Fruit Growing Essentials:
- Sunlight – Fruit needs plenty of sun, whether it ripens on a branch or bramble.
- Soil – Almost all the fruits do best in a slightly acidic soil, somewhere between a pH of 5.5 and 6.5. The exception is blueberries, which prefer a soil of even greater acidity (pH between 4.0 and 5.0).
- Drainage – Whatever fruit you plan to grow, adequate drainage is important. When scouting the backyard for a suitable site, avoid low-lying areas that collect water or are slow to drain in the spring.
- Pollination – Most fruit trees have both male and female organs in the same flower, but not all are self-pollinating (fertilized by their own pollen). The best bet is to have more than a single variety within 100 feet, so bees can travel between and cross-pollination can take place. Small fruits, except for blueberries, can be fertilized by their own pollen.
As your trees grow, prune in early spring, removing crossed or injured limbs and any branches which rub against each other. This allows light into the center of the tree. Don't cut short spurs from the main stem since these bear first fruit.
The general rule is to prune less during the juvenile or early years, removing only the limbs that compete with desired limbs. Apple and pear varieties with a natural upright habit should have their limbs spread to a 60° angle.
Starting in year five, prune out shaded or crowded limbs in late winter. Never leave stubs; cut limbs where they connect with the trunk or other limbs you want to keep.
Regular spraying stops insects before they can damage your crop. Apply dormant oil before buds begin to swell in the spring. Spray trees with liquid fruit tree spray when flower petals fall. Make follow-up applications every 10 days or so until the harvest nears.
All brambles require deep, well-drained loam soil high in organic matter. They can't tolerate sandy soil or soil that's so heavy it leaves moisture standing around the roots. Apply a balanced fertilizer at a rate of 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
Cut plants back to 6 inches and place them in the hole at the same depth they grew in the nurser row. Space blackberries 5-6 feet apart in rows 8-10 feet apart and provide a trellis for trailing types. Canes can be woven or tied to keep them in place. Do not allow canes to set fruit the first year.
Water heavily and mulch to reduce weeds. Thick layers of shredded bark, leaves, wood chips and hay make excellent mulch for any type of berry.
Currants and Gooseberries
These plants do best in rich soil that is cool and moist but has good drainage. Plant 5 feet apart, in rows 8 feet apart, in full sun where summers are mild and in a partially shaded location where summers are hot and dry. Trim stems back by 2/3 after planting. Prune in spring after flowering. Fruit is produced on older wood-in the fall, remove any wood more than 3 years old.
Grapes thrive in fertile, well-drained soil. Choose a site that offers protection from wind and late frost. If possible, run vines east-west to reduce shade cast by the trellis. Work in fair amounts of compost before planting but don't overfertilize. Set the plants 8 feet apart in rows 10 feet apart. For the first year, stems should be allowed to grow unchecked, and vines should be trained on a trellis using two support wires.
Prune in winter when dormant but before the weather becomes too cold. Canes that have borne fruit should be pruned back sharply. Remove old canes coming from the main stem and leave four new canes (shoots that started to grow the previous spring). The new canes should be cut back to 6 or 8 inches and have 3 or 4 buds. These buds, found at the joints, produce the new shoots that bear leaves and grapes the following summer. Four of these new shoots will be used to repeat the same fruiting-and-pruning process the following winter.
Blueberries must be planted where they have full sun most of the day and in acidic soil (a pH of 4.5 to 5.5) that's well drained, porous and high in organic matter. The plants have shallow root systems and must be irrigated. Heavy mulch will help retain soil moisture and keep the roots cool. Prune half of the top growth and space plants 4-5 feet apart in rows 8-10 feet apart. Incorporate plenty of organic matter in and around the planting holes. Control weeds with mulch instead of cultivation.
In cold climates, blueberries benefit from a thick layer of mulch during the winter. Prune for fewer but larger berries by removing old branches; fruit is produced on year-old wood.
Raspberries are a bramble Pruning Red Raspberries fruit and should be cultivated as you would blackberries. Plants are more erect, but still benefit greatly from a simple trellis. Plant red and yellow varieties 2 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart; plant blacks and purples 3 feet apart in rows 8 feet apart. Plant blacks and reds 300 feet apart from one another to prevent the spread of disease.
Except in the case of fall-bearing types, new canes don't produce fruit and put out few, if any, branches. When thinning brambles, leave the thickest canes and remove the thinnest. Prune red and yellow raspberries back to 8-12 buds on a cane, leaving the thickest canes at least 4-6 inches apart in the spring.
Remove the fruiting canes after harvest. Prune blacks and purples when new growth starts in the spring, leaving 10-15 buds per cane and 4-5 canes per clump. Encourage branching by pinching back the tips of black raspberry plants in late summer. With reds, remove suckers rather than canes from original plants (see illustration above).
Strawberries need well-worked soil with good drainage and plenty of organic matter. Add 1 pound of fertilizer per 100 square feet. Plant so that the crown is even with the surface of the soil and make sure all the roots are covered. Junebearing strawberries produce a single crop. Everbearers produce one crop during the regular strawberry season and another smaller one later in fall, plus a few fruits in between. Day neutrals are the truest everbearers, producing fruit spring, summer and fall.
Set strawberries 15-24 inches apart, water well and mulch with straw. Remove blossoms from Junebearers the first year. Remove everbearer and day-neutral blossoms until July 1, then allow the plants to set fruit. This alJows the plants to become established so they'll set far more berries the second year than they ordinarily would have. Water them well, keeping the top 2 inches of soil evenly moist all season long. Protect in cold climates with winter mulch.
Goji berries, or wolfberries, tolerate almost any type of soil except wet, soggy soil. They tend to fruit best in well-drained soil of moderate quality. Space plants 5-8 feet apart in an area with full sun to partial shade. Heavy pruning in the fall will help keep the plant looking nice and increase fruit production. Goji berries will typically begin yielding after their second or third growing season, and fruit will ripen over an extended period starting in July.
Plants do best in moderately drained, yet moist soil. Mulch to retain moisture. If summers are mild in your region, plant in full sun; plant in partial sun if your area is hot and dry. Set plants 4-5 feet apart-plant at least two varieties, as cross-pollination is required to produce fruit. Fertilize and mulch annually; prune to maintain shape.
Winterizing Patio Fruits
In early fall, when night temperatures drop below 50°F, plants such as citrus plants, Dwarf Banana, Dwarf Fig, Patio Pineapple and Dwarf Pomegranate need to be moved indoors. Provide as much sun as possible; a south- or west-facing window is ideal. Avoid areas that would expose your plants to hot dry air, such as near heat registers. Growth will slow down in winter. Withhold fertilizer at this time and only water as needed. Return to a patio setting once danger of frost has passed in late spring.
For items such as Patio Blueberry, Patio Strawberry, and Patio Apple, providing winter protection is very important, especially when outdoor temperatures drop below 29°F. Before freezing weather arrives, move your containers indoors to an unheated garage or cellar. Withhold fertilizer and water just enough to keep the soil slightly moist. In spring, when the danger of frost has passed, bring the containers outdoors once again and water thoroughly.