Big Berries for Small Spaces

If you have limited gardening space, these dwarf berry varieties are a great choice.
'Jelly Bean' Blueberries

'Jelly Bean' Blueberries

This dwarf 'Jelly Bean' blueberry bush from Bushel and Berry is the perfect size for small-space gardening.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Bushel and Berry

Image courtesy of Bushel and Berry

This dwarf 'Jelly Bean' blueberry bush from Bushel and Berry is the perfect size for small-space gardening.

Raspberries in a yogurt smoothie or muffins studded with blueberries and dusted with sugar and cinnamon - fresh berries make delicious, nutritious snacks. Better still, they’re packed with anti-oxidants for good health.

If you’re an urban gardener whose only growing space is a balcony, or you simply don’t have much room in your yard, you’ve probably hesitated to grow berry bushes.

I’ve never grown raspberries because I don’t like to deal with prickly plants, and raspberries are brambles; sprawling, thorny shrubs. They can produce enough runners to take over your garden spot if you don’t keep them pruned or trellised. I’ve tried blackberries, but even when I wear heavy gloves, their long canes manage to escape when I wrestle them into the compost heap, and I wind up with scratched arms and legs.

Blueberries aren’t that demanding, and I’ve grown them, but the bushes can become quite large, with some varieties reaching 6 to 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Depending on which ones you’re growing, you may need at least two plants, as I did, for cross-pollination. My bushes finally succumbed (I admit, I traveled for a few years, and neglected them), and now my garden is too full to plant more. But I love all kinds of fresh berries, and I grimace every time I shell out big bucks for them at the grocery store.

This year, I’m growing a new dwarf shrub called BrazelBerries ‘Raspberry Shortcake,’ from Oregon’s Fall Creek Farm and Nursery. It was developed to grow in large containers, so it should be great for my sunny back deck. It reaches just 2 to 3 feet tall and has a mounding habit. The upright canes don’t need staking, and since it’s thornless - yay! - I won’t get stuck every time I pick the fruit. Even my dogs will be okay when they brush past it on the deck.

My family is also crazy for blueberries, so semi-dwarf ‘Sunshine Blue’ looks like a good choice. The 4-foot tall bushes promise to yield 5 to 10 pounds of fruit. It’s hardy from zones 5 to 10 and doesn’t need a lot of cold, so it’s recommended for Southern climates as well as the North. The bushes are self-pollinating. Hot pink flowers open in May, and the evergreen foliage turns a beautiful red in fall.

I’d love to try this one, too: ‘Top Hat’ is a dwarf blueberry that grows 18 to 24 inches tall. It’s hardy in zones 3 to 7 and self-pollinating, but it’s not a heavy yielder, bearing only 2 to 5 pounds of pea-sized berries in mid-summer. Still, I’d try it for a novelty. The growers say it can even be trained as a bonsai! The foliage turns red-orange in autumn but it’s deciduous, so it wouldn’t work as an ornamental plant all year.

I’ll keep you posted as my new bushes begin to bear. I’m still not sure any snack can beat my favorite, chocolate—but fresh raspberries and blueberries come close.

Fast facts about growing these dwarf varieties:

  • Give your raspberries and blueberries full sun. Water moderately and use a large container with good drainage.
  • Blueberries like acidic soil, so work in some peat moss or organic material when you plant. 
  • Feed your raspberries with a balanced liquid fertilizer, following directions for the product you’re using.
  • Feed your blueberries in early spring with a rhododendron/azalea fertilizer.
  • These varieties will produce new growth each year to bear more fruit. After you’ve harvested the berries this summer, prune the canes that have already fruited.

BrazelBerries ‘Raspberry Shortcake' is currently available through independent garden centers; click here to enter your zip code and find a local retailer. They’re also available by mail order from White Flower Farm.

‘Sunshine Blue’ is available from GurneysMonrovia, and Park Seed.

‘Top Hat’ is available from Springhill and Park Seed.

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