of sandy organics, very little mineral composition. The open woods I got the soil from consists predominantly of pine, oak, birch, and aspen. And freaking poison ivy... :(

5 gallons of peat (I have more available).

5 gallons of fresh clean pine wood shavings (I have more available). At this time I have no access to decomposed sawdust, shavings, or wood chips. I do have access to a fresh clean pine/oak sawdust mix if the pine/oak mix will be more beneficial than just pine. I am thinking it might be...

10 gallons (laid out on black plastic) of organic forest litter obtained from same area as the soil. Composed of partially decayed pine needles and leaves, bark, twigs, organic and sandy mineral fines.

I still need to acquire garden sulfur. Have not been able to find locally and may have to mail order.

My questions:
1.) What should the mixing ratio be of all the ingredients listed, including the garden sulfur which I have not yet obtained?
2.) Should I mix the forest litter into the soil mix or save for use as mulch, or both? I can get more of this forest litter for use as mulch later if need be. I also have local access to fresh clean pine needles for use as mulch, if that is a better material.
3.) Should I include a granular fertilizer when making the soil mix? If yes, what kind?
4.) I intend on making my soil mix this month and letting it lie fallow outside over winter hoping it will decompose and balance, and the ph will settle for testing and planting next spring. Will this be enough time for the pine shavings to decompose enough to have proper benefits? If not, any suggestions?

Container: Half barrel planter with plastic liner. My questions:
1.) I have a shallow liner and a full depth liner. I assume full depth liner is better but is it necessary? How large is the root ball of a blueberry plant? Is root ball of a dwarf smaller than the root ball of a standard?
2.) Shallow liner is 22 inches diameter, 7 inches deep, 1.5 cubic feet capacity. Full depth liner is 22 inches diameter, 17 inches deep, 3.5 cubic feet capacity. I have no problem using the full depth liner, but I am wondering if that is maybe then big enough for a full size blueberry plant? :)
3.) FYI the large black container in photo is what I would use for the full depth liner. It fits nicely into a half barrel and is much less expensive than an actual full depth barrel liner.

Why do I want to do a container blueberry plant? One reason is that my container plants always do quite well as compared to plants out in the gardens - container plants are up by the house and for this reason they are babied, getting much more attention and observation by me. I figure a container blueberry would stand a very decent chance of success.

Another reason is that a container blueberry is a small defined project, with very little investment in time, effort, and expense if it fails.

The primary reason is that I want to use this project as a controlled experiment to get the soil mix figured out correctly, isolated from any negative influence of or leaching from my existing alkaline silty clay loam soil, which I know for a fact is not a medium conducive to growing healthy blueberry plants. If this container project proves out then I will proceed with making a lined bed in-ground and simply duplicating but scaling up the soil mix recipe for a small planting of five to ten blueberry plants, and go from there.

Thanks for any help!

    Bookmark   September 1, 2013 at 3:13PM
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northernmn, those blueberries look wonderful! I used to go blueberry picking with my parents when I was a kid (north of Hibbing) and always picked quarts and quarts. Now DH and I live just south of Deerwood, and since 1985 cannot find a single blueberry plant anywhere!!! Can't figure it out.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 12:27AM
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Tom, I glad to see that you are going to give blueberries a try and I think that you are going about it in a way that should definitely elevate your odds of success.

Preparing the soil now for planting next spring is almost a must. Nice that it is part of your plan. I always have a stack of "blueberry soil" developing so it is ready if I need it. The 2 main benefits will be that: 1) the sulfur is starting to breaking down and lowering the pH of the soil and 2) mycorrhiza bacteria will get an chance to start growing in the soil.

Blueberries have a very inefficient root system. This symbiosis between the bacteria and fungi is extremely helpful for the blueberry plants to successfully "up take" what they need from the soil. Make sure that you keep your soil mix damp from now to planting time. this will be necessary to develop the bacteria and fungi that you need. You probably saw some of this of this fungi when you scraped up forest litter. I have about 4" of pine needle mulch on top of my blueberry soil. Once a year, I pull back some of this mulch to add sulfur. When I do this, I can see the scattered, tiny, white clumps growing. Blueberry magic.

Your pot liner: In a loose, friable soil (which blueberries like) , I guess that 70 to 80% of the roots will be in the top 7". You could probably get by with the shallow liner. The problem would be moisture control. Of the plants that I grow, blueberries are the least tolerant of have their roots get dry. Even for a short time. They won't tolerate soggy feet either. You will really have to be careful with "moisture management" with a shallow liner. I'd go with the deeper liner just to make this critical moisture management easier.

Soils: I don't think that the raw sawdust and chips will break down enough by spring to use them in this soil batch. For this batch, I'd go with 50% "up north soil", 30% peat, and 20% finely chopped forest litter. If you use the shallow liner, add 2 Tbls of sulfur. 4 or 5 Tbls in the large liner.

Mulch: I like to use pure pine needles as a mulch. They are excellent at allowing rain and air to penetrate, yet they do a great job of moisture retention. They are easy to pull back if you want to amend the surface soil. They are also excellent at keeping the low growing fruit clean and dry.

Fertilizer: Blueberries require very little fertilizer. A 1/4 cup of Miracid (acid formula) when you mix the soil will be all that you will need for the 1st. year. Nitrogen leaches out easily, but you want very little in the soil when you plant and for the 1st season. Especially if you plant bare root. You can add a SMALL amount of miracid after planting if you start with an estabished potted plant.

Water: You need to know what is in the water that you give blueberries. I use strictly rain water that I collect of off my pole barn. If you use city water, they will give you the pH and amount of carbonates in the water. I will post more info on water management if you would like.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 9:11PM
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I just looked at your needle/leaf litter again. Don't chop it up. Use it "as is" for a soil ingredient.. Should help with drainage and aeration. Mix in well.
You will need to fill your container very full because you will get settling.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 9:50PM
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I happen to have mycorrhizal inoculant, I can add it to the soil mix if you think it would be helpful.

Are you saying that the forest litter will work in lieu of decomposed sawdust/shavings, or am I being forced to make a shortcut I maybe should not be making just because I do not have the decomposed sawdust available? If decomposed sawdust is an important ingredient I would seriously consider making the soil mix including fresh sawdust/shavings now and letting it sit for two years if that would give a better chance of success. I am concerned about doing something differently from what you did and then failing as a result.

Come to think of it, I suppose it would be a good idea to chip up a big pile of pine and hardwood and mix with sawdust/shavings now to get a pile composting for future use in the planned in-ground blueberry bed. Always have to be thinking way ahead for this kind of project.

I will use the large liner. Keeping it continually moist using rain water should be no problem. I expect my well water to be unacceptable for use with BB plants. Following my strategy of duplicating BB growing conditions it would not be natural anyway with all the mineral salts, let alone my assumption that the ph is all wrong. I have access to local city water but I do not trust the stuff in the least for plants, let alone finicky BB's. Would distilled or RO water or dehumidifier waste water be acceptable substitutes for rainwater if my supply runs out during summer dry spells?

Do you think when planting the BB plant it would be best to plan on having the soil surface 4 inches or more below top of liner and have the pine needle mulch initially fill that space? You stated previously that BB plants will root up the stems. If this is so, then it makes sense to me to initially have a lower surface depth in the liner to make allowances for adding more soil if this were to occur. Perhaps this is not an issue about which I need to be concerned.

From what you say regarding BB root structure I take it that I will not be limited to a dwarf container BB variety or is that still the best strategy? Come to think of it, maybe a moot subject because the NorthBlue that is high up on your recommended list is a dwarf variety. Just want to know if I have options...

I have been wondering if it is possible to go to the opposite extreme of making a soil too acidic for BB plants using the common organic materials we are discussing? If not, then that would really ease some of my concerns. Fairly easy to deal with a max top-end ph, I assume much trickier to hit a range.

Lots of questions - thanks for your time and assistance!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 10:57PM
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You cannot get the soil too acidic using natural, organic soil additives. Where growers get into trouble is by applying too much sulfur or overly acidified water too correct a high pH soil. Sulfur is very slow acting, but it can get you a too low pH in a year or 2 if you over apply.

I would say that the main soil ingredient of blueberry growers, propagating plants for resale in pots, is pine bark.
It gives the soil a very "breathable", great drainage effect, while still retaining some moisture. I didn't use it because I had a very large supply of aged, coarse sawdust, that is a very good substitute. Both having an acidic nature. I've found that too much peat, will retain too much water. That's why I wouldn't go beyond 30% as an ingredient.

I really think that your forest litter will work very well as a substitute for pine bark or aged coarse sawdust. It's hard to find bags of pine bark in our area. It is readily available to blueberry growers in the south. As you know, a lot of this "brown " organic material will be nitrogen hungry. that's why I'd add some Miracid to your mix now to help stabilize that effect. You may see in some older blueberry literature suggesting to use aluminum sulfate as a fertilizer and to drop the pH. DON'T use this stuff. The aluminum stays in the soil. I bought a 50# bag of Ammonium Sulfate. That is what the larger growers use. It is a 21-0-0 and contains 24% sulfur. You have to be careful of what form the nitrogen is in with blueberries. Something like Miracid will give you some phosphate and potassium which you will need in the beginning, but not so much on an on going basis. The plants like iron, and your northern MN soil will have plenty. The soil just needs to be acidic enough so it will be available to be absorbed.

Water from your dehumidifier will work great. Like rain water, it won't have a high pH or contain minerals like calcium that neutralize the acidity in your soil. The minerals in well waters can be very problematic.

You wrote: "Come to think of it, I suppose it would be a good idea to chip up a big pile of pine and hardwood and mix with sawdust/shavings now to get a pile composting for future use in the planned in-ground blueberry bed. Always have to be thinking way ahead for this kind of project"
This is a great idea. Add some lawn clipping or other green material to supply some nitrogen. It will help "age" and breakdown the wood.

I think that your planter (with the deep insert) will be large enough to grow any of the "1/2 highs" that I grow and certainly any dwarfs or "low bush".

I would fill the planter soil within 1" of the top and start with 1 inch of pine needle mulch. The soil will continue to settle and you can increase the depth of your needles as this happens. Blues will develop some roots that are close to the interface of the mulch and the soil, once the mulch is quite deep. They won't do this as fast or aggressively as a tomato plant, but you will see it in small degrees. It happens at about the pace that the pine needles decompose to new surface soil.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 10:19AM
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Thanks, I think I have a clear plan with one exception:

I am a bit confused about the ammonium sulfate versus garden sulfur thing. It is my understanding that ammonium sulfate is different from garden sulfur, and ammonium sulfate is fast acting while garden sulfur is slow acting. Are you saying that you used sulfur, in the form of ammonium sulfate, to "prime" the new soil and you apply a small amount of same as a side-dressing once per year in springtime? Or do you use garden sulfur to prime and side-dress? Or is garden sulfur used to maintain soil ph and ammonium sulfate is used as a fertilizer, so both are used in soil mix and for yearly side dressing?

What is your opinion of using agrigel - do you think it would be helpful for BBs by moderating moisture levels?

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 12:35PM
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The garden sulfur needs to be mixed in when you are mixing the soil ingredients. Think of it as a soil ingredient that will add stability to your low (4.0 to 5.5) pH soil. It acts like a turtle. Ammonium sulfate is the jack rabbit fertilizer with the side benefit of dropping the soil pH somewhat. Using ammonium sulfate as a fertilizer in May and June will reduce or the amount of garden sulfur that you need to add once per year.

Ammonium Sulfate dissolves fairy well in water and can be applied as a liquid fertilizer as well. If you try liquid, only dissolve 1/2 teaspoon per gallon. I have used it both granular and liquid. As a liquid, it is much easier to control the "cut off" timing.

However, until you start planting a bunch of plants, it will be a lot easier just to use "Miracle Grow for acid loving plants". Plus it will add some "P" & "K" early on. I see that in my above post that I shortened that product name way too much. Sorry.

Blues shouldn't be fertilized past the end of June in Minnesota. New growth seems to take forever to harden off and be ready for winter. The year that I had so much top growth winter kill, was a brutal winter, but I aggravated the situation by fertilizing into early July of the previous summer causing too much late growth. The plants went into that winter without being harden off well. Very important if there is no snow cover to protect them.

I hope this helps. I know that I didn't do a great job of clarifying this.

Agri gel: I have only used in my potted annual plants so I can only guess about using it in Blues pots. I think that I would give it a try! When you go to "in the ground planting", I wouldn't bother.

This post was edited by northernmn on Tue, Sep 3, 13 at 20:35

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 8:23PM
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Thanks for the clarification. I think I am ready to go, just need to mail order the sulfur. Was still looking for a local supplier but no luck. Found a store that carries it but they were out and to them it is technically "out of season" so they are not ordering any more in until next spring. I guess I can understand, but it is just one more lost sale to a local business as I go the internet route. I found an online supplier that carries both sulfur and ammonium sulfate. Only bummer is shipping cost but am out of options.

Last evening I sealed up a local connection for all the fresh clean pine, spruce, and oak planer shavings I could ever want. Brought home twenty five gallons of fresh oak shavings as a start for when I get the compost pile going for the in-ground plants. I am almost as excited to get that going as I am the container soil mix.

Will keep you updated on project. Thanks again for the help!

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 11:35AM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Earlier this summer I saw sulfur at Bachman's on Lyndale. Mother Earth also says that sulfur can be found at pharmacies.

Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 10:19PM
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hostaholic2 z 4, MN

I haven't been on much this summer, just starting to catch up a bit. our project is certainly interesting to me. I'v been thinking about trying blueberries in pots but haven't got past the thinking part yet. How do you plan to winter your potted blueberries? Please report back and let us know how everything goes.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 11:01PM
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mnwsgal - thanks for the leads. Will keep in mind for future reference but I already mail-ordered for now.

Winter Storage: Unless I am missing something I believe the two main container blueberry plant winter killers would be cold winds that dessicate exposed branches and solar-induced freeze-thaw cycles. To minimize or eliminate the threat of either occurring I intend on simply pulling the plastic liner out of the half barrel and moving the potted plant into an unheated outbuilding out of direct sunlight for the winter (at least for the coldest months), where the cold temperature will be naturally moderated. I may also build a cylindrical enclosure of chicken wire so I can cover the plant entirely with loose fluffy dry leaves - have not decided yet if that will be necessary or not, but I see no harm in doing.

I have to be successful in wintering it over as I do not expect production until at least the second season. In fact, I intend on removing any blossoms that may occur the first season so the plant can focus on growth.

The thing is that I am mainly trying to learn about creating the correct soil mix. Ultimately I only care about plant health not berry production although I would expect the two to go hand in hand.

Am glad others are taking an interest, this is kind of why we have been engaged in public conversation and have been explaining things in so much detail. I already have some family members and several neighbor friends who are very interested and want me to duplicate for them if successful.

When (not if!) this project proves out I will post the entire project on its own thread with step-by-step instructions to make it easier for people to follow and duplicate.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 1:23PM
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I received notice that my garden sulfur order was placed on backorder so I canceled it. Following are links to some of my options, was wondering if one is preferable to the others. Price is irrelevant right now, will shop for the best value later based on recommendations received.

Granular Sulfur

Sulfur Powder

Bonide 142

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 4:29PM
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Go with the granular. $12 for 5# isn't that bad with free shipping. 5# will last you a long time. My 25# bag has lasted over 3 years for 38 plants (in ground) and I still have some left. Powder type make a terrible mess.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 11:21PM
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I received my granular sulfur order so I was able to add it to my soil mix and finish the project. I modified your ratios in order to simplify the recipe. All the main organic ingredients are in 5 gallon bucket quantities. Hope this will work out, would be much simpler for people to follow in the future.

I also decided to include the fresh pine and oak shavings. I am willing to take the risk that these shavings might not be decomposed enough by next spring to get a container BB plant as I was planning. If this happens, so be it. I will deal with the problem at that time (I would probably skip the container BB and go right to developing the in-ground bed).

Photo shows the completed mix, dry. Ended up with 15 gallons of soil mix in each container. One container full is earmarked for planting, the other container full will be set aside for adding to the planted container as needed when settling and decomposition occurs.

Mix Ratio:
15 gallons (3 buckets) of native soil from north central Minnesota.
5 gallons (1 bucket) of organic forest litter.
5 gallons (1 bucket) of peat.
5 gallons (1 bucket) of fresh clean 50/50 pine/oak mix wood shavings.
10 Tbsp Granular Sulfur (90% sulfur 10% bentonite) This amount is per your recommendation mentioned previously of 5 tbsp per large container.

I drilled out qty. 13 - 3/8 inch diameter drainage holes in container bottoms. Watered both container mixes with rainwater until saturated, I intend to keep both wet until the snow flies. The mix looks nice now that it is wet - given time, I can see this working...

The next step will be to order ammonium sulfate and bromocresol green. Already found suppliers for both. Then I backburner the project until I test for ph next spring. Hopefully everything will work out as planned...

This winter I will need to check out BB variety availability with local suppliers versus mail order. I prefer not doing mail order but I do have some dependable suppliers I trust if I have to go that route. If I have to mail order I would have no choice but to order early and then assume that the soil will be acceptable at time of plant delivery. I do not like to do things based on assumptions. Oh well, worst that can happen is I plant it, it dies, and I am out the $15-$20 cost.

northernmn - who was your supplier for your BB plants?


    Bookmark   September 16, 2013 at 11:40PM
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I've ordered plants from both St. Lawrence Nurseries @ Potsdam,NY and Nourse Farms. My "20 plants for $140" from St. Lawrence arrived bare root and most of the plants were about 9" to 12" tall. 100% survival but about 3 of the 20 are kind of runty. The plants from Nourse were larger, but more expensive. If you find a local source for potted (I bought 4 plants this way), you can get about a 1 year jump start on growth. If you buy potted, Just make sure that they aren't overly root bound.

Tom, do you have any " Feed Stores" in the little towns in your area? They typically sell their feed and seed to area farmers. Most stuff is sold in 50# bags an is very cheap. My 50# (not 25# as I stated earlier) bag of garden sulfur, and 50# bag of Ammonium Sulfate were both around $20 or less. If you get the 50# bag of Ammonium Sulfate, keep it in a very dry spot. The nitrogen will attract moisture and the bag will get wet and hard if you don't. I pour mine off into sealable plastic containers to prevent this from happening.

Your soil mixtures look great. Try to get some Ammonium Sulfate ASAP. If you mix it in now, it will definitely help "age" the raw wood in your mix. It will do the work that green material does in your compost pile. I think that you can add a cup or 2 of it to your total, and mix it in well. The raw wood will use up most of this by spring and it will drop the pH quicker than the sulfur as well.

I've mentioned that I have large piles of aged sawdust. These piles are so nitrogen deficient, that weeds and other plants will not grow on them. The bottom of the piles are full of fine tree roots though. The nearby trees get moisture from these piles and nutrients (nitrogen) elsewhere. I'm convinced that if I added nitrogen to these piles, they would be overrun with weeds.

Be sure to keep your soil mix damp and aerated. You don't want to get an anaerobic action started.

My Blue plants are really looking great right now. The leaves get very dark green this time of year, and they are taking on just a hint of maroon color, getting ready for fall colors. Of all the fruiting plants, I think they are by far the prettiest as a fall season ornamental plant. Depending of the variety, they can range from red/orange all the way to maroon. Maple trees struggle to look as nice!

    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 10:04AM
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The local feed stores that I checked out either don't carry ammonium sulfate or are out of stock until next spring. I don't know but it seems it is not a common fertilizer for using in this area. I am not going to waste any more of my time looking for a local source right now - as you say it is very cheap so I will just order a small quantity off the internet today and this winter I will look into having a local feed store order in a 50# bag of it next spring for me.

I am also considering throwing a small amount of that fertilizer into each hole when I plant potatoes - I always get decent potatoes but I have read that they prefer soil that is not quite as alkaline as mine is. Maybe it would improve yield a bit...

The pine and oak planer shavings that I added in the mix are nothing like actual wood chips - they are so thin I suspect that they will decompose very rapidly - at least that is what I am hoping will happen. We'll see. Either way, I do agree that their decomposition will rob the mix of nitrogen. Will add ammonium sulfate quantities per your instructions.

Thanks for the warning, when I get the large bag of fertilizer I will store it in a dry area in plastic buckets with lids. Fertilizer clumping or liquefying was a common problem until I learned how to store it properly.

BB Plant Suppliers: I have ordered from Nourse in the past and still get their catalogs. A nice company, is one of my top three companies for bare root mail order and will probably order black currants from them this winter, maybe blueberries for the in-ground bed when that time approaches. Only problem is they do not carry NorthBlue and NorthSky dwarfs. I will investigate St. Lawrence Nurseries, admittedly never heard of them - thanks for the lead. I also need to ask around at local nurseries to see if they will be stocking either of those two varieties next spring. Potted BB plants are not commonly offered in my area, I guess for obvious reasons regarding local soil types.

Aeration: I intend on dumping the contents of the two containers into a pile so I can turn the mix occasionally until winter time. The containers are cheap quality - I am sure they are not UV safe and would probably be brittle and cracked by next spring if I left them out all winter anyway. I will definitely keep the mix wet until the winter freeze.

Fall Color: I bet your BB plants have pretty fall color. My sand cherries have larger but similarly shaped leaves that get to a silvery dark green color in late summer and then turn beautiful shades of orange, red, and maroon in fall. The sumac growing in the meadow has already turned to its beautiful deep red fall hues. My father always loved looking at the sumac colors on the sides of the highways when driving through the Minnesota River valley so he got a nice dwarf variety started here many years ago so he could enjoy it. The horse chestnut tree leaves are usually beautiful reds as well but this year the dryness is pushing them right into light browns. I heard a report to expect poor fall tree color this year due to dryness and drought.

How did your raspberry harvest turn out? Mine are still loaded with the fall crop and have been ripening slowly, but taste good. Very late, I wonder if the underdeveloped ones are just going to abort.

Thanks again for all your help. Will keep posting updates when warranted.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 12:35PM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

Ammonium sulfate, 50# bag, in St.Paul/Mpls here
Click on "location".
- - - - - - - - - - - -
>>>The thing is that I am mainly trying to learn about creating the correct soil mix.

I think you will find the "correct" soil mix can be many things. At least in the Ely, MN area, blueberries naturally grow on rock outcrops, rich humus, sand, even drier bogs.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 11:44PM
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leftwood - Thanks for the lead for the ammonium sulfate. I do not live near the Twin Cities so do not go there very often but will keep it in mind.

"the correct soil mix" - Yeah, I probably could have said "a correct soil mix", but the phrase was in regards to duplicating the mix used by someone who has a proven successful method of growing blueberry plants. I agree that they grow in many different soil types and conditions but I guarantee that one soil type they do not grow in is my alkaline heavy clay loam soil. Due to past failed attempts I felt I needed guidance from someone who has been successful to increase my chances of success, and northernmn has been generous with his time in helping me. Seems a straightforward strategy to me to simply copy what he has done...

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 3:54PM
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"How did your raspberry harvest turn out? Mine are still loaded with the fall crop and have been ripening slowly, but taste good. Very late, I wonder if the underdeveloped ones are just going to abort. "

I continue to be baffled by how nature works. This year, all plants got off to a very late start because of the extremely cold spring. However, my fall variety (Autumn Britten) raspberries is finally having a great year, in spite of the late start. The previous 2 autumns, I had almost no ripe berries before the frost killed all of the leaves and berries. Both of those years, the canes came out of the ground, in the spring, a least 3 weeks earlier than this year. Go figure? ?

I was having a lot of trouble with wasps (yellow jackets) eating out the bottom of many of the ripe, fall berries. While mowing in the area, I found 3 "in ground" wasp nests, and killed them all. I only got stung once in the process. The wasp damage to the raspberries is almost nil now.

I still prefer the flavor of my summer variety (Boyne), but having large, sweet, fresh raspberries in the fall, is a real treat for me.

Are the raspberries that you are getting now, coming off of the everbearing variety that we think might be Heritage? The variety that has a lighter summer crop? Any of these fall bearing varieties keep ripening until frost kills them off. Even a light frost will kill them. The leaves and fruit that is.

My harvest of summer raspberry, Boyne, was slightly below average this year. I think that this was partly due to allowing too many producing canes in the row the previous year, and they crowded the new growth then, which produced in this season. I'm finding with my Boyne, it is best to thin them out to 6 producing canes per running foot in an 18" wide row. Any more that that, hinders the new growth for next year's crop. Each raspberry row is 52 ft long so that still allows for 312 producing canes per row. Production per cane also will rise with this pruning. This thinning should create better air circulation and reduce fungal and virus risks.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 11:07PM
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"Are the raspberries that you are getting now, coming off of the everbearing variety that we think might be Heritage?" - Yes. Just picked again this morning, my second picking, nice berries. Have not taken the time to take any pics, been freezing them right away because I am too busy with other stuff. It has helped immensely that we got two half-inch rains in the span of eight days. Plants are lush dark green and happy, lots of berries coming if we do not get a frost. No frost predicted here for at least another week, which is fine by me.

"Any of these fall bearing varieties keep ripening until frost kills them off." - I still think there is a high probability that these are variety Heritage, but the original patch on the other farm site would always be finished producing and would be picked clean by mid September, although come to think of it that is around the median frost date for this area. This year my plants from that bed are just starting to produce and it is late September. Very interesting, strange growing season. I may cover the bed to try to protect it when the first frost comes if there are still a lot of berries on the plants.

This brings up a question: Do you think consistent, timely picking of ripe berries speeds up the growth and ripening of the other berries on the plants?

Have you had a frost yet?

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 12:33PM
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We have been very close with two nights down to 34 degrees. I have tried covering my raspberries in the past with plastic tarps. Even at 28 degrees, I lost the battle. Plastic tarp just isn't a good material to use in frost protection.

It looks like we may also be frost free until early October. It's been a long time since that has happened up here. This makes the late raspberries and other garden crops a very special treat right now.

Raspberries don't seem to be a fruit that timely picking increases or enhances future production. Many varieties, but not all, will release from their core within 2 or 3 days past being ripe. Just falling to the ground. Sunshine, rain/water, and at least warm days seem to be what makes the difference.

Heritage, being a good everbearing, might be the exception. I have not noticed them releasing like my summer and fall varieties do (maybe the birds are getting them). However, my Heritage patch is almost worn out so it isn't the best indicator anymore.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 9:51PM
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"Plastic tarp just isn't a good material to use in frost protection." - Agreed. I think every gardener needs to go through trying it once to learn for themselves just how useless it is. I was warned to never use it yet I still used it one year to cover my tomatoes and peppers, it just seemed so convenient. Any leaf that was touching the plastic froze to it. Plants were not completely killed but it was enough to put an end to the season. Even light bed sheet material works better...

"It looks like we may also be frost free until early October. It's been a long time since that has happened up here. This makes the late raspberries and other garden crops a very special treat right now." - Last year we had the first frost on September 14 (which I consider completely unacceptable). Two years ago it did not occur until the second week of October. An almost 4 week spread in one year. I much prefer the later frosts for the reasons you mentioned. Also, my favorite ornamental flowers are impatiens. I start a couple hundred every year and plant them all over. A late frost allows more precious time to enjoy their beauty, even if it is just a little bit longer.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 10:12AM
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I received the ammonium sulfate I ordered, and applied some of it to my blueberry soil mix.

northernmn - Did you notice any issue with SWD (Asian Spotted Wing Drosophila) in your blueberry or raspberry fruit this year? I have them here in my raspberries, but not too bad an infestation. Fairly easy to find once a person knows what to look for. Very disappointing...

This is the first time I have found them here. A neighbor several miles away had them for the first time last year in her raspberries. She has the dubious historical honor of the first official verification of the invasive species in our county. Her raspberries had them again this year but not as bad as last year.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2013 at 12:24PM
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I have been worried about SWD arriving here because they like both the Blues and raspberries. So far, I've still been lucky. Where I'm growing, there are very few neighbors. Few, if any, are growing raspberries. To my knowledge, none are growing Blues. So it won't be neighboring crops that attracted SWD to my patch. My fear is that it would be the wild raspberries acting like the "Yellow Brick Road" to attract SWD to my patch.

My fall raspberries are coming in very strong now. Some really great picking over this past week.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2013 at 9:49AM
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This thread is gold.

I JUST prepared my 60 ft row (added acidifier to the soil + pine needles and) for planting blueberries next spring and will have 100ft for raspberries.
So now it is time to figure out the varieties I will be planting =)
Thank you guys for the info !

    Bookmark   November 21, 2013 at 1:44PM
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Well the time has come to decide on my blueberry varieties and get them ordered. I realized belatedly that it is recommended to have at least two varieties for improved pollination and berry production. Makes sense, but I was so focused on making decent soil mix that I neglected to consider this issue. I have enough soil prepared for two containers, but I was planning on having only one plant and using the extra soil as a supply for adding as needed. Now I will have to use all my soil for the two plants and make some more asap. Not an ideal situation for me to be in.

Regarding varieties, I decided to focus strictly on dwarfs being that I am container planting. The three varieties I am looking at are Northsky, Northblue, and Northcountry. Being that northernmn rated Northblue highly, that will be one of the plants I order. Have not decided on the other one and am open to opinions. The one thing that concerns me is if the two plants bloom at different times then I do not see how they will benefit each other regarding pollination. Descriptions of Northcountry state that it blooms slightly earlier than Northsky, but I have found no information as to the blooming periods of all three varieties as they relate to each other. Will do more research.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 5:00PM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

Northblue is my favorite too, by far. In my experience Northsky is much less productive, even when you take into account that it is a much smaller plant. Sorry, I don't remember the relationship of bloom times. I do have all three cultivars.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 11:15PM
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I think I am just going to have to go with one Northblue and one Northsky. It is my understanding that they were originally developed to be pollinators for each other, so why mess with it.

I wish I could just order two Northblues to pollinate each other. I am not very knowledgeable about pollination issues with blueberry plants but from what I have read a person needs to plant different varieties for proper cross pollination. This does not make sense to me because wild blueberries cross pollinate successfully - could they not be considered to be the same "variety"?

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 1:40PM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

There, you are wrong. Northblue is a cultivar, unlike wild blueberries. Cultivars are vegetatively propagated, and every plant is an exact copy (a clone). Although wild blueberries can propagate vegetatively via underground stolons, they also propagate sexually, via cross pollination, producing genetically different plants. If you pollinate one Northblue plant with pollen from another Northblue plant, this is self pollination, not cross pollination, because both plants are the same clone.

All this said, blueberries are only partially self infertile, meaning a clone will produce berries if it pollinates itself, but will produce a larger crop if cross pollinated with a different clone.

Don't mix up the definition of "variety" botanically speaking with the definition of "variety" hortuculturally speaking.
---- Botanically speaking, members of a variety are genetically different. (Example: Vaccinium angustifolium var. angustifolium)
---- Horticulturally speaking, the term "variety" is used loosely, and may or may not include genetically different members.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 12:48AM
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Thanks for your comments, they are helpful. I seem to have trouble conceptualizing this whole issue with plants in general, and you explain it quite simply and effectively. I think understanding and using the proper terminology on a consistent basis would also help me keep this straight.

So can I assume that any/all fruit bearing varieties in catalogs that state that they require a pollinator "for better production" or "for a larger harvest" are cloned cultivars?

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 11:47AM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

>>>So can I assume that any/all fruit bearing varieties in catalogs that state that they require a pollinator "for better production" or "for a larger harvest" are cloned cultivars?

Yes, but be careful. This is not the same as when the catalog says "buy two for better fruit production" or "requires a pollinator, buy two" and there is only one kind to choose from. In this case the plants are seedlings, and are therefore genetically different. They are different clones, but not named cultivars.

Now if the catalog says: "requires pollinator for fruit production" instead of "requires pollinator for better fruit production", the answer is still pretty much yes, but...

1) If the species is dioecious, where there are male plants and female plants, then of course, an opposite sex would be required as a pollinator, and both male and female may or may not be cultivars. However in most cases, to determine the sex of an individual plant, seedlings must be grown to adulthood, so practicality necessitates clonal propagation, usually of named cultivars.

2) In a few cases, different self infertile species can pollinated each other. In such a case, "requires a pollinator" does not dictate clonal separation (within the species), just species separation. Therefore, the plants of either species may or may not be name cultivars.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 4:17AM
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Thanks for your response, I appreciate you taking the time to explain.

I was checking on local nurseries to see what cultivars of blueberries they will be offering spring of 2014. One nursery recommends that two varieties be planted for better production. Fine so far. They will be carrying two varieties so customers will draw the obvious conclusion, but when I researched the varieties I found that one is a mid-season and one is a late season. So just how exactly are they going to benefit each other via cross pollination? Likely that the person doing the ordering made an unintentional mistake, which probably happens more often than one thinks, but it shows that a customer really needs to be informed before making this kind of purchase.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 11:51AM
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Even though two varieties may ripen at different times,they most likely will flower about the same time and get some cross pollination. Brady

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 12:11PM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

Brady is probably right, although there is the possibility that said nursery is just not aware of such information. To benefit from cross pollination, you'll increase your chance by staying within a blueberry group:
--- highbush blueberries
--- lowbush blueberries
--- crosses of highbush and lowbush blueberries
--- southern blueberries (completely different)

For self infertile species and species with males and females, it is more complicated, since cross pollination is critical, and not only must bloom times coincide but genetics must be compatible. That's why you see pollination charts for most tree fruits, and information for hollies and honeyberries (for instance), that show good and bad matches.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 12:46PM
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