Choosing the Site For Growing Soft Fruit
CHOOSING THE SITE
It is most important, for the reasons I’ve indicated, that you choose a site in your garden that provides the optimum requirements for the successful growing of soft fruit.
No fruit is of much use unless it is fairly sweet. And although the optimum sweetness of, for example, a ripe Kiwi fruit will be less than that of a melon, there is no doubt that the sugar content of any fruit will be higher if it is grown in warm sun than if it is grown in shade. This is not to ignore that in their wild states, many soft fruits are woodland plants; raspberries and, for instance, grow naturally in the dappled light of clearings among forest trees. But anyone who has collected wild fruits will know that, almost without exception, they are less sweet and certainly smaller than their cultivated counterparts. In passing, I might add that their flavour may be as good or better, but that is a variety characteristic whereas sweetness depends chiefly on warmth.
My advice therefore, all things being equal, is that you should choose the warmest, sunniest part of your garden for growing your soft fruit. Of course, all things won’t always be equal, for the sunniest spot may be in front of your living room windows and, as you will probably wish to grow most of your soft fruit (and certainly most of the cane and bush plants) inside some form of protective cage, they won’t necessarily be particularly ornamental.
Overall size of the area will also dictate its positioning and, I have suggested two fruit garden plans to give an idea of how much space might be involved. In passing, I should mention that whilst most soft fruit are normally grown, and certainly all can be grown outdoors in a temperate climate, a greenhouse is desirable for , Cape gooseberries and grapes.
After sunshine, shelter from wind is the most important factor. No type of soft fruit will tolerate strong, cold winds and none are really successful in coastal areas subject to a great deal of salt spray. For the climbing fruits, shelter will generally be provided by the wall against which they are trained. For the others, a garden fence or wall will usually suffice, bearing in mind the need to position the plants facing the sun. Placing a soft fruit area close to a hedge, especially a fairly rough hedge of native plants is not, however, a very good plan as it is likely to harbour pest and disease organisms.
CHANGE OF LOCATION
Fortunately, once chosen, the soft-fruit plot for most types of plant will function for up to about 10 years before new plants and a new location are required. Then, as with any type of plant that has grown in the same place for a number of years, it’s sensible, if at all possible, to move to a new spot with different. I suppose the most problematic soft fruits from this point of view are strawberries, which are much shorter term prospects and are really best rotated in a similar manner to vegetables.
Protection from the wind is most important. First because its sheer physical force may uproot plants or at least rock them in the ground and so affect their root function; second because its constant drying effect will draw excessive amounts of water from plants and so stunt their growth, and third because it will blow away both pollen and pollinating insects, resulting in a poorer crop.
CLEARING THE SITE
Time taken in clearing and preparing the site for soft fruit growing is always time well spent. Perennial weeds are especially important and if it takes a few weeks of using a translocated weedkiller to remove couch grass, bindweed and similar deep-seated weeds, so be it; the benefits will be appreciated over the many years that the fruit garden is in place.