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4010 Mt Diablo Blvd.
Lafayette, CA, 94549

Located in the Bay Area, CA, we're a family-owned garden center offering unusual and hard-to-find plants & gifts. Established 1946.

Life is Beautiful Blog

Dorm Room Houseplants

Lauren Brookhart

Heading off for school (or maybe your kids are) and looking to decorate with a little greenery? Here's our top picks for houseplants that don't require a lot of care and attention because let's face it, you're going to have a lot on your mind! 

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Aloe Vera

We love aloe vera not just for it's looks but its first aid boasting skills too! An easy-care succulent that can live in a variety of conditions with no hand-holding in sight!

Light: A lover of bright light, keep it near your window for optimal sunshine exposure!

Water: This baby doesn't want to wade in water all day, so allow it to dry out between waterings. 

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Bromeliad

Looking for a pop of color for your space? These tropical beauties are more low maintenance than you think! Check out Bromeliads 101 for more info on the care and keeping of these terrestrial plants. 

Light: Choose a spot with bright, indirect light. 

Water: Water them from the top, pouring into the “cup” at the base of its leaves. They store their moisture there, so ensure that water is always present in its cup. For small Bromeliads that means roughly an inch, for larger plants maintain a few inches.

Sansevieria

Also known as a Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law's Tongue, the Sansevieria is one the hardest of houseplants. (See the ZZ Plant for another great option!) Boasting striped foliage and available in a variegated form too, we've always got a great selection of them in the Atrium! 

Light: Tolerant of low light, this is the perfect plant for those who like to sleep late with the blinds drawn, or those dark corners that are screaming for a little greenery. 

Water: This is the plant for those underwater-ers out there! It can go weeks (and some even say months) without a drop of water but to keep it looking its best, give it a drink every week or so. When you leave on winter vacation, don't worry about watering, we recommend backing off watering in the winter months when things are a little bit cooler. 

Spider Plant

The classic "clean air plant." The Spider Plant is great for a little movement and shape in your space. And we especially love when it begins to propagate and little baby plants start raining down from the mama! 

Light: Likes bright, indirect light

Water: Give it a drink regularly, every week in summer and less frequently in winter. 

Pothos

Our favorite part about this plant is how it tells you when it's thirsty, it's leaves will begin to droop a bit and with one small watering, it's back to its happy, hydrated self! Easy as pie! It's leaf green leaves grow on winding stems that can be led up or down hooks, shelves or tables (even that mini fridge!) for easy, beautiful greenery. 

Light: Does well in bright, indirect light but if you've got a low light corner, it'll take it!

Water: Water weekly in the warmer months or if it's near a heating vent, and in winter less frequently. 

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ZZ Plant

When customers are looking for tough houseplants, the ZZ and Sansevieria are our recommendations. It's thick stem can hold water for weeks, so when you forget to water this baby still looks great! Plus breathe easy, the ZZ is a clean air plant, helping to purify the air around you! 

Light: It'll take anything you've got: bright, medium, low and that spot you thought nothing could grow in! 

Water: Water sparingly, too much is about the only way to kill this plant. 

 

Questions?

Check in with our staff in the Atrium and let us help you find the perfect houseplant today! 

Grilled Melon Salsa

Lauren Brookhart

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Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 thick slices ripe cantaloupe (half-moon shaped, seeds and rind removed)*
  • 3 thick slices ripe honeydew (half-moon shaped, seeds and rind removed)*
  • 3 thick slices ripe canary melon or other yellow-fleshed melon (half-moon shaped, seeds and rind removed)*
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus a drizzle   
  • 1 cup diced ripe red tomato
  • 1 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 limes
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • Small handful basil leaves, coarsely chopped

* Save the rest of the melons for another use, or double the recipe!

PREPARATION

  1. Heat a grill to medium-high. Toss the melon slices gently in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil. Using tongs, place the melon slices across grill grates. Don’t disturb them once you’ve laid them down. Let them cook for 3 to 4 minutes to brown—you’ll see the edges start to caramelize. Flip them and brown the other side. Remove from the grill and set aside to cool.
  2. Dice the grilled melon into pieces that are about the same size or slightly larger than the tomato. Toss into a bowl with the tomato, jalapeño, and shallot.
  3. Add some of the lime juice,  1/4 cup olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Stir in the cilantro and basil. Taste and add salt, pepper, and lime juice as needed.

 

This recipe was demonstrated for CUESA’s Market to Table program on August 18, 2012.

Source: Alison Mountford, Square Meals

How To: Preserving Herbs

Lauren Brookhart

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If your garden is bursting with fresh herbs now, preserve some for a time when things are not so green. By the first sign of frost this winter, it'll be time to harvest the rest of those herbs in your garden and bring them inside to dry or freeze for later use. Annual herbs can be cut off at ground level but perennial herbs should not be cut down completely, harvest only the tips of branches and tender leaves.

Before preserving, wash the herbs gently in cold water, drain thoroughly and air dry on a towel.

 Air drying herbs double as decor!

Air drying herbs double as decor!

AIR DRYING

Gather herbs in small bunches, tying the ends with twist ties or rubber bands. Hang the herbs in bunches, upside down, in a dim, airy place away from any source of heat or moisture. You could use a beamed ceiling or a drying rack, anywhere that allows circulation between the bunches of herbs. It may take 4 – 14 days to dry completely, depending on the type of herb and the warmth and humidity of your drying area.

Herbs can also be stripped from the stems and leaves dried in a single layer on mesh rack (window screen works well). Leaves are dry when they are crisp and brittle.

OVEN DRYING

The quickest way to dry herbs is in the oven. Set in single layer on mesh rack or foil lined baking sheet. Heat oven to its lowest setting. Place the herbs in the oven and leave until completely dry, which should take two to four hours depending on the herb. Cool before storing. Herbs are dry when the leaves crumble off the stem. Be care to not crush leaves until using them.

Once the herbs are dry they should be stored in airtight jars away from heat and moisture. For best flavor, use within 6 months to a year. When using dried herbs, crush between your fingers to release their flavor.

Remember that dried herbs are stronger in flavor than fresh, so when measuring in recipes use 1 part dried to 3 parts fresh.

FREEZING

Strip the herb leaves from the stems and lay on baking sheets. Freeze until firm and then pack into freezer bags. You can also chop the herbs in a food processor with a little water and freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen solid, unfold and pack in freezer bags for easy use all year long! 

When cooking, use the herbs straight from the freezer as you would fresh herbs.

 Dried oregano ready for your culinary delights! 

Dried oregano ready for your culinary delights! 

DEHYDRATING

This can be the easiest way to dry your herbs. There are many different types of dehydrators in the market and you don’t have to spend too much. Once dried they are ready to be stored in airtight jars.

Our favorite part about dehydrating? So easy to make different herbal blends! It's recommended that you don’t fully crush the herbs up until day of use. 

Apple & Pear Picking

Lauren Brookhart

Most apples are ready to pick when they separate easily from the tree. Lift gently and rotate the apple upwards to avoid damaging the spur (in layman's terms, we call it the stem.)

If you're second guessing yourself, cut an apple open and inspect the seed color. When the seeds are dark brown, the apples are ready. Although as we all know, taste is the best indicator. Note that if you're judging ripeness by it's skin color, cool weather or low light (as in foggy weather) can affect coloring. If you're harvesting apple for root cellar storage, pick them when  firm. 

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To enjoy a range of varieties you don't normally see in store, and could possibly catch on our Bareroot Fruit Tree Availability List from Dave Wilson Nursery, visit us in the month of October and try our freshly harvest apples from Sebastopol-based Hale's Apple Farm! Stop in to try all our available varieties (there's quite a few!) and join us for Harvest Festival fun every weekend in October! 

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Now onto pear harvesting:

European pears (such as Anjou, Bosc, Comice, and Bartlett) ripen best off the tree. Beware, they can taste mealy if allowed to ripen on the tree. Wait until they are the correct size for the variety, then lift the fruit upward without twisting (a Bartlett may need a slight twist). If the fruit slips from the stem, it’s ready, if not, wait a few days and try again.

Fun fact: We were originally a pear orchard, hence our name "Orchard Nursery!" As an ode to our beginnings, we have an espalier pear tree planted in the front of our shop, to your right as you enter. Read more about our history (been here since 1946!) here!

Lookout for our Bareroot Fruit Tree Availability List in fall where you can special order varieties and receive a 20% off discount with orders placed before December 1st!

Summer Harvest: Cucumbers

Lauren Brookhart

Check your cucumbers daily and harvest early. And if you're harvesting for pickling, make that even earlier! Remember that timing and length will vary with variety but overall, cucumbers are fast growers. 

The fruit should be firm and smooth. Over-ripe cucumbers can be very bitter or pithy, even before they start to turn yellow. If you're noticing a yellowed bottom on your cucumber, it's a sign that it's over-ripe so remove immediately. When cutting off the vine, use a knife or clippers and cut above the stem. Pulling may damage the vine. 

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Harvested cucumbers keep for up to 10 days in the refrigerator but use them ASAP for best flavor. (Keep reading for the perfect 2-step recipe to incorporate your harvest in!) The more you harvest off the vine, the more fruit you'll get. So get harvesting! 

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BASIL AND GARLIC CUCUMBER SALAD

Source:  Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman, Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen. This recipe was demonstrated for CUESA’s Market to Table program on July 19, 2014.


Serves 6 to 8


INGREDIENTS


6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 lemon cucumbers, quartered and sliced
1 serpent cucumber, sliced
3 tablespoons chopped basil leaves
1/8teaspoon salt
1/8teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


PREPARATION

1. In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice, olive oil, and yogurt with the
smashed garlic.
2. Add the cucumbers, basil, salt and pepper. Toss and serve. 

 

Summer Harvest: Corn

Lauren Brookhart

Normally sweet corn is ready for harvest about 17 –24 days after the first silk strands appear. This can occur more quickly in hot weather and more slowly in cool weather.

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Harvest corn when the husks are still green, silks are dry brown, and kernels are full sized and yellow or white in color to the very tip of the ear. Experienced gardeners can feel the outside of the husk and tell when the cob has filled out. Harvest corn at the “milk stage”, use your thumbnail to puncture a kernel. If the liquid is clear, the corn is immature, if it’s milky, it’s ready, and if there is no sap, you too late.

And here's the best tip in the game: Cover unharvested ears checked by this method with a paper bag to prevent insect or bird damage! 

 Picturesque corn stalks - save them for fall decorating! 

Picturesque corn stalks - save them for fall decorating! 

For corn that you'll be storing for a day or two, pick in the cool temperatures of early morning to prevent the ears from building up an excess of field heat, which causes a more rapid conversion of sugars to starch.  

The best time to pick is just before eating the corn; country cooks say to have the pot of water coming to a boil as you are picking the corn, husking it on the way from the garden to the house! This is an exaggeration, but with standard varieties, sugar conversion to starch is rather rapid.  

For any corn picked in the midday sun - plunge the ears in cold water or put them on ice for a short time to guard against the effects of field heat. Then, just store it in the refrigerator until you're ready to eat! 

Extra-sweet varieties will also benefit from this treatment, but they are not as finicky because they have a higher sugar content and they hold their sweetness longer.  The conversion of sugars to starch is also not as rapid in the newer super sweet types.

Now that you know how to harvest your garden-fresh corn, let's get cooking...

Fresh Corn Soup with Poblano Chile

INGREDIENTS

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion minced
1 medium carrot, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
4 cups corn kernels, about 6 ears
4 cups low sodium vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 poblano chiles, roasted, skinned, and chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
I left out the 1 ounce of queso fresco or feta cheese whisked with 1-2 tablespoons of milk.

DIRECTIONS

Heat oil in a large pot.  Sweat the onions covered for about 5 minutes.  Add carrots, cover, and cook another five minutes.  Add garlic, dried herbs, cayenne, and cook covered another couple minutes.  Add corn, season with salt, cover then cook another five minutes.  Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil, cover and remove from the heat.  Puree in a blender then strain through a fine mesh sieve.  (Be sure to have a pot under the strainer to catch the soup ---- I have made this mistake before and don't want you to).  Return soup to the big pot and season to taste.

I roasted the poblanos directly over the flame of the gas stove until they were blackened, put them in a ziploc bag to steam for awhile, then could easily remove the skins.

Ladle the soup into bowls.  Stir in the poblanos and cilantro and serve. 

This recipe is from the website of Kaiser Permanente, Food for Health, Recipes for Life.

From The Orchard: Stone Fruit

Lauren Brookhart

We're getting close to that time...the annual harvest! Read on for tips on timing and best practices when harvesting peaches, pluots, plums and nectarines! And hey, this might even help when picking out fresh stone fruit from the grocery!

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PEACHES AND NECTARINES

Peaches and nectarines are best when tree ripened, meaning when they're at that perfect point to pluck them off the tree and take that first juicy bite. 

Peaches ripen from the bottom up toward the stem and from the smooth side toward the split side, so giving them a feel on the upper "shoulder" closets to the split will tell you if a peach is ripe. If it gives a little, it's ready. If it's feeling a little firm - give it a day or two. There should be no green on the fruit and it should come off the branch with a slight twist.

Aim for harvesting while still a little firm because as we all know, soft peaches don't store well! But an overload of fresh fruit is always a great excuse to get cooking! Check out this recipe for Roasted Stone Fruit with Shortcake.  

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PLUMS AND PLUOTS

Plums usually ripen between July and October. Alike peaches and nectarines, they ripen best on the tree. Ripe plums should come off the tree easily with a lift and slight twist. If you are planning to dry the plums, you can let them fall from the tree naturally, but check often as ripe fruits attract pests. Here are some delicious recipes to enjoy your harvest.

Overwhelmed with your harvest? We have the perfect solution...

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STONE FRUIT SIMPLE SYRUP

Perfect for your sangria, sweet tea and other summer drinks - cheers! 

INGREDIENTS

1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups water
8 pieces assorted stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums)

PREPARATION

Simple syrup is a sugar syrup made with a ratio of 1 to 1, sugar to water.  In this version, you use 1 cup of sugar and 1 ½ cups water and submerge 8 pieces of stone fruit, sliced to impart more flavor.  
Bring the sugar, water and fruit up to a simmer, and simmer until the liquid has reduced to the 1 to 1 ratio, and the fruit has given the syrup its flavor, aroma and color, roughly 1-2 hours on simmer. Strain out the fruit and store the stone fruit simple syrup in the fridge for up to 6 months.
The syrup can be used in tea, sangria, cocktails, over ice cream, to moisten layer cakes, or made into sauces.

Recipe and image via PCFMA.

Edible Marigolds

Lauren Brookhart

Native to North America, marigolds are grown all over the world. They've been used in religious ceremonies by the Aztecs, spread by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, made into dyes, garlands and garnishes in India and Pakistan and nicknamed "Mary's gold" in Europe in reference of the Virgin Mary. 

Easy to grow, it's no wonder why and how they spread around the world. Once established, marigolds will bloom summer through fall. Plant now and enjoy rich color, plus the flowers and buds are edible! 

Incorporating marigolds into your feasts can lend a range of flavors from spicy to bitter, tangy to peppery. Our selection from Sebastopol-based Sweetwater Nursery come organically grown in a range of colors and sizes.

Read on to learn what varieties you'll find in the nursery. And hurry in, they're going fast! 

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'Lemon Gem' Marigold

Widely considered as one of the best tasting marigold varieties. 'Lemon Gem' is an old-fashioned Signet type. It's finely cut foliage forms 8-10" mounds covered with single yellow blooms all season. Does best in the sunshine.

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'Little Hero Flame' 

A lovely compact French marigold with a dwarf growth habit. Plant in sun and enjoy fragrant flowers and scented foliage. Heat and frost tolerant - what more could you want?!

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'Little Hero Mix'

A French marigold mix of fire yellow and orange. Enjoy bold colored flowers that are great for cutting with dark green fragrant leaves. Easy to grow, plant in sun to part sun.

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'Chica Gold' 

Boasts early blooming large, fully double crested flowers with superior uniformity. This dwarf variety does great in containers in sun. 

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'Bonanaza Bee'

Here's a mouthful - Compact, bushy, upright, dwarf crested French marigold! This beauty grows 10-12" tall with large 2-3" blooms. Space each plant 6-10" apart in full sun. Don't worry - they can take the heat! 

Stay tuned - we will have more edible flowers on their way! 

Strawberry Harvest + A Recipe Too!

Lauren Brookhart

The strawberry is truly a special treat of the summer season. At harvest, most of the fruit should be heart shaped, but can vary in size. Color should be vivid red to dark crimson skin, speckled with those dry, diminutive seeds. The berry should have a flowery fragrance, be juicy and have a sweet taste.

Wild strawberries, also known as Fraise Des Bois, will be about the size of a large raspberry and heart shaped. Red or white, the fruits are extremely fragrant, tartness is overshadowed by sweetness. And the taste is incredible, very power packed.

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We love to our sun warmed strawberries right off the plant but once we get a good harvest, there's nothing better than incorporating them into a home-cooked meal! And who doesn't love the sound of...

STRAWBERRY FRENCH TOAST KEBOBS

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 thick slices of French or Italian bread, preferably slightly stale. Dry bread will soak up the egg mixture better than fresh bread!
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 pint strawberries, halved

 Directions

Slice the bread into cubes. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, cream, vanilla extract. Dip the cubed bread into the egg mixture, then place on a greased baking sheet. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle onto the cubes.

Broil for 2 minutes, flip, then broil another 2 minutes. Keep an eye on the bread during the last minute so it doesn’t burn. Remove the French toast from the oven and layer them on the skewers with the strawberries. Serve with maple syrup or strawberry jam as a dipping sauce.

This recipe is from the website Fruit & Veggies More Matters.

Blueberries 101

Lauren Brookhart

A plant native to North America, the Blueberry is almost the perfect fruit: beautiful, ornamental, easy to grow and contains a high concentration of antioxidants. 

Soil

The trick to growing blueberries is good soil. With a little bit of attention to proper soil conditions, blueberries will thrive in the landscape and especially in containers - where you can really control the soil conditions. Blueberries like well drained acidic soils. They prefer a low pH of 4.5 to 6.0 with 5.5 being optimal. They also like to grow in actively decomposing organic matter. To help ensure these optimal soil traits in your garden we recommend planting with Master Nursery Acid Planting Mix.

Exposure

In hotter climates, such as Lafayette and the rest of Contra Costa County, blueberries prefer morning sun and afternoon shade. While in cooler climates, such as Alameda County, blueberries prefer sun all day. 

 Delicious berries just about ready for picking! 

Delicious berries just about ready for picking! 

Chill Hours

Many varieties of fruiting plants need a specific length of time in dormancy - essentially, in temperatures below 45 degrees - in order to set fruit. Highbush varieties are categorized into 2 groups based on their chill requirements:

  • Northern Highbush, "High Chill" varieties require 800-1000 chill hours
  • Southern Highbush, "Low Chill" varieties require 150-800 chill hours

 

  • Contra Costa County averages 700-1000 chill hours
  • Alameda County averages 400-700 chill hours

 

This means that Northern Highbush varieties should only be grown in Contra Costa or similar counties. Southern Highbush, on the other hand, can be grown in Alameda or Contra Costa - it is perfectly fine for plants to receive more chill hours than needed to set fruit. 

Fertilizer

In spring, apply either E.B. Stone Organics Azalea, Camellia & Gardenia Food 5-5-3 or Master Nursery Camellia, Azalea, Gardenia & Rhododendron 4-8-5. Typically you will want to fertilize once at the beginning of spring and again later in the season. 

Pruning

Pruning is important for a blueberry's overall health, appearance and fruit production. When pruning, keep in mind the following:

  • Minimize or restrict fruiting in years 1-3 to encourage vegetative development. 
  • Maintain a balance between vegetative growth, root development and flowering/fruit set.
  • Develop the overall plant shape; encourage upright growth, strong canes and an open central canopy.
  • Thin out excess flowering and fruiting to improve fruit size and quality.

After your blueberry plant fruits in 1-3 years, it is still important to prune 1-2 times a year. This is will open the canopy of the plant to allow light and ventilation to reach the inside of the plant. This will encourage fruiting in the inner part of the plant and reduce occurrences of foliar diseases. 

It is also important to eliminate smaller, horizontal branches which produce few fruit and are more difficult to pick. 

Early, Mid and Late Fruiting

Different blueberry varieties ripen at different times throughout the fruiting season - for our area, anywhere between May and early July. You will typically find varieties labeled as early-season, mid-season or late-season. We always recommend that home gardeners choose varieties with different fruit times to ensure a longer harvest. Blueberries produce more fruit when planted near different varieties so why not take the opportunity to also extend the harvest?

Plant Characteristics

It can be tough trying to pick out "the best" blueberry variety. Just remember they all make beautiful shrubs and produce delicious berries; you really can't go wrong! Here's a few of our favorite varieties that might work well in your garden...

BLUECROP

A "berry-of-all-trades", known for its adaptability, long bearing season, high fruit yield and disease resistance. So consistent that it is the leading commercial variety in North America. If you want a proven strong performer look no further than Bluecrop. 

  • Nothern Highbush / 800 chill hours
  • mid season harvest
  • large berries
  • classic & sweet flavor
  • 4-6 feet, compact and mounding shape
  • red fall color
  • heavy fruit yield
 Pink Icing

Pink Icing

PINK ICING

This variety is great for both patio pots or in the landscape. Pink Icing flaunts colorful foliage with shades of pink, blue and green in spring, leaves then turn an iridescent turquoise come winter.

  • Southern Highbush / 500 chill hours
  • mid-season harvest
  • 3-4' tall, mounded shape
  • pink, blue green spring color then turquoise in winter
  • great for containers and landscape

NORTHLAND

Bred and developed over 50 years ago at Michigan State University to be the most cold-hardy blueberry variety. Northland is easy to grow and adaptable to many different soil types. The berries are excellent for jams and baking because of their high sugar content and are known for their amazing flavor with characteristics that are more akin to the wild lowbush species than the other highbushes. 

  • Northern Highbush / 800 chill hours
  • early-mid season harvest
  • medium-sized berries
  • fresh & sweet flavor
  • 4-7 feet, upright shape
  • yellow and orange fall color
  • perfect for baking
 Patriot

Patriot

PATRIOT

A great cold-hardy variety that bears consistent crops even in wetter soils. Has one of the most low and spreading forms of any Northern Highbush. Patriot has excellent ornamental qualities with its showy white blooms in spring, dark-green summer foliage and fiery orange-red fall colors, making it great in the landscape and in containers. 

  • Northern Highbush / 950 chill hours
  • early season harvest
  • large berries
  • delicate & sweet flavor
  • 3-5 feet, open and spreading shape
  • red, orange and yellow fall color
  • great for containers

 

Our berries are fruiting now, come in and make your selection today!