Guide to Growing Fruit|Fruit Garden
The division of the fruit garden into soft fruit and tree fruit may seem an odd one, but there are valid and practical distinctions between the fruits that grow on trees and those that grow on bushes or canes. Most importantly, tree fruits are long-lived plants whereas canes and bushes need replacing after relatively few years. Their pruning is quite different, their cultivation is different, mainly because of their difference in size and, unlike many tree fruits, soft fruits are self-fertile, so only one variety is needed to obtain a crop.
Planning a fruit garden
Even some soft fruit plants will last for up to 10 years, so it is worth planning a fruit-growing area as a long-term feature. It is important to check relative spacings and remember to allow room for the paths that you will need for access. Where only a small area can be given over to fruit, choose varieties with the longest cropping times, and consider restricting their size by training them as cordons or fans.
In general, soft fruit are slightly more shade tolerant than most tree fruit, but it is still important to plant them in the sunniest available area of the garden. Most require similar cultural treatment and similar protection, so it is sensible to group them all together in a fruit cage.
A fruit cage can produce dramatic improvements in the quality and quantity of the crop and should be considered by anyone who is planning a fruit garden. It shelters fruit from wind, so encouraging pollination and reduces bird damage more effectively than merely draping the plants with netting. Fruit cages can be made with rustic wooden poles, or proprietary models can be purchased with light tubular aluminium frames. Frames should be at least 1.8m (5ft 9in) tall, and the netting should have a mesh size of around 18mm (1/2in). For a very robust structure, a wooden-framed cage can be made with galvanized chicken wire on the sides and lightweight plastic netting on top.
The ideal soil is a moisture-retentive loam with a pH of about 6.5, withincorporated before planting – it is impossible to place or manure in the vicinity of the plants’ roots once they are established. If at all possible, don’t attempt to establish soil fruit on a site from which old fruit bushes or canes have been removed recently, because there may be some carry over of viruses in the soil.
Where shortage of space does make such an arrangement necessary, it is sensible to remove the soil from each planting position and swap it for fresh soil taken from elsewhere in the garden. On alkaline soil, raspberries and strawberries especially may be deficient in iron, resulting in poor growth and yellowing foliage. However, many gardeners do obtain reasonable crops from alkaline soils, even it the plants appear rather chlorotic. Ideally, they should be given an application of sequestered iron in spring on this type of site.
The exceptions to the general site requirements are for blueberries and cranberries, which are called acid soil fruits because they need a pH as low as 4.0 or even 3.5. If your garden, like most gardens, is unable to offer these conditions, try growing them in large containers. You may not obtain a huge crop but they are satisfying to grow
Bare-rooted plants typically available by mail order from specialist fruit suppliers and delivered in late autumn, must be planted promptly. Container-grown plants may be bought from garden centres at all times of the year, but they too will establish much better from autumn planting.
Use well rotted organic matter and a handful of bone meal in each planting hole and after planting, water in with a dilute solution of liquid fertilizer and top up with an organic mulch.
Over the years, I have found that my soft fruit garden’s needs are satisfied by two main fertilizers. The first is a balanced general fertilizer, applied once a year; I use fish, blood, and bone but Growmore is an artificial alternative. The second, which I apply every third year, or if fruiting has been poor, is a further dressing with potassium sulphate.
An adequate supply of moisture is very important for fruit quality. Even after mulching, you should water with a seeping hose, watering can or sprinkler if there is a dry spell when the fruit is beginning to swell.
Weed control is important when growing soft fruit, but not difficult. Close to the plants, annual weed growth, at least, will be kept in check by the moisture-retaining mulch. Between the rows, an organic matter mulch may also be laid to suppress annual, if sufficient mulching material is available. Failing this, use a contact weedkiller or rely on regular hand ; hoeing will damage the shallow roots.
A build-up of viruses will inevitably occur in soft fruit plants after a few years although gooseberries are usually free from them. Viruses reduce vigour and fruit production and, even though you should always start with virus-free stock, eelworms in the soil or aphids will transmit virus to your plants. There is no chemical control for virus, and affected stock should be replaced.
Powdery mildew and grey mould (Botrytis) are the main fungal diseases but they are relatively easily controlled. The most important pests of soft fruit are aphids but a tar-oil winter wash will usually keep them in check.
Although it is possible to propagate soft fruit yourself by, layers or runners, I do not advise this. By the time that soft-fruit plants are in need of replacement, they will almost certainly be contaminated with virus and new, certified virus-free stock should be obtained from a reputable supplier.
Harvesting and storing
Even though careful choice of varieties will extend the season, there’s no denying that soft fruit do all ripen within a fairly short space of time. Fortunately, all types can be frozen, although strawberries give the least satisfactory results. Most of them can also be made into jams or other preserves.
Guide to Growing Bush Fruit
This is an easy fruit to grow, as it is more tolerant than many soft fruit of heavier, wetter soils but the plants need a sheltered position and most varieties require considerable space. My main concern is that most modern varieties are barely sweet enough to eat without added sugar, although they do have an extremely high vitamin C content.
Planting: two-year-old bushes will establish better than one- or three-year-old plants. Plant before mid-winter, and plant deeply so the soil just covers the basal fork where the lowest branches arise. After planting, cut back all the shoots to a point just above two buds from the base. This will encourage the essential branching at or just below soil level.
Spacing: 1.5-1.8m (5 ft – 5 ft 9in) except for the variety ‘Ben Sarek’ which should be planted at 1-1.2m (3-4ft).
Care: no support needed and cannot be grown as cordons: normal feeding and watering although they respond particularly well to additional nitrogen. Prune immediately after picking or in winter.
Problems: American mildew, aphids, capsid bug, gall mite, grey mould, leaf midge, reversion, rust, virus.
Harvesting: wait until all the fruit on each bush is ripe, pick the entire strigs and then strip them in the kitchen, or try shaking the bushes so fruit falls on to old sheets.
Storing: will keep fresh for a week in a refrigerator; good for jam, also bottles and freezes well.
Varieties: ‘Wellington XXX’, early to mid-season, big, spreading; ‘Ben Sarek’, mid-season, heavy cropping, small, compact; ‘Ben Lomond’, mid to late-season, upright, large fruit.
Ribes uva-crispa var. reclinatum Grossulariaceae
The fruit is rather sour for most modern tastes and the thorns make for difficulty in picking, although training the plants as cordons makes picking and pruning much less hazardous.
Gooseberries are slightly more shade tolerant than most soft fruit, but the dessert varieties will remain sour unless in full sun.
Planting: buy two or three-year-old bushes and plant in early winter. Even if growing in a row as cordons, dig individual planting holes.
Spacing: free-standing bushes 1.5-1.8m (5ft-5ft 9in); single cordons 30cm (12in), double cordons 60cm (24in) with 1.2m (4ft) between rows.
Care: no support for bushes; cordons need a system of posts and wires for support similar to raspberries but with three wires spaced at 60cm (2ft), 90cm (2ft 11in) and 1.2m (4ft) apart. Normal feeding and watering, although they are responsive to additional potash.
Prune soon after midsummer and again in early winter.
Problems: American mildew, aphids, capsid bug, grey mould, leaf spot, magpie moth, rust, sawflies.
Harvesting: pick fruit as it ripens, when it detaches easily from the stalk.
Storing: will keep fresh for around three weeks in a refrigerator, also freezes well.
Varieties: ‘Careless’, early to mid-season, spreading; ‘Invicta’, early to mid-season, upright, mildew resistant; ‘Lord Derby, late, dark red sweet fruit, big, spreading.
Redcurrant and Whitecurrant
Ribes rubrum Grossulariaceae
These are easy and rewarding plants that deserve to be more widely grown. Both have a flavour similar to each other, but different from that of blackcurrants. They are very heavy cropping, so can be successful even in the smallest fruit garden.
Planting: as for gooseberries.
Spacing: as for gooseberries.
Care: as for gooseberries.
Problems: gooseberry saw-fly, leaf spot, red currant blister aphid.
Harvesting: pick the fruit on the strig and separate them later if needed.
Storing: can be stored fresh for several days in refrigerator, frozen, made into jelly or juice.
Varieties: Red: ‘Red Lake’. White: ‘Versailles Blanche’.
Rubus fruticosus Rosaceae
Most gardeners are familiar with the wild bramble and the exquisite taste of its fruit, but are understandably wary of the tangled invasion that would result if it were to be introduced into a well ordered fruit garden. There are more manageable varieties, however, and although their flexible canes may be more fiddly to train than the stiff ones of raspberries, the fruit is a passable imitation of that of their wild relative. They have some shade tolerance but are seldom successful on thin, chalky soil or in frost pockets.
Planting: plant in early winter with no more than 8cm (3-1/4in) of soil covering the roots.
After planting, cut the canes back to just above a bud about 25cm (10in) above soil level.
Spacing: usually a single plant is sufficient.
Less vigorous varieties should be 2.5m (8ft) apart with 2m (6-1/2ft) between rows. More vigorous types need 3.5-4.5m (11ft-14-3/4ft) apart and 2.5m (8ft) between rows. The recent variety ‘Loch Ness’ is smaller and more manageable and can be planted at 1m (3ft) each way.
Care: needs careful support and training with four wires spaced 30cm (12in) apart, with the lowest 90cm (3ft) above soil level.
Train by the fan system on either single or alternate bays. Prune immediately after fruiting, heeding and watering is similar to that of raspberries.
Problems: cane spot, capsid bug, crown gall, grey mould, leaf hopper, raspberry beetle, rust.
Harvesting: as soon as the fruit attain full colour. The fruit doesn’t separate from the stalks or plugs and should be picked with them: the plugs are soft and don’t detract from the flavour and disintegrate when the fruit are cooked.
Storing: fresh in a refrigerator for about a week or freeze.
Varieties: ‘Loch Ness’. Early to mid-season, short upright growth, thornless; ‘Ashton Cross’, mid-season, vigorous, probably the best flavoured.
Numerous hybrids, most with elongated red fruit have been found or bred between blackberries, raspberries and other Rubus species. Many are little more than curiosities but a few have outstanding flavour and are certainly worth growing. All of the following are cultivated in the same way as blackberries, but crop earlier unless otherwise stated:
Derived from ‘Himalayan Giant’ blackberry. Large, purple fruit, like an elongated raspberry. Early, vigorous, thorny, drought tolerant and a good plant for light, free-draining soils where other cane fruits fail. A thornless variety also exists.
Tayberry and boysenberry hybrid. Very large, red fruit. Very early, vigorous, thorny.
A true species, Rubus phoenicolasius. Small, very pretty bright orange fruit. Early, fairly vigorous, very attractive with masses of soft prickles.
King’s Acre Berry
Raspberry and blackberry hybrid. Medium, very dark red to black fruit, flavour good. Early, fairly vigorous, thorny.
Raspberry and blackberry hybrid. Large, dark red fruit, flavour very good. Early, fairly vigorous, the selection ‘LY 59’ is thorny but there is a thornless variant called ‘LY 654’.
Possibly a raspberry and blackberry hybrid or a distinct species. Huge, dark red to black fruit. Early to mid-season, very vigorous, very thorny.
Hybrid between two American raspberries. Large, dark red fruit.
Hybrid involving boysenberry, youngberry, loganberry and marionberry. Large, dark red fruit. Early to mid-season, very vigorous, thorny, claimed to be suitable for exposed, windy positions.
Raspberry and blackberry hybrid. Medium, dark red fruit. Early to mid-season, very vigorous, thorny.
Raspberry and blackberry hybrid. Large, dark red fruit, generally reckoned the best of the raspberry-blackberry hybrids. Early, moderately vigorous, thorny, not very hardy and less good for exposed gardens; always choose the certified virus-free ‘Medana’ strain.
Hybrid between two tayberries. Large, dark red fruit, flavour moderate. Early, but slightly later than tayberry, moderately vigorous, thorny, hardier than tayberry so better for more exposed gardens.
Raspberry and blackberry hybrid. Large, dark red fruit. Mid-season, moderately vigorous, thorny.
Loganberry and dewberry (Rubus caesius) hybrid. Large, dark red-purple fruit. Early to mid-season, moderately vigorous, thorny but there is a thornless variety.
Rubus idaeus Rosaceae
Grown well, raspberries offer a large crop from a small area, pruning is simple and, by careful choice of varieties, fresh fruit can be picked from summer into the early autumn. They will benefit from having plenty of organic matter added to the soil as the shallow roots are prone to drying out. Light shade can be tolerated, as can spring frost, but they must havefrom strong wind.
Planting: buy bare-rooted stock and plant in early winter. As raspberries are usually grown in rows, take out a trench at least 45cm (18in) deep and plant the canes shallowly with the upper part of the roots 5cm (2in) deep on top of the carefully firmed contents of the trench. Water well, mulch and cut back the canes to just above a bud about 25cm (10in) above soil level.
Spacing: 70cm (27in) if you follow the Scottish stool training system. For most varieties, the distance between rows is 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) but more vigorous types are better 1.8m (5ft 9in) apart.
Care: support essential except for a few short-caned black- and purple-fruited varieties, and possibly autumn-fruiting varieties in sheltered areas. Horizontal wires trained between vertical posts offer the easiest method and the wires should be 60cm (24in) and 1.2m (4ft) above soil level, with an additional one at 1.5m (5ft) for tall varieties. Prune summer-fruiting varieties immediately after fruiting; autumn- fruiting (primocane) varieties in late winter. Hoe or pull off unwanted suckers.
Problems: cane blight, cane midge, cane and leaf spot, capsid bug, caterpillars, grey mould, iron deficiency, leaf hopper, powdery mildew, raspberry aphids, raspberry moth, rust, sawflies, spur blight, virus, will.
Harvesting: pick as soon as the fruit parts easily from the core.
Storing: will remain fresh in refrigerator for a few days; freezes well and can be made into jam.
Varieties: ‘Glen Moy, early, no prickles; ‘Glen Prosen’, mid-season; ‘Mailing Admiral’ late; ‘Autumn Bliss’, autumn, very vigorous, the only good autumn variety.
Vaccinium corymbosum Ericaceae
If you have room and patience for blueberries you will be rewarded with a rather special-tasting fruit that combines sweetness and acidity. A strongly acidic soil is needed, or containers of ericaceous compost at least 45cm (18in) deep and wide. They also require a very sunny position with shelter from cold winds and late frosts but don’t need protection from birds.
Planting: buy two-year-old, container-grown plants and plant in winter, but no deeper than the soil mark on the stem.
Spacing: 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) between plants, 1.5-1.8m (5ft – 5ft 9in) between rows.
Care: no support or training is needed, mulch with coniferous sawdust to a depth of 15cm (6in). Very light feeding in early spring but keep the soil moist during dry spells. The roots resent disturbance, so hand weed only.
Prune as for blackcurrants.
Problems: leaf yellowing, canker, grey mould.
Harvesting: place a hand under each cluster of berries and roll them in the palm. They are slow to start fruiting, taking around six years, but will crop for 20 years or more.
Storing: will keep fresh for three weeks in a refrigerator, also freezes well.
Varieties: ‘Bluetta’, early; ‘Blue Crop’, early to mid-season.
Vaccinium macrocarpon Ericaceae
This is a pretty little plant when in fruit, its wiry stems creeping over the soil and bearing jewel-like berries. The soil must be very acidic, as low as pH 3.5, organic, wet but free-draining.
Planting: buy container-grown plants and don’t let them dry out before planting. Plant in winter, no deeper than the soil mark on the stem. Spread a 2.5cm (1in) layer of lime-free sand over the bed after planting.
Spacing: 30cm (1ft).
Care: No feeding is normally necessary but a light dressing with nitrogen should be given if growth the previous season has been poor. No training and pruning except for trimming aerial shoots in spring.
Harvesting: fiddly to pick so wait until most of the fruit is ripe before harvesting all together.
Storing: will keep for up to two months in a refrigerator, also good frozen or as jelly or juice.
Varieties: ‘CN’; ‘Hamilton’.