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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 March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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