Plant care information
This plant care page is to provide some general information. Entire books are written on each of these plants so the information on growing them is readily available.
I recommend using the following two local resources for more information:
Kenai Peninsula Gardeners club is an excellent way to learn about gardens and plants. This club has a large group of members with many years of experience about what works in our area.
The other resource is the Co-op Extension Service
Cooperative Extension Service,
Kenai Peninsula District Office,
43961 K-Beach Road, Ste. A,
Soldotna, AK 99669
If you have questions for us, please email them. We will answer them as best we can.
Growing Blueberries in our area requires several key things.
- Soil pH is critical. It MUST be pH 4.5 to 5.0. If you plan to grow in containers, you can make your own media. If you plan on field planting, you will need to have an accurate soil pH test done. The typical ways of lowering soil pH that work in the lower 48 will not work here. Using elemental sulphur requires heat and we just do not get enough of that here. SN Enterprises, out of Sterling, sells a peat and peat topsoil mix. We have used his peat with great success. However, the pH of his peat varies depending on where he is digging. I always send a sample off to the lab before I use it for blueberries. The co-op extension agency has a list of labs for soil testing.
For a container mix, I make one with the following ingredients:
- 60% fir bark small/shredded. Available at Home Depot or Lowe's. Just make sure that it is all natural with no other ingredients! Pine Bark also acceptable - Avoid Cedar.
- 30% peat pH 4.5-5.0 Bales of peat are available at garden stores. Just check the lot number to insure the pH is within the correct range.
- 10% Perlite Available at garden stores.
We top dress our container grown blueberries with a slow release fertilizer. We use Floricote 19-5-6 medium rate for top dress. Depending on conditions, you may have to give them an additional dose of liquid fertilizer to help them until the slow release kicks in. We use Scotts or Peters general purpose fertilizer at the LOW dose schedule. They just may need a little to help them green up until the other fertilizer kicks in. Do NOT fertilize them again.
- Blueberry Variety
We have found that only a few commercial varieties will work in our area. The half high varieties seem to be the best adapted to our climate. Northblue, Polaris, Northsky, and North Country are our current recommendations. We have over 14 varieties that we are testing and add new ones each year. But for now, these are the ones we recommend. This year we are offering all of these varieties in first year plants. Visit the online store for availability.
- Plant care Must provide good drainage and yet be kept uniformly moist – not overly wet.
Irrigation scheduling – frequency and amount – need to be adjusted according to changes in weather, stage of plant growth and root development. They prefer full sun. Over wintering requires placing the containers in the ground and providing protection from rabbits. Snow cover is essential for wintering over blueberries. Find a sheltered place for wintering them out. If you decide to use sawdust or wood chips as a mulch, take precautions for voles.
- Planting For field planting, space plants 2-3 feet apart, with rows 8-10 feet apart. If you decide to plant highbush varieties, then space
plants 4 feet apart. Drip irrigation is a great way to keep your plants watered.
Irrigation Direct are two companies we use.
Pick all the flowers as they break bud for the first 2 years. This will allow the
plants to put all of their energy into building a good root system. Studies have proven that your yields will increase many fold throughout the life of the plant. Blueberries do not even hit their peak until years 6-12. This is the definition of delayed gratification. By doing so, you will be rewarded later on. Each year thereafter, you will need to prune 20-30% of the flowers. This will allow the plant to devote energy into making leaves, new stems and bigger berries. Failure to do so will result in plant health decline, less shoots, and small berries.
- Mother Nature The final element in growing blueberries is Mother Nature. Some seasons you will have a
bumper crop, other seasons nothing at all. This is true with many crops, especially in Alaska. Moose, rabbits, voles, and other pests all need to be taken into consideration. Bird netting is also recommended. Once the birds find you, they will come back year after year bringing more of their friends. When you get your first crop of these delicious and healthy berries, you will know it was worth it.
- Soil pH values 6.2 to 6.8 are best. Raspberries do not
like wet feet, so we suggest planting in raised beds. Plant the transplants by making a furrow several inches deep in your row. Lay out the roots parallel in the row spaced about a foot apart and cover lightly with soil. Rows should be 6-8 feet apart. The depth should be 1 inch above the level where the cane emerges from the roots. Do not stomp or pack the soil. Raspberries prefer
full sun. Do not fertilize them the first year. Fertilize each spring with 3
pounds of 8-32-16 per
100 sq feet. Trellised raspberries will have higher
yields. You will have a raspberry harvest the following year. After harvest, prune out the fruited canes leaving 6-8 pencil size or bigger canes per foot.
We sell and recommend Boyne and Latham for red raspberries, and
Fall Gold for yellow raspberry.
- Soil pH 6.0 to 7.0. Prefer full sun. Field planting
should be in raised beds with plants spaced 12 inches apart.
Overwintering strawberries in Alaska is a challenge. Snow
depth is very important for winter survival. Suggest growing early varieties of Junebearers for field planting. Day Neutrals do well in pots and containers. Treat them as annuals.
- Planting depth of bareroot strawberries is critical.
- Keep watered regularly, strawberries do not tolerate draught.
- pH 6.1 to 6.8 Having a soil sample done and interpreted by the co-op
extension agent will help you determine your soil needs. They will be able to determine what soil amendments you may need. Gooseberries prefer full sun. Plant 3-4' apart with rows 8-10' wide. Plant them at the same depth they were in the container. No
fertilizer the first year. Each year after, fertilize them in the spring by giving them 4 ounces of 10-10-10
per plant, split in 2 applications. First application as soon as ground thaws, second application 2-3 weeks later. Increase the rate by 2 ounces each year. Make sure to put the fertilizer around the drip line of the plant, and NOT on the stem. Gooseberries are long lived plants with the right care. They will begin to bear 5-8 pounds of fruit by year 4 or 5 and are known to live up to 20 years. A good book on growing Gooseberries is, "Currants, Gooseberries and Jostaberries." Authors: Dr.
Dan Barney and Dr. Kim Hummer.
- Certain varieties of both Black and Red Currants do very well here. We recommend Swedish Black for the black variety. Red Lake and Holland Longbunch are our two picks for the red. These have some of the highest sugar contents and are good right off the bush or for other culinary uses. Plant at the same depth that they were in the container.
pH 6.1-6.8. They prefer full sun. Space plants 4' apart in rows and 8-10' between rows. We trellis the Swedish Black currants due to the growth and abundance of fruit. You will have some production by the 2nd year and will have many crops thereafter. Expect 10-15 years of production depending on mother nature and plant care. A good book on growing Currants is, "Currants, Gooseberries and Jostaberries." Authors: Dr.
Dan Barney and Dr. Kim Hummer.
- Saskatoons are known by many names. Serviceberry, Shadbush, and Juneberry. They resemble blueberries in appearance and flavor. They grow 6-30 feet tall with beautiful white flowers. Grown commercially in Canada and gaining much interest in the USA.
- Very easy plant to grow in our area. Extremely cold hardy to -60F. Plant in full sun. Plant spacing 4-5' and 10-12' between rows. Will
grow in a wide soil pH range. Will begin to bear fruit by
year 3 and are long lived plants. Berries are great eating
fresh, in pies, jams, sauces, and wines.
- The key to harvesting them is to wait until their sugar
content is at its peak. Usually ripe by early September, weather depending. Bird protection is a must. All commercial varieties grow well here. Our main varieties are Smoky, Martin, and Northline. Here is an excellent link for everything you ever wanted to know about
- Haskaps like good rich soil with a pH range of 6.5-7.
Good drainage is recommended. Plant them the same depth as
they were in the pots, or just a fraction deeper. Plant
spacing should be a minimum of 4' apart as these will grow 4-6
feet around and 5-7 feet tall. They do better in full sun.
- Water as you would any of your other berry plants.
An ample amount of good compost each spring when the ground
warms up will provide them a supply of nutrients. Our
varieties flower typically the middle of May to the end of May
and you should begin to pick fruit by late July weather
permitting. Only pick the fruit when it is blood crimson
inside. If the inside is still green or light purple, wait
till the next week and try them again.
- These will not require pruning until 7-8 years old.
Then you may prune off just enough to open up the plant for good
circulation. Yes moose , rabbits, and other critters
will eat them, so plant a fence first. By the time they
are 3 years old, you will need to bird net them or you will not
get any fruit as the birds love them.
- These should give you many years of enjoyment with reports
of some of these living up to 50 years.
Planting and Spacing
Plant rhubarb roots in early spring.
Space rhubarb roots 48 inches apart in rows
4 to 6 feet apart. These distances
can be decreased to 36 inches for plants in rows for
smaller gardens. Much smaller than this will
crowd the plants and result in a diminished crop and
increase the likelihood of spreading disease. A 2-3 year old
plant can be 4-6 feet
in diameter and 3-5 feet tall. Plant the roots with the
crown bud 1-2 inches below the surface of the soil. The
hole for the crown should be dug extra large and composted
manure, peat moss or organic material should be mixed with the soil
to be placed around the roots. Firm the soil around the roots
but keep it loose over the buds. Water the crowns after
planting. Give the plant 1/4 cup of 10-10-10 sprinkled around the perimeter of the plant. Keep it back at least 6 inches from the root. Each spring thereafter, fertilize with 1 cup of 10-10-10 around the perimeter of the plant. Keep it off the crown and stalks. Good garden drainage is
essential in growing rhubarb. For home gardeners, planting in
raised beds helps ensure against rotting of the crowns. Crowns
will have a longevity of many years, but it is recommended to split the root divisions every 4-5 years.
General Growing Information
Rhubarb responds to good care and watering. Remove the flower
stalks as they are seen. During the first year of planting, the
stalks should not be picked, since food from the leaves is
needed to nourish the roots for the next year's growth. One
light picking may be taken during the year following planting if
the plants are vigorous, and beginning the second year following
planting, 60-70% may be harvested. On a mature plant, we will do 3 pickings during the season. When harvesting
simply pull them out individually. Do not cut, just pull and twist.
Remove the leaves. The leaves contain a poison called oxalic acid. For the home (small) gardener, rhubarb will tolerate a
fair amount of neglect and still thrive, they are very tough
The biggest pest problem is slugs. They love to live in the shade of the plants. You know you have slugs when you notice a clear, sticky substance on the stalks. We use an organic slug bait called
The rhubarb season here is from May to August.
Refrain from harvesting rhubarb the first year after
planting. Each plant needs time to build up food reserves in the
root to produce thick, robust stems.