Putting Container Planted Berries to Bed

If Instagram feeds are any indicator, many of us went all in this year on the new raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry plants bred for containers. Compact and easy care, they dotted patios, balconies, courtyards, and backdoors across the country.

But now with winter just about here, you might be wondering if they need special care to survive the season. Here’s some advice on how to keep your berries happy this winter.

ZONES 7 - 9

By now your plants should have stopped producing fruit and need time to recover in order to pump out the produce all over again next spring. Plants may either still be leafy and green, or losing some of their luster. Both are normal.

  • Do not fertilize again until early spring.
  • If winter rains don’t do the job, keep watering so that soil stay evenly moist. Do not allow your plants to dry out.
  • If you have heavy rains do not allow water to pool in saucers underneath planters. Watch and drain as needed.
  • A thin layer of compost (about 1 in.) applied now to the surface of the soil will break down over winter feeding microbes in the existing soil.
  • Any pruning for shape or to remove damaged canes should wait until early spring. Note that many berries fruit on two year old canes, so pruned branches may wait a year to fruit. This is normal.

ZONES 4 - 7

As above, your plants are done for the season. In colder zones they will have lost their leaves and look branchy and bare. This is normal. In areas where temperatures regularly dip below freezing, plants will need some extra care to protect roots.Taking some extra care now will help your plants rebound with vim and vigor come spring.

  • A thin layer of compost (about 1 in.) applied now to the surface of the soil will break down over winter feeding microbes in the existing soil. Do not fertilize as we don’t want to encourage leafing out during warm spells.
  • Any pruning for shape or to remove damaged canes should wait until early spring. (Note that many berries fruit on two year old canes, so pruned branches may wait a year to fruit. This is normal.)
  • Insulate pots by wrapping them in a cylinder of chicken wire and stuffing the space in between with fall leaves or straw. (You’ll remove the insulation in the spring after the threat of prolonged cold weather has passed.)
  • Another way to protect roots from freezingis to sink the pots up to their rim in a compost pile or even a trash can filled with mulched leaves. In spring, lift pots out, and place them where desired.
  • You can also overwinter containered berry plants by storing them in an unheated attached garage or cold cellar. Water sparingly, and when the weather warms, move them back outside.
  • If it doesn’t get too cold where you live (zones 6 and 7), you can also try moving the pots to a protected area, such as right up against the house.

No matter your zone, when the weather warms reliably, give plants a thorough watering, and then feed them. In spring we’ll go into how to prune your plants–till then, holster those clippers 🙂

If you have questions, feel free to drop me a note in the comment section. I can talk about this stuff all day.

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