How Do I Protect My Vegetable Garden From Squirrels?

“I need to protect my garden from squirrels. I want to do container gardening on my deck. I have problems with squirrels eating all my berries and some of my veggies. What is the best way to protect them?” Question from Melanie of Susquehanna, Pennsylvania

Answer: There are several useful ways that you can implement to keep squirrels from eating your prized fruits and vegetables. Take one or more of these approaches, and even the cleverest squirrels will be thwarted.

  1. Netting and/or caging will keep squirrels away from your berry and vegetable beds and containers.
  2. Motion-sensor water sprayers are an excellent method for repelling small animals, like rabbits and squirrels. The Orbit Yard Enforcer is one model with good reviews.
  3. Dogs and cats also help keep squirrels away, and it’s always nice to have pets.
  4. Most foul-smelling Repellents are a good option for protecting ornamental gardens from squirrels, but not vegetable beds. That’s because poor-smelling repellants can impact the flavor of your produce. Mint and chili pepper sprays, however,  reportedly turn squirrels off, so give these a try. They should not negatively impact your home produce unless you directly spray berries and fruits.

Please click here to read an article about succeeding with container vegetable gardens.

Have a great gardening season!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Bountiful Fall Berries for Gardens

Bountiful Fall Berries for Gardens

As a child, we had golden raspberries in our woods in southern Indiana. Each fall, as I passed them in the morning to meet the school bus, I would see how many were ready to pick and pop the ripened fruits in my mouth. The lingering memory of their warm, sweet, raspberry taste makes them my ultimate autumnal berry, but there are many others to be grown and enjoyed in the garden. After doing a little research, I discovered that our woodland raspberry was likely an escaped golden-fruited Rubus ideaus, or cultivated raspberry, which makes finding it at nurseries easier.

Late-season berries come in all forms—from grapes to cranberries to raspberries. In this piece, I am also bending the definition of “berries” a bit to include figs, another fall favorite. (Botany lesson: fig fruits are technically aggregate or collective fruits called “syconia” (singular syconium) made up of multiple tiny fruits from multiple tiny flowers folded inward to form a single fig. The resulting fruit has a berry-like appearance.) Fall and figs go hand-in-hand. And, my figs are going gangbusters on this early September day, so I want to include them. They should keep producing into mid- to late-fall.

Garden Berries for Fall

Cranberries grow best in boggy soils that are peaty and sandy.

American Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon, USDA Hardiness Zones 2-7): Ripening by late September to October, no berry says fall quite like the tart snap of an American cranberry. Cranberries are fully evergreen and grow in bogs with moist, sandy, acid soils. If you lack a bog (most of us do), it’s smart to create special beds for the best yields. Rows of low-set, broad nursery pots partially sunk in the ground and filled with sand and Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss work well. Keep the pots moist and supply fertilizer for acid-loving plants. Lots of pink, bell-shaped flowers will appear in springtime (bees pollinate the blooms) followed by ripe red cranberries in fall. Full to partial sunlight is needed–that’s at least 6 hours per day. The variety ‘Pilgrim‘ is especially attractive and spreads to form a tidy groundcover with plenty of flavorful berries.

Cape gooseberries are easy summer fruits you can grow from seed.

Cape gooseberry or Peruvian groundcherry (Physalis peruviana, Zones 10-12): Imagine growing golden fall fruits that taste of tart pineapple, which can be grown like tomatoes or tomatillos. These are Cape gooseberries, close tomato relatives from subtropical regions in Peru. The husked berries are golden when ripe and mature from August until mid-fall when nights grow cool. Tender Cape gooseberries produce fruit the first year from seed, which is why they are grown as annuals. Eat them fresh or use them to make jam for canning or pie.

Concord grapes need time and training, but the fresh fall fruits make them worth the work.

Concord or Fox Grapes (Vitis labrusca hybrids, Zones 4-8): Sweet, aromatic Concord grapes are a late-season treat that taste of grape jelly and purple grape juice. The twining, woody vines need a strong fence or trellis for best production and begin to produce fruit by late September. Seasonal pruning in spring will keep vines productive and in control. (Click here for some grape-pruning tips.) Try the popular Seedless Concord. It has all of the great flavor and vigor of the traditional type but it lacks the seeds–making them easier to process into jelly, juice, and pies.

Many figs ripen in late summer or fall for fresh eating or drying.

Figs (Ficus carica, hardiness varies) grow very large (6 to 15 feet by 8 to 20 feet), even compact varieties, so plant them in an area with space. My Zone 7 garden requires that I choose hardier varieties. I have found that some hardy varieties taste better than others. My top choice is the small-fruited, super sweet sugar fig ‘Celeste’ (USDA Hardiness Zone 6-10) with its copious small, squat, purplish-brown fruits that produce most on second-year wood. This year mine is producing beautifully. Another that I want to try is the Louisiana State introduction ‘LSU Gold’ (Zones 7-9), which produces very flavorful, sweet green figs with pinkish flesh. Expect this more southern fig to be more cold-sensitive. When plants die back to the ground, they do not always set fruits on new wood. One means of protecting plants through winter is mounding mulch around the crown in late fall and then removing it in spring after the threat of frost has passed.  (Click here for a full overview of figs.)

Golden raspberries ready for the picking.

Golden Raspberries (Rubus ideaus hybrids, USDA Hardiness Zones ): Some late raspberries are red and others are black, but I like the gold ones for their delicate, sunny flavor and unique beauty. There are several from which to choose. The large berries of  ‘Anne Yellow‘ are deep gold with almost a hint of orange. Berries appear July and again in fall on tall, upright plants with thorned stems. Double Gold Yellow is a patented berry with thimble-shaped gold fruits blushed with pink. Thorned fruiting canes produce berries both in summer and again in fall. Pull and prune back new suckers to keep rows tidy.

Sink a few of these sweet berried plants in your garden next spring, and you will be rewarded with a wealth of fall berries. In the meantime, look for them at your local farmers market or roadside fruit stand.

What are Good Fruits for Cold Climates?

Blueberries are good fruits for cold climates.

“What would be a good fruit to try and grow in a cold climate?” Question from Chelsea of Alpena, Michigan

Answer: Lots of classic garden berries are very hardy and grow beautifully up north. Blackberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries, strawberries, and raspberries are among them. If you are new to berry planting, I would start with lowbush blueberries because they are quick to set fruit, easy to maintain, and very hardy.

Growing Blueberries

Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) grow particularly well up north and are able to withstand climates far into Canada. Choose compact lowbush varieties that are easy to maintain. Two classics that are short, heavy-bearing, and flavorful are ‘Northblue‘ and ‘Northcountry‘. These would look right at home along the edge of a sunny patio or even in containers. Speaking of container berries, the new designer lowbush blueberries in the Bushel and Berry® Series are also excellent varieties to try. (In fact, all of there berries are quite hardy and low-care). Of these, I think Blueberry Glaze® is especially beautiful because of its tidy, boxwood-like habit and tasty berries.

Alpena, Michigan is blueberry country, so you should not have trouble growing them, but you should still know the basics. Plant your berries in full to partial sun. The key to happy blueberries is getting their soil right; they like well-drained, acid soils with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. When soils are too alkaline (have a higher pH) blueberry plants cannot access necessary nutrients, and their leaves start to turn yellow. To keep this from happening, amend the soil with Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss at planting time and feed with a fertilizer formulated for acid-loving crops, like blueberries. Water your berries if rain has been infrequent and the soil starts to become dry. If you start with robust, good-sized plants this spring you will have berries by summer.

If you are interested in growing other berries on a small-scale, read our article about the best fruits for container gardening. If you are interested in growing strawberries, watch the video below.

Happy berry growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Which Vegetables [Berries] will Tolerate Some Shade?

“Which vegetables will tolerate some shade?” Question from Trish of Newton, New Jersey

Answer: There are some vegetables and herbs that will tolerate some shade in the day, but most will not. Those tolerant of the partial sun are greens, such as lettuce, arugula, kale, and some herbs, such as lemon balm and sweet woodruff.

Berries, such as lowbush and tallbush blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) and woodland strawberries (Fragaria vesca) will also tolerate shade. In fact, both naturally grow in forest openings and are an excellent crop for spots with a little shade. Currants and gooseberries (Ribes spp.), raspberries (Rubus spp.), and elderberries (Sambucus spp.) will also tolerate partial shade conditions. With that said, maybe what you need is a berry patch!

Most other vegetables need a minimum of 6 hours of strong direct sunlight when growing most other vegetables, especially tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn, and others that need lots of sun to produce. More sun is always better. Clearing away some of your larger tree branches might help offer more light for a sunnier vegetable patch.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold horticulturist

Growing Tomatoes and Berries in Containers


Brazelberries™ Raspberry Shortcake In Square Terra Cotta Pot - Photo Courtesy of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery
Bushel and Berry® Raspberry Shortcake ® In Square Terra Cotta Pot – Photo Courtesy of Bushel and Berry®

It is always fun visiting garden shows to see what plants for container gardening are new and which are being promoted by nurseries for the retail customer. Some plants are not really ‘new’ but are probably ‘new’ to a homeowner and perhaps have not been readily available in garden centers because of lack of adequate production. At the recent Yard, Garden & Patio Show in Portland, the BrazelBerries™ Series of berries caught my attention.

 Berries for Containers

Who does not love picking a fresh raspberry in the summer and eating it directly from the plant? It is difficult to duplicate that flavor from a store-bought berry. Raspberries are one of my favorite berries and unfortunately in our garden, we do not have space or the sunny location that the plants traditionally require.

The good news for home gardeners is that a new series of berries has been developed targeted specifically for those with small space gardens or a deck or patio where containers can be used. This new container gardening-friendly series called Bushel and Berry® will be available in garden centers this spring season. The inaugural plant is a thornless dwarf raspberry called Raspberry Shortcake®. It is great for container gardening and requires no staking and has sturdy upright canes. An added bonus is that it has no thorns and produces raspberries in mid-summer.

Two other introductions in this series are compact blueberry plants, which would also be ideal for container gardening. Peach Sorbet™ has beautiful spring color in the new growth that ranges from pink to orange. In a mild winter, it will keep the leaves when the foliage turns purple, thus providing color year round. The second blueberry introduction is called Jelly Bean™ and is very dwarf, only reaching 1-2 ft in height. Both of these blueberries have the typical colorful blueberry new growth and flowers in spring. Even though these two blueberry plants are small in their growth habit, the fruit size is what we think of as normal blueberry.

Brazelberries™ Raspberry Shortcake In Square Terra Cotta Pot - Photo Courtesy of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery
BrazelBerries™ Jelly Bean Blueberry Plant – Photo Courtesy of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery

For those gardeners wanting container plants that not only look good but can also supply edible berries, these are three ideal plants. I am personally a big fan of container gardening and have many containers throughout my garden. However, except for my variegated Meyer Lemon, I do not have any plants in containers that produce anything edible. That will change this year with the addition of BrazelBerries™ in some of my containers.

For Raspberry Shortcake™, I would suggest a large container whereas the Peach Sorbet™ and Jelly Bean™ blueberries could be in a smaller size. However, I have found it is best to have a larger size container than might actually be needed for the plant as plants in small containers tend to dry out quicker in the summer and a larger size will help alleviate this. Fill the pot with Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil as it supplies not only earthworm castings but also perlite and pumice for aeration and good drainage, which these berries need. Mix some additional fertilizer formulated for fruit for best results. Your containers should be placed in a sunny location. Together with this combination of potting soil and fertilizer, your plants should thrive.

Indigo Rose Tomato Plant - Photo By Rich Baer
Indigo Rose Tomato Plant – Photo By Rich Baer

Tomatoes for Containers

This is also the time of year to be thinking of buying tomato seeds and making preparations for starting them indoors. A location near a sunny window is ideal and having a heat mat is also a benefit. Tomatoes are easy to start from seed and should be kept indoors until all danger of frost is over. The Oregon State University introduction ‘Indigo Rose’ was disappointing to some because of the late maturing fruits but for an ornamental plant in a container, it puts on quite a show in clusters of purple fruit. A healthful bonus is the high amount of anthocyanin occurring in the purple pigment.

It can be a rewarding project to start your own tomatoes from seed and it is quite easy. Begin with good quality seeds and sow in a tray of Black Gold Seedling Mix. This seedling mix has been formulated with a wetting agent to help with water penetration and the fine texture encourages high germination. Keep the mix moist until seeds germinate and when seedlings reach several inches in height, transplant to a small pot, 4-inch size is ideal, and use Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. This is 100% organic and OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed.

I like to ask listeners to my radio program which tomato performed the best for them and the winner this past year was from the former country of Czechoslovakia. The tomato is called ‘Stupice’. It is a cold-tolerant tomato and is ideal for our unpredictable spring weather here in the Pacific Northwest as well. It is good for both eating fresh as well as in salads. Harry Olson, a Salem, Oregon tomato grower, told me it was his first tomato to ripen in the spring then it continued producing fruit all summer and was the last tomato he picked in the fall.

Spring is coming, let’s get ready!

Container Gardening Stupice Tomato - Photo By Rich Baer
Container Gardening Stupice Tomato – Photo By Rich Baer