So many different kinds of fruit are available, so how do you begin to decide which to grow? Start with quality. When soft berries are homegrown, they can be harvested when fully ripe, plump, and sweet, without concern for shipping and perishability. The flavor is outstanding.
The amount of garden space available will be another deciding factor. Choose between growing small fruits (berries that grow on small plants, vines, or bushes) or larger tree fruits. Start with easily raised, space-efficient small fruits such as strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. But if you have a place in your landscape for a fruit tree or two, don't pass up the opportunity. Look for easy-care fruit trees or even nontraditional trees such as mulberries or crabapples.
Fruits that Grow on Trees
Traditional orchard trees such as apples, peaches, pears, and cherries require some knowledge and attention to pollination, pruning, pest control, fertilizing, and other kinds of care. To minimize or eliminate spraying for disease, look for new disease-resistant cultivars of apple trees.
- Plant dwarf fruit trees, which stay small enough for you to pick the fruit from the ground. This is a safe, easy way to harvest. You won't have to lug around ladders or balance on them while working. Another advantage of dwarf fruit trees is they begin to bear fruit much younger than full-size trees do. And if your lawn is small, a dwarf tree, which takes up less space than its full-size counterpart, is a good alternative.
- Try growing a super-dwarf peach tree in a pot. Super-dwarfs are extra-miniature trees that may reach only about 5 feet tall. Although other fruit trees come as super-dwarfs, peaches produce flavorful fruit with only one tree and are great for beginners. (Many other fruit trees require a second cultivar for pollination.)
- Plant your super-dwarf peach tree in a 24-inch-wide tub with drainage holes in the bottom. Keep it moist, well fertilized, and in a sunny location during the growing season. If your tree doesn't bear fruit the first year, give it time. It may need another year or two to start its career. During winter in cold climates, store the tree, tub and all, in a cool but protected location.
- Use sticky red balls that resemble apples for control of apple maggots on apple and plum trees. Apple maggots are fly larvae that tunnel into developing fruit, making it disgusting and inedible.
- Apple maggot flies are easily tricked, however. If you put out sticky red balls that resemble apples (homemade or purchased through a garden supply catalog), the egg-laying females will be attracted to the ball and get stuck. (This will end their egg-laying career!) Hang at least one sticky red ball in a dwarf tree and six or more in larger trees.
- Use tree bands to catch crawling pests climbing up fruit tree trunks. Sticky plastic bands will catch ants carrying aphids and creeping caterpillars such as gypsy moths and codling moths.
Find out more simple and easy tips on growing varieties of berries in the next section.
How to Grow Berries
Raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries are enjoyable edible fruits that you can learn to grow in this section.
Raspberries and Blackberries
These fruits grow on thorny canes, which are elongated, semiwoody flowering stems about five or six feet tall. They spread with underground runners and can be aggressive unless severely checked. But they are worth the trouble for the absolutely delicious berries, which can be eaten, still warm from the sun, right off the plants in summer. You may have to cover the ripening berries with netting to protect your crop from the birds.
Fruit breeders have given us types of raspberries that are everbearing or repeat bearing, instead of bearing fruit just once a summer.
Blackberries, too, have been worked on by breeders, and you can purchase thornless types that are delicious and have very large berries. Some of these prefer to have their canes staked to poles or other supports. They are self-pollinating and easy to grow, performing best in well-drained soil.
- Cut the canes on blackberries and raspberries when first setting out new plants. The canes are the elongated flowering stems. Leave just a few of the leafy buds at the base of the stems. This eliminates any cane diseases that may have hitchhiked to your garden on the plant. It also discourages spring flowering, letting the plant become well established before moving on to berry production.
- Thin out one-third of all blackberry and raspberry canes each year to keep them productive. If you've ever tried to walk through an abandoned farm field bristling with blackberry thickets, you know what a thorny tangle these plants can grow into.
Not only does crowded growth make blackberries and raspberries hard to work around, it also forces the canes to compete for sun, nutrients, moisture, and fresh air. The result can be smaller berries and more diseases. As soon as canes are done bearing fruit, you can cut them off at the base to provide more space for new canes. Remove any sick, weak, or scrawny canes. Then selectively remove additional canes from areas that are crowded to keep them from creeping into other parts of the garden. Pruning is easier if you wear thick, thornproof gloves and use long-handled pruning loppers. A pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes won't hurt either.
Strawberries Strawberries are fun to have around for garden tastes, even if the crop is not that large. Various raiders such as birds and squirrels will get most of the crop if you don't keep them out with netting or repellents. The plants like full sun or bright partial shade and moist, rich soil. Buy your plants from local sources for types that thrive in your climate. Mulch strawberries with straw to keep the fruit clean. Straw keeps soil and disease spores, which cause berries to rot and mold, from splashing up onto the berries. As a result, they look nicer and keep longer. Straw also keeps the soil moist, so the berries can plump up, and it helps reduce weeds.
Grow day-neutral strawberries for a summerlong harvest. While June-bearing strawberries bear fruit heavily in early summer, and ever-bearing strawberries bear in June and again in fall, day-neutrals can keep flowering and fruiting throughout much of the summer.Plant day-neutral strawberries as early in spring as possible and pinch off all the flower buds for six weeks afterward. This lets the plants grow strong before they begin to fruit. Once the plants are flowering, fertilize them monthly to keep the plants vigorous and productive.
Heavy producers such as these may not keep up the pace year after year. When you notice berry production diminishing, consider starting a new strawberry patch with fresh plants.
Plant strawberries in a strawberry jar for a delicious feast on a patio. Strawberry jars stand about two feet high and have openings along the side, perfect for planting with strawberry plants. They look especially charming when little plantlets sprout on runners and dangle down the sides.
These guidelines should take the mystery out of cultivating your own fruits and berries so that you can readily enjoy nature's freshness from your own garden.
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