For a truly delightful gardening experience, look to fruit. Fruit adds beautiful color and variety to your garden -- not to mention delicious taste and flavor to your kitchen. The following tips will help you plan your fruit garden.
- So many different kinds of fruit are available -- 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!
- Traditional orchard trees such as apples, peaches, and pears require some knowledge and attention to pollination, pruning, spraying, fertilizing, and other kinds of care. To minimize or eliminate spraying for disease, look for new disease-resistant cultivars of apple trees.
- The amount of yard 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.
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Berry Growing Tips
Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries -- no matter your favorite, flavor-packed berries are a wonderful addition to your garden. The following tips will help you grow a variety of berries in your garden.
- Mulch strawberries with straw to keep the fruits 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 summer-long 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 an edible 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. Plant in peat-based potting mixed with extra compost. To make watering easier, run a perforated plastic tube down the center of the pot before planting. You can pour water down the tube to moisten the entire container from the inside out.
- 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, but it forces 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 or 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.
- Cover ripening berries with fine netting to keep birds away from strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and grapes. Birds love the juicy, sweet flavor of berries and begin to be attracted to them as soon as the berries start to color. If the netting is in place, they won't be able to get close enough to do much damage.
In the final section, we'll talk about growing fruit trees.Want more gardening tips? Try:
Planting Fruit Trees
For a truly special touch to your garden, consider planting a fruit tree. If the idea of a full-size fruit tree seems daunting, dwarf and super dwarf fruit trees might be a good fit for your garden. Check out the following tips to get started.
- Dwarf fruit trees 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-sized 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 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 for control of apple maggots on apple and plum trees or blueberry bushes. 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 (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 and hold ants carrying aphids and creeping caterpillars such as gypsy moths and codling moths.