The Gentle Gardener: Food for thought

Grow your own avocados and blueberries

Today’s Dietician surveyed 1,342 registered dietitian nutritionists to determine the Top 10 superfood groups in 2020. The results were appalling. Heartwarming and satisfying staples such as chocolate and vodka did not make the list. Here is what did:

1. Fermented foods (alcohol is a food group)
2. Avocado (OK, who doesn’t love a good guac?)
3. Seeds
4. Ancient grains (first used 20,000 years ago to make beer)
5. Exotic fruit, like acai, golden berries (especially covered in chocolate)
6. Blueberries
7. Beets
8. Nuts
9. Coconut products
10. Non-dairy milks (with a nice shot of Baileys)

Fortunately for us gardeners, most of the growable items can be grown here easily in the Lowcountry (and almost all of them can be used to make alcohol) but for now, let’s focus on two of the easiest to grow — avocados and blueberries.

Holy guacamole!

Steps for growing awesome avocados.

Give them some space. Avocado trees prefer full sun, shelter from strong winds and plenty of space, so don’t plant them near other trees or a wall. The best soil for these trees is sandy loam, though they will tolerate a wide range of soil types as long as there is a low saline content and good drainage.

It takes two. For the most fruit, two avocado trees are required, preferably a type A and a type B (which refers to their flowers, which are receptive to pollination at different times of day). If both trees are growing in the same garden, the overall yield should be higher than that from two trees growing alone. However, some cultivars naturally bear fruit only every other year.

It’s a waiting game. Young trees require fertilizer six times per year, roughly once every two months, and trees that are 4 years old and older should be fertilized four times per year. Trees that are sold commercially are grafted from mature avocado varieties and produce fruit after three or four years. If you grow your tree from an avocado pit, it won’t bear fruit until it’s at least 10 years or possibly 15 years old.

Do your berry best

Advice for great blueberry bushes.

Peat moss is boss. Blueberry bushes are easy to grow and can live up to 25 years. They require a sunny location (with a little afternoon shade) and a well-drained, acidic soil. A fail-safe way to grow blueberries in almost any soil is to incorporate peat moss into the planting medium. It’s best to locate your blueberry plants in an area where irrigation is readily available to keep the root zone moist throughout the growing season. A covering of 2-4 inches of mulch over the roots to conserve moisture will pay off in spades but do not use bagged mulch from cedar or redwood trees, which has tannins and may be harmful to young plants. Nowadays, most blueberry plants are self-pollinating, but you’ll get more berries with cross-pollination, which means you should plant at least two different varieties.

Cut your losses. One of the biggest mistakes home gardeners make with their blueberries is lack of pruning. Failure to prune results in over-fruiting which produces smaller fruit. You shouldn’t need to prune for the first three years. In year four you need to prune while the plants are dormant – that means now – this month! Simply remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches, along with stems that crisscross in the center of the plant (to improve airflow) and any that are less than 6 inches long or over 2 inches in diameter. The biggest berries form on new stems, but you want plants to have a mix of stems of different ages. Continue pruning until you have removed 1/3 to 1/2 of the wood out of your plants each year.

Coffee time. Blueberries like acidic fertilizers such as azalea formulations. I like to use old coffee grinds and pickle juice. Take care when fertilizing, since blueberries are very sensitive to over-fertilization. Typically, you want to fertilize your plants in early spring as the buds are just beginning to break, then 6 weeks later and then again right after harvest.

Ask & Answer

My roses were looking lovely this summer but are now looking rather spindly. What am I doing wrong?
— Bewildered in Rose Hill

Dear Bewildered,
In all fairness to your roses, it is winter time. However, Valentine’s Day is my annual reminder to prune back my roses – hard! Be sure to then apply a fertilizer the first of each month and you should be rewarded with beautiful blooms. Only irrigate in the morning so the sun can dry the water off the plant before afternoon heat to prevent mildew on your plant.

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