Growing Soft Fruit

Growing Soft fruit

Soft fruit can be grown around the garden, mixed with ornamental plants; for example, standard gooseberries and redcurrants on a long leg (a bushy top on a long length of clear stem) look particularly attractive. However, netting against birds can be a problem — fruit grown together in a fruit cage is much easier to protect (see Garden Pests and Diseases – Barriers and Traps).

Many types of soft fruit can also be trained on walls and fences or a system of posts and wires. This method of growth has many advantages: it takes up little space and it is easy to net, pick and inspect for pests and diseases.


Growing conditions

Growing Soft Fruit Most types of soft fruit do best in a fairly sunny, sheltered spot. Some fruit will tolerate partial shade but not overhanging trees. Avoid frost pockets, as bush fruit generally flowers early and its blossom is easily damaged; cane fruit is less susceptible. Wind causes direct damage and deters pollinating insects. Good drainage is essential.

Soil

A deep, moisture-retentive soil with a pH of 6.5 is ideal. Nutrient deficiencies can occur on very alkaline soils, particularly with raspberries (see Knowing Your Garden Soil). Leafmould and/or compost are essential in preparing heavy or very light soils (see Organic Matter for the Garden). Correct any mineral deficiencies before planting (see Plant Mineral Deficiencies). Do not to overfeed with nitrogen-rich manures or fertilizers as these can encourage leafy growth at the expense of fruit.


Requirements of individual crops

• Blackberries and hybrid berries z 7

Hybrid berries like loganberries need an application of well-rotted manure before planting, with extra compost or leafmould added to light and heavy soils. Blackberries are more tolerant of a range of soils and will fruit in partial shade.

• Blackcurrants z 5

These benefit from a slightly richer soil than most soft fruit and a position in full sun. Fork in manure before planting, and add extra compost or leafmould on heavy or light soils.

• Red and whitecurrants z 6, gooseberries z 6

Fork in compost before planting or, on light soil, well-rotted manure. They will tolerate partial shade.

•Raspberries z 3

Fork in well-rotted manure before planting, and add extra compost or leaf-mould to light and heavy soils. Raspberries prefer full sun.

• Strawberries z 5

Fork in compost before planting; subsequent feeding is not usually necessary. Replace the crop every 3-4 years (as their yield falls) and replant in another spot. Strawberries do best in full sun.


Clearing the ground

Clear the ground of deep-rooted persistent weeds such as bindweed before planting any soft fruit. Otherwise, fruit bushes can be planted into fairly weedy ground provided you fork out the weeds from the immediate area round the roots and put down a light-excluding mulch (see Tips on Weed Control). Clear the ground thoroughly when growing cane fruit and strawberries.


Choice of varieties

You can choose varieties to give you soft fruit over a long period, from gooseberries picked in late spring to autumn-fruiting raspberries. It is worth looking for varieties that have resistance to specific diseases (see Organic Gardening – Preventing Problems) and for late-flowering varieties for frost-prone areas. Virus diseases (see Plant Diseases – Understanding the Problem) are a particular problem in many types of soft fruit; if possible, buy plants that are certified as coming from virus-free stock. Be wary of propagating from your own or neighbours’ plants if they are not healthy, as virus diseases are carried over in cuttings and strawberry runners. Specialist garden nurseries are likely to have a range of varieties and virus-free stock, and may have ready-trained cordons, fans and standards.


Maintenance

Mulching

Hay is a good mulch for cane and bush fruit. As well as keeping weeds down and retaining moisture, it often provides sufficient nutrients to feed the plants. Do not apply it until late spring or early summer, as its light colour can increase the risk of frost damages. Rake off any remains of the previous year’s mulch in late autumn or early spring. If extra feeding is required — for blackcurrants or raspberries on light soils, for example — mulch with compost every two or three years during spring.

Strawberries can be planted through a light-excluding sheet mulch so that no weeding is necessary. Otherwise, mulch them with straw when the fruit begins to swell so as to keep them clean.

Pruning and tidying

Prune redcurrants, whitecurrants and gooseberries any time from late autumn to late winter to shape bushes and train cordons and fans. Prune again in mid-summer to remove excess new growth; this makes it easier to pick the fruit as well as helping the fruit to ripen and improving air circulation; it also directly removes any aphids and mildew at the tips of the shoots.

Blackcurrants fruit best on one-year-old wood. Prune every year any time from early autumn to late winter, removing about a quarter to a third of the oldest wood from the base

Cut out old canes of raspberries and blackberries as soon as they have finished fruiting (or in late winter for autumn-fruiting raspberries). Tie the new canes to supporting wires.

Cut off the old leaves of strawberries approximately 7.5cm (3in) above the crown immediately after cropping; removing old growth promptly helps to prevent the carry-over of pests and disease.

Watering

Water regularly in dry spells when the fruit is swelling. It is particularly important not to get water on the foliage or fruit because this encourages fungal diseases. Water by hand or use a seep hose (see Planting Tips and Advice).

Pests and diseases

Correct pruning and training is one of the best measures for preventing problems in soft fruit. If you have a large fruit cage, find room within it for some attractant plants to encourage beneficial insects.

Keep a close eye on fruit so that you spot problems, such as gooseberry sawfly, as early as possible. Details of the most troublesome pests and diseases affecting soft fruit are given on Pests and Diseases of Soft Fruit.

04. February 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Fruit & Veg, Organic Gardening | Tags: | Comments Off on Growing Soft Fruit

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