Growing Fruit 101

With all the emphasis on organic vegetable gardening here there and everywhere, growing fruit often gets ignored. Maybe it’s the thought of all that pruning, or the patience factor: it can take 2-3 years for a fruit tree or bush to actually produce any fruit. So you have to wait. But, if you are a patient and tenacious fruit lover, you are perfectly capable of planting a thriving fruit garden as well as a vegetable garden.

Planting fruit is easier than planting vegetables in one major way: once they’re in the ground, they stay there. With the exception of melons (part of the cucurbiticeae family that includes cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins), you do not rotate fruit crops the way you do vegetables. Stone fruit trees stay where they are planted. Berry bushes and thorny brambles stay where they are planted – though the brambles will take some wrangling to keep under control. Strawberry plants stay put (going dormant in the winter) and will send out runners to reproduce like crazy. We ended up with about 50 linear feet of strawberry plants running along two fence lines from only 4 small plants purchased at the local nursery.

One other difference: most gardeners purchase their fruit trees and bushes and brambles from nurseries, already growing and ready to be planted. Unless you are a trained horticulturalist who knows all about grafting and propagation, leave the whole idea of growing fruit from seed to the pros.

Birds are particularly fond of fruit trees, bushes, brambles, and plants, so they will require protection in the form of scare tactics as well as physical barriers such as mesh bags, cages, or tunnels.

Keeping up with the pruning ensures that any dead or rotting twigs or branches are promptly removed. Any diseased parts should be either burned or taken away ASAP by the garbage truck in one of those yard waste bags.

Spraying stone fruit trees with organic horticultural oil in the fall after pruning and again in early spring right before they bud will help eliminate pest eggs.

So will introducing beneficial nematodes to the soil around the base of your trees and bushes.

Organic copper spray will take care of some of the bacterial problems that cause diseases in your fruits.

Careful pre-planning is needed in deciding where to plant your trees, bushes, and brambles, as they will remain permanently. They can be useful for providing shade for cool-weather crops, but be careful not to plant them so that they eventually shade your entire yard. If you don’t have a lot of space, dwarf varieties of trees might be your better choice, and you can always train blackberry and raspberry brambles along a wall or fence. If you really want to get artsy with your trees you can buy the full-size varieties, espalier them against a wall and prune them into various shapes (fans are popular). It’s a nice way to dress up an otherwise blank wall and conserves space for your vegetable patches.

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