Buying and Planting Soft Fruit Bushes
BUYING AND PLANTING
With the odd exception of the melon, a few types of strawberry and the Cape gooseberry, all of which are raised from seed, soft fruit will always be bought as young plants, generally under three years of age.
I’m convinced that obtaining stock of high quality is probably more important with soft fruit than with almost any other type of garden plant. Of course, any plant will be healthier, stronger and will establish better if it has been well grown by a competent nurseryman. But with soft fruit plants that are routinely propagated vegetatively (by cuttings, grafts or division, rather than by seed), it is probable that the progeny will acquire any virus contamination present in the tissues of the parent. Virus contamination results in an enfeebled plant and a lower yield.
It’s essential, therefore, that the plants are propagated from virus-free stock whenever this is available and whether you buy by mail order from a specialist fruit plant supplier or from a garden centre, do be sure that virus-free propagating material has been used. Generally, details in the catalogue, the individual label on the plant or, in a garden centre, a label close to where the plants are standing should tell you this. Resist the temptation to buy cut-price offers from anonymous suppliers and, for once, don’t accept your neighbour’s generous offer of his or her suckers or cuttings.
The most extensive and sophisticated certification scheme for virus-free fruit plants operates in Great Britain but virus-free quality assurance is also available in other countries. The British scheme involves three types of grading certificate:
‘Special Stock’ comprises the healthiest stock available, propagated from plants that have been obtained from an official research organisation and were virus-free at that time. Usually, such very high grade plants are used only for further propagation or for establishing commercial plantations. They are rarely offered to gardeners.
‘A’ Certificate plants are those that have, themselves, been propagated from ‘Special Stock’ Certificate material and the majority of virus-free plants sold to gardeners will be of this grade. Most modern blackcurrant, raspberry and strawberry varieties, as well as tayberries, tummelberries, sunberries, the red currant variety ‘Redstart’ and the gooseberry varieties ‘Invicta’ and ‘Jubilee’ are both obtainable with ‘A’ certification.
‘H’ Certificate plants should only be purchased when ‘A’ Certificate stock isn’t available. They are plants bred outside the UK and now being grown in Britain for the first time, or alternatively are plants that have been micro-propagated, a process that entails the growing of plantlets, initially under laboratory conditions, from tiny portions of tissue.
‘Medana’ a rather puzzling prefix is attached to a few fruit varieties, most notably tayberries. This is a registered trademark indicating that the variety was raised at a British government research institute and that a royalty payment to the institute is involved.
For fruit varieties such as white currants, many hybrid berries. Blueberries, cranberries and Kiwi fruit, not included in a certification scheme, I can only repeat my advice to buy from a reputable supplier whose credibility is established through him or her supplying certified stock of other types of soft fruit.
HOW SOFT FRUIT PLANTS ARE SUPPLIED
Although individual requirements vary slightly between different types of soft fruit, the old adage that if a plant is given a good start, it will succeed better has a certain truth. In general, all soft fruit will be supplied either bare-rooted or growing in containers. Together with, soft fruit plants are probably supplied more frequently by mail order than other types of plant; and in general they will be sent during the dormant season, bare-rooted. The plants will have been dug straight from the nursery bed and packed in hessian or plastic wrapping, usually with some moisture-retaining material such as moss or straw. When bought from garden centres or personally from nurseries, they will almost invariably be growing in a soilless compost in a plastic container.
Bare-rooted plants must be planted promptly or heeled in — planted temporarily in a shallow hole with the roots well covered in . Container plants can be planted when convenient. Although I have described specific planting techniques and needs in the individual entries for each fruit throughout this site (blackcurrants, for instance, should always be planted deeply and raspberries are best planted in a trench), always remember that the soil must be well prepared with organic matter and a phosphate-rich fertilizer such as bone meal, and that the planting hole should be roughly twice the volume of the root ball.
The roots of bare-rooted plants should be spread out carefully and uniformly while the compost around container-grown plants should be gently teased away. In many instances, the shoot growth should be cut back if this hasn’t already been done by the nursery, but it is almost always advantageous with bare-rooted plants to trim back the roots lightly too. This will encourage new fibrous root development and so help rapid establishment. I have also always been an advocate of ‘watering-in’ a newly planted plant, not simply with water but with a solution of liquid fertilizer; again to encourage rapid establishment and aid recovery from transplanting shock.
Always slope the soil away from the stem base after planting. This encourages the water to run away from the stem and not collect at the base. Finish by topping up with an organic mulch.