Gardening guru explains how to grow strawberries, raspberries in Edmonton

Raspberries and strawberries can be delicious, but what does it take to get them growing in your backyard?

Jim Hole discusses his favourite varieties and offers tips for establishing berry bushes

Jim Hole says strawberries love lots of sun and good quality soil. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

Raspberries and strawberries can be delicious, but does it take to get them growing in your backyard?

Horticulturist Jim Hole spoke to CBC Edmonton's Radio Active this week about some tips for growing berries in the Edmonton region. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Is it easy to grow all of these small fruits here?

A: Most of them are not a problem whatsoever. I mean, the common ones we have here: you know, the strawberries and raspberries, they're great.

Blackberries, I see them being sold at various places. Locally, there is one variety called 'Chester' and, boy, it's on the edge. Like it's just not quite hardy enough for our region. So I would suggest give a shot, but that's the one that's a bit of a reach. It's just a little too tender for here.

Q: What are the basics of raspberries and strawberries?

A: Well, I think the first thing you have to do is look at your space in your yard and ensure that you have lots of sunlight. Because if you don't have lots of sunlight, you're going to really have a reduced yield. I find that flavours are a little bit tepid too if you don't have lots of sunlight. So, let's target for six hours plus of direct sunlight.

CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active gardening expert Jim Hole on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Hole spoke to Radio Active Wednesday to offer tips for growing berries in the Edmonton region.  (Thandiwe Konguavi/CBC)

Rich soil, strawberries and raspberries, they love rich soil. So just make sure you've got lots of organic matter … build them up. 

With raspberries, be careful. Along the fence line your neighbours will enjoy your raspberries too because they will spread. So be aware of that. If you can locate them, perhaps a bit farther away from the fence, great. If you are going to plant them, perhaps have a conversation with your neighbours. 

With strawberries it's not such a big deal, you can put them in raised beds. I have got two raised beds in my front yard, one in my back. I plunk them in there, put some new ones in every year. Some are a little bit tougher to get through the winter without good snow cover. So you want to ensure that you're piling the snow on. I find in a typical year, I find I might lose maybe 20, 30 per cent, but there's plenty to come back. And they just will come back and dominate that spot and have a great yield. 

Q: Do they need bees?

They are self pollinating, both raspberries and strawberries …so they are self-fertile. But if they don't have bee visits, you're going to find the fruit doesn't look quite right. So you'll see it on strawberries where they get these nubbins. They are not the nice, classical looking, sort of tapered strawberries. So you need to have the bees visiting to distribute the pollen in the flowers to have really good quality fruit.

Now the one thing a lot of people should be looking at too, is everybody looks for the honey bees in the backyard and the bumblebees. What I found this year is a lot of good native bees. It might look like a fly, but it's actually native bees. So any time you can see those different pollinating insects flying around you're in good shape. If you have plenty of strawberry flowers and raspberry flowers and some other flowers in there, they are going to come in and do a good job.

Q:  What different types of strawberries and raspberries are there?

It can be a little bit complicated, but you've got June bearing, which means they produce all their fruit in June. Which actually in our region, it's a bit later into July because we're a little bit slower to warm up. So you get some great fruit at that time but then nothing.

When growing raspberries, it's important to make sure they have enough room. Too many canes in a small space causes problems. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

There's the ever-bearing ones that will produce the bulk of the fruit in spring and then some fruit throughout the season. But ever-bearing is a bit of a misnomer because as you move into the season, it's not much. 

The real stars of the strawberry world are the day neutrals, which means that they don't require any special day length to produce the fruit. So the other ones do require certain parameters as far as the length of the day to trigger fruit and these don't.

If you plant new transplants in the spring, you will have fruit typically by late July-August and right through into September.

Day neutrals are great.

A couple that I absolutely love if you're looking for varieties: Tristar, delicious! Seascape, wonderful. Great big fat juicy berries, can't go wrong.

Raspberries, there's the good old proven Boyne. That's been around for a long time They are reliable, they are tough. But I'll have to say on the farm, one that we had planted about maybe 20 years ago: Honey queen. A nice yellow raspberry, delicious raspberry.

Strawberries and raspberries are self pollinating but will produce better fruit if visited by bees. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

Black raspberries are out there too. So people, they kind of get blackberries and black raspberries mixed up. Some of true black raspberries are not too hardy. Although a purple one is pretty darn good, it's called Wyoming. So if you want a bit of a different colouration out there too, look for one called Wyoming.

Q: Is the spring the best time to establish these bushes?

For Strawberries, yes. Go into your garden centres, they come in a pack. It's a little four-inch pot or something. Easy to transplant, just make sure the sun and the soil is taken care of.

If you put them in, in May, you're going to see them really coming on like gangbusters right toward the end of July and they'll just keep fruiting right through into September.

Raspberries, they can be planted in the springtime, you can plant them in the fall — they're tough. Availability in the fall is a little bit difficult. Some people will dig up the raspberries from somebody else's patch and put them in there.

One caution on raspberries is not to plant too many in one spot. The rule of thumb is if you take a square metre ... you are looking at only 10 canes in there. If you go too dense, what happens is you get more disease problems, too much competition, smaller fruit.

Give them a bit more room if you can do that.