End of Summer Gardens

Sometimes I feel like a character on little house on the prairie when I am in my garden at dusk. Gardens and sunsets are timeless.

As we approach the end of the summer, gardens in southern New Jersey are more colorful than ever. Zinnia and marigolds pop from their foliage and look great on a kitchen table. Hopefully you have some nice fruits and vegetables to harvest. Even those who do not have a specific garden can have grapes, blueberries, cranberries, beach plums, elderberry, raspberry and blackberry plants in shrub borders or as landscape plants. These are very easy to grow and are not bothered by pests when planted in a yard. Most county extension offices have pamphlets on the best way to grow, prune and harvest the above.

Blueberries are one of the easiest and can be planted now. Acid soil, part shade, lots of leaves, sounds familiar? Wouldn't it be great to find an easy to grow plant that would flower, have great fall color and even yield about 8 quarts of fruit each season?

Well, blueberries, Vaccinium corymbosum, just might fit the bill. These tasty, succulent tasty fruits will thrive in almost any kind of soil as long as it is acid (4 to 5 pH). They flourish in sandy soil, heavy soils and even in bogs when there is lots of humus, from decaying leaves and other organic materials. A woodland plant, they need a good leafy mulch to have healthy roots. One of the nice things about blueberries is that they are not demanding and they encourage us to reduce lawn and make natural plantings under and around oak trees. They look great in borders as well as in a garden or flowerbeds. Here in southern New Jersey the sandy acid soil is just what the plant is most often found growing in its natural environment. Just think you won’t have to rake leaves under these plants! Just pretend it is the woods and let them thrive!

Blueberry bushes have white, sometimes pink tinged bell-like blooms in May. Many times the plants are completely covered, usually just before the leaves come out and also while the leaves are unfurling. Soon light green berries replace the blooms and the plants are just covered with clusters of them. As the season progresses they gradually turn to light and then dark blue. They can be picked for pies, jams and fruit cups and also shared with the birds.

The fall colors of the plant are often a blazing red, orange and copper combinations of hues. This alone would make the plant a desirable landscape addition to most yards. Then in winter the branches are often yellowish green and as well as red tinged, which give this shrub a year round landscape value.

The plants need very little care, but if any pruning is done, it should be done immediately after fruiting so as not to cut off next year’s flower buds.

There is high bush blueberry, the one most often seen in the trade, and the one usually grown for the most fruit. This plant can grow to about six feet high, but can get higher if never trimmed and can also be kept smaller if pruned regularly. There is also a low bush wild blueberry that can sometimes be found. This one is a short, scraggly shrub, often not getting any taller than two feet. It’s most often found growing in very sandy, almost sterile places in Maine and other coastal regions. There are many of these in southern New Jersey, some in the Pine Barrens. They have a smaller berry.

I have found that blueberry plants respond best to compost and organic materials added to the soil, rather than lots of fertilizer. The birds get more from my few bushes than I do, we added several new plants under some fruiting pie cherry trees so that there will be enough for us all.

CapeMay.com Gardener's Scrapbook

We also have black berries, raspberries and beach plums (Prunus maritime - Garden Talk, July 2008) along the south side of my garden fence. All of these like more sun than shade. They all do well in our lousy sandy soil outside the garden fence. In fact peach plum grows in sand at the shore. We like to pick beach plums and freeze each handful until we get enough for jam. The plants were covered with fruit this summer but the birds are getting it as fast as they ripen. We also picked blackberries and raspberries and put them in a bag in the freezer so we can add to it each day. When there are enough we will make jam. It is fun to make sparkling jars of jelly and jam and we know ours has less sugar and more fruit than commercial products.

As I said, it is a fight to get the fruit before the birds do, but most of the plants have pretty flowers in spring, colorful fruit in summer and a troupe of birds dancing in their branches all the time eating the fruit as well as any insects that might accompany them.

There are beautiful fields of grapes at the Cape May wineries. Each year when I participate in the food and wine festival in Cape May I get a chance to visit the wineries and taste the wine. It is a treat to have such good wineries here in southern New Jersey. The lush grapes growing there prove that they do well in our area. This year’s food and wine festival begins September 21, see you there!

Visit Lorraine at www.Tripleoaks.com.

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