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Want the best berries? Water now

A trellis helps train canes to grow up, off the ground. The
blackberries are easier to pick and protect.
(Photo: Debbie Arrington)

Proper irrigation is critical to harvesting sweet, ripe fruit

Berry season is so close, you can taste it.

During this hot weather, irrigation is critical. Check drip lines and soil moisture. According to the UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners, blueberries and cane berries need evenly moist but not wet soil while developing fruit.

Deep-water in the morning and let it soak down at least 6 inches. Mulch around plants to protect shallow roots and retain some of that cooling moisture.

Blueberries may actually prefer some afternoon shade. They'll ripen a month later than their full-sun counterparts, but the fruit will still be good quality.

Trellis cane berries to keep fruit off the ground and make it easier to pick. A trellis also comes in handy for protecting the crop from birds. Drape bird netting over the trellis and the canes, then lift this veil to harvest.

Maybe your berry plants are already producing; how do you know when berries are at their sweetest?
Blueberries don't ripen all at once; they require regular check-ins. Even when dark blue, they're not quite fully ripe. As a general rule, wait an extra week after they turn blue to pick.

Try this master gardener trick: Put a bucket or bowl under the berry cluster and gently "tickle" the berries, flicking the cluster with your index finger. The ripe berries will fall off.

Color helps indicate cane berry ripeness. Blackberries are deep black-purple and plump; berries in lighter shades of purple or red need more time. These berries are ripe when they easily pull free from the plant with only a slight tug.

Ranging from ruby red to deep gold to purplish black, raspberries are ripe when their caps pull free.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist for week of April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

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