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red strawberry(MCT)—The evolution of the berry bush continues. Once large and untamed, berry bushes are becoming smaller and are now being adapted for new uses, including as ornamentals.

Steve Raczak of Twixwood Nursery in Berrien Springs, Mich., says that the increasing popularity of berries as ornamentals is part of the trends toward urbanized gardening, thinking smaller and trying nontraditional plants.

“There’s a movement toward reducing sizes and increasing the variations of color,” he says. “There’s lots of movement in berries, fruits, herbs, vegetables, so the convenience of growing and harvesting can literally be done on your patio.”

Another factor in their popularity is the hope that they will appeal to a different gardening demographic.

“There’s so much talk in our industry about how to attract young people to gardening,” says Robin Rinaca, owner of Eastern Shore Nursery of Virginia, located in Melfa, Va.

“The gardening population was traditionally women in their 50s to 70s. As that demographic gets older, (there are) concerns (about) what will follow. Kids in their 20s? I don’t know if they’ll be gardening.”

But as more varieties appear on the market, they may get hooked. Time will tell.

In addition to containers on patios or balconies, small berry bushes can be used in more traditional landscaping as shrubs or hedges. Some resemble boxwoods, yet offer interesting color (pink, red, burgundy), depending on the time of year.

If you’re thinking of using berries as ornamentals, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are among your best bets. They’re compact, they produce fruit, and some are even attractive. There’s also that geek factor, something to impress visitors.

Kylie Keppler, marketing assistant for Fall Creek Farm & Nursery of Lowell, Ore., says the company released three types of berry plants in 2013 under its BrazelBerry line. Two were blueberries (Peach Sorbet and Jelly Bean), and the other was raspberry (Raspberry Shortcake). A fourth, Blueberry Glaze, reached garden centers this year, and more varieties are in the pipeline.

“They’re aesthetically pleasing, and typically have amazing color and different color year-round,” she says. “Whether it’s a … raised bed or on a balcony, you can have berries.”

The plants have different characteristics. The dwarf Jelly Bean (zones 4-8) grows to 1-2 feet and has medium to large fruit. Peach Sorbet (zones 5-10) grows up to 2 feet and has medium fruit. Blueberry Glaze (zones 5-8) gets to 2-3 feet and features small fruit, almost like wild blueberries. Raspberry Shortcake (zones 5-9) is a dwarf, growing to 3 feet with medium fruit. It’s thornless and no staking is required.

In addition, many companies offer strawberry varieties that can be used in planters or hanging baskets. Even small lemon or lime trees can be grown in a pot on the patio, more for show than anything else.

Full sun is a requirement, along with acid soil for the blueberries and a more neutral pH for raspberries. Fertilize in the spring and water moderately. Also, plan ahead for a more steady harvest of fruit. Strawberries mature early, blueberries and raspberries in midseason. Plant accordingly and move your containers around for the biggest impact and best productivity.

What a gardener gains in show value — a small plant that provides some fruit — he or she will lose in yield.

“A lot of people want to grow things on their deck, but you’re not growing much in a two-gallon pot,” Rinaca points out.

“I frankly think some of the dwarf plants — raspberry and blackberry — would be more productive with longer canes.”

She uses a blueberry bush as an example. “If it goes in the ground you’ll get four times the blueberries in two years. … If your objective is ornamental, (the dwarf varieties are) fine. But if you want fruit, you need to grow some varieties that are productive.”

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