Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Landscaping made easy, Part 15: Even more edible landscaping

After seeing several recent news stories about local blackberry growers, I decided I had to take the plunge and try some for us.  But as with my other suburban planting efforts, it can't just be about gardening - our back yard is so small that we do a lot of food-gardening-as-landscaping, as this series of photos will show.
This Meyer lemon tree (shown in this 2013 pic as a newborn) had grown to the point where it was too large for this space, so this became one of my intended blackberry locations.

See this post for further information on culvert gardening.  
I moved the Meyer and began work on rejiggering this space with a blackberry trellis.  Mind you, it's mid-summer in Houston Texas.  My photos are going to look unfinished because most of the heavy lifting will need to wait until the average temperatures are about 30 degrees lower than what they are right now.  The main thing I needed to accomplish in the short term was to get the Meyer moved and the blackberry bushes into the ground.  
I used two simple $20 redwood trellises - not very fancy but this is my first trellising effort and I wanted to start small.  Annoyingly, I cannot find this exact model on the Home Depot website, but it's similar to this one (except the two I bought are wider).  I fastened them to the fence using three-quarter-inch metal brackets of the type that are available in the plumbing department.   
You can see from the photos above that the soil in this location is very light-colored, suggesting that it's not very high in organic matter (like most greater Houston soils, it's largely clay).  For this reason, I did one of my periodic compost excavations in order to retrieve enough material to amend it.  This pic shows the wheelbarrow loaded with newly-dug compost.  
And this is what my Earth Machine looked like after I had removed the composted material from the bottom of it.  THere is now room to make more as the cycle of decomposition and growth continues.  You can read more about the Earth Machine in this recent post.  
Here is the hole that I dug (did I mention that it's really bloody hot outside right now?!) and some home-made compost in the bottom of it for color comparison.  Very different composition, eh?  Where gardening and landscaping are concerned, the general rule of thumb on soil fertility is as follows:  Light-colored is bad.  Dark-colored is good.  
For a planting like this, the trick is to make the hole about 1.5 times wider and deeper than the plant that is going into the ground, and then blend the native soil and the amendments together to fill the extra space (as well as using my own compost, I also augmented with Microlife fertilizer).  You want to go to this hole-widening trouble in order to give your new plant a leg-up, a head start on growing where you've placed it, but you don't want to go so far as to create special soil conditions for the plant that you can't possibly sustain over the long term.  The initial boost helps the plant to get established in imperfect soils.   
I chose to try Rosborough blackberries (that's a PDF link), which is a line developed by Texas A&M and released in 1977.  I got the plants from Faith's Garden Shed Naturally which sells out of the Clear Lake Shores Farmers Market.

BTW, mini-blind slats can be recycled to make really good plant markers.  They take both marker and pencil very well.  
First blackberry coming out of its nursery container.  Loosen up the roots of newly-purchased plants a bit before placing them in the ground, so that the new roots will not continue to grow in a bound-up state.  
Here it is placed in the hole for sizing purposes.  The hole needs to be wider than the new plant, but it's important not to bury the top of the plant because the root ball needs to breathe.

This is a thorny bramble (ouch!) and so I plan to train it rigorously to go straight up the trellis rather than outward.  Vertical plantings are a good idea for any back yard that is lacking in space.  
Whew - one down, one to go.  I'll fix the landscape bed's rock edging in October maybe (did I mention that it's hot out right now?).  
This was my second chosen location, next to one of my large garden mirrors (they are made from recycled bathroom sheet mirrors that were taken out during someone's home remodeling and then sold to me during a garage sale).  Part of the point from a design perspective was to break up the continuous unbroken line of the fence by using staggered heights.  
The second blackberry was installed much as the first, and now we'll see what time and cooler temps will bring.  


  1. I'm interested that you are planting new things right now. It's awfully hot outside, even if it's been an unusually cool/wet summer comparitively. Why didn't you choose to wait another month or so?

  2. Sometimes I find I need to plant when the materials become available, even if the timing is inconvenient. Rosborough blackberries can't be bought just anywhere and I recently happened to get that pair from local master gardener Tabatha Holt. I could have kept them in their containers and planted them later in the fall, but that subjects them to the thermal stresses of full summer, and I've lost plants in the past because they just got too hot being out of the ground.

    That, plus I guess I'm a bit of a sucker for punishment. I use gardening and landscaping as part of my fitness regime and I detest having to stop all that activity during the mean season, so I do little bits here and there in the heat.


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