Growing Soft Fruits for Beginners

Reader Contribution by Benedict Vanheems
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Strawberries

Strawberries will produce a crop the first summer after planting. Choose a mix of early, mid and late-season varieties to extend your harvest from spring right through to fall. Extend the season even further by planting a late variety under row covers.

Mulch with straw once the plants begin to flower to keep fruits clean and prevent them from rotting on the soil surface. The only ‘pruning’ strawberries need is snipping off the leaves once they’ve finished fruiting.

Raspberries

There are two types of raspberry: summer-fruiting and fall-bearing. Fall-bearing raspberries are the easier of the two, and will produce berries from late summer until the first frosts. They need only minimal support, and to prune simply cut back all of the old canes after they’ve fruited but before new growth begins in spring.

Blackberries

Most modern varieties of blackberries are vigorous and thornless, with large fruits that are sweeter than those of their wild relatives.  Simply tie them to supports to keep them tidy, and cut out old canes to promote new growth.

Currants

Blackcurrants, redcurrants and whitecurrants all fruit freely, producing heavy crops of currants to eat fresh, use in sauces or turn into jam.

Currants are best grown in cooler climates and can cope with some shade. They require very little care, even cropping when neglected, but winter pruning to cut out some of the older and crossing branches will encourage vigorous new growth and good fruiting.

Gooseberries

Gooseberries prefer cooler climates and some shelter from the wind, but will thrive in just about any soil type. There are culinary varieties for using in jams, pies and jellies, and dessert varieties which can be eaten fresh.

Like currants, gooseberries will crop even when they are neglected. Regular feeding, pruning and mulching will help to insure heavy harvests however.

Some states restrict the growing of currants and gooseberries because they can host white pine blister rust, which causes major problems for the lumber industry. Modern breeding has created varieties resistant to the disease so restrictions have been lifted in most states, but check before planting.

Growing Soft Fruits

Plant container-grown soft fruits at any time of year, and bare-root fruits from late fall onwards; delay until early spring in colder regions.

Water soft fruits thoroughly at least once a week in the first year after planting, and in dry weather thereafter. Spread a layer of organic mulch such as compost 2” deep in spring to feed your plants and improve the soil.

Birds love soft fruits too. To keep them off use netting, or build a walk-in fruit cage for a more permanent solution.

 

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