Growing Fruit and Berries

Growing Fruit and Berries

Cultural Requirements and Calendrial Instructions

Soil and site

As with almost any plant, better results in fruit growing come from a deep, rich moist soil full of organic material. So every effort should be made to improve it before planting as it is more difficult later!

Equally important, the ground must be cleared of weeds! Top fruits need soils that are neither extremely acid nor alkaline. Apples prefer a slightly acid soil, and stone fruits, such as cherries and plums, like it more alkaline.

growing berries Soft fruits generally do best in acid conditions, especially blueberries and cranberries which thrive in peat bogs. Thus, dry soils especially over chalk will be unfavourable, particularly to pears, though apples may just succeed. Once established, grapes, hazels and figs will grow in gravelly or chalky conditions, where other fruits would not be happy.

Few plants other than relations of blueberries and cranberries will thrive in soil prone to water logging, so drainage may be necessary — or consider planting in raised beds or mounds of soil as a cunning alternative.

No fruits will do superbly in heavy shade, especially from large trees, and the root competition will make establishment and cropping poor. Light shade will not severely handicap most soft fruits, but they make sweeter fruits with more sun.

Fruit grown on windy and exposed sites often suffers poor pollination, slow growth, early and excessive loss of blossom and leaves, and premature fruit drop. You can prevent these problems by erecting a windbreak. But don’t go to the other extreme, stagnant air pockets — especially in hollows — encourage moulds and mildews. If you have the space, productive windbreaks can be made from hazels, damsons and cherry plums. Apart from birds, frost damage probably causes more loss of fruit than every other problem.

We cannot change our garden’s climate, but we can improve the micro-climate for each plant by putting them in the best place. Frost pockets are places that collect the coldest air which is dense and flows like water down to low-lying places. So they are unsuitable for growing strawberries, early-flowering fruits and low bushes. Instead, grow taller forms, such as half-standards, to keep the flowers up out of the coldest air. Early-flowering fruits can be grown against walls where they are less likely to be damaged.

If given further protection, in the form of a cloth or fine net, they will probably escape unharmed. Similarly, tree and bush crops can be saved by throwing some form of protective layer over them to stop the heat escaping to the night sky. Warm, sunny spots on walls, patios and in places with extra heat, such as near a boiler flue, should be saved for the most susceptible fruits like pears, peaches and apricots. Soft fruit in a cage is often protected by the roof net and this can be augmented with an old sheet or even wet newspaper spread on top. Frost will also damage young fruitlets for a fortnight or so after pollination, so protect these whenever a frost is predicted.


In order to set and form fruit most plants need to be pollinated. Some figs do without pollen entirely and others produce malformed fruits, as do Conference pears. Where there are different varieties of the same fruit nearby, say within fifty paces, you may get away without ever considering pollination. But if you want to be sure of certain choice varieties you should also plant a suitable partner to act as a pollinator. Most widely grown varieties of bush and cane fruit are self-fertile, so problems rarely arise, but heavier crops usually result where several varieties are grown together.

growing plums With top fruit, more care is needed. Some popular tree fruits, such as Victoria plums, are self-fertile but again give better quality and heavier crops if cross-pollinated. In most cases you can choose two varieties that will pollinate each other, but there are exceptions. For example, planting just a Cox, or a Cox and a Bramley, which are not compatible, means no crop, but add a James Grieve and all become pollinated and fruit. Family trees partly solve this pollination problem by having compatible varieties grafted on the same roots, but these tend to grow lop-sidedly.

Pollinating partners have to be compatible and be in flower together, so the biggest problems arise with very early- or late-flowering varieties. Some varieties are biennial bearers, that is, they produce crops every other year, so they are a bit tricky — if they don’t flower, you lose not only their crop but that of the supposedly pollinated partner as well.

Don’t panic, a good garden centre or nursery will indicate suitable pollinators for any proffered variety. Where a pollinator is required and no space is available you could try grafting a branch of a pollinator on to an existing tree. Alternatively, the wild forms of a fruit, such as crab apples, are usually excellent pollinators for the cultivated forms and can be grown in the hedgerow to save space where they are also sacrificial crops for the birds.


The type of root system a plant grows can affect your success with the way it grows more than the care you give it. The majority of cane and berry fruits are grown on their own roots. Fruit trees are generally grafted onto special rootstocks. Normally these are dwarfing rootstocks that prevent the tree growing as large as it would if grown on its own roots. Such trees need staking throughout their life and inevitably produce less yield per tree. For larger crops or more vigorous trees to cope with difficult soils, different stronger rootstocks may be preferable.

Most trees sold for specific purposes, such as full standards for growing in orchards, are normally supplied with a suitable rootstock by the nursery. At the other end of the size scale, rootstocks for cordon training or growing in containers are very dwarfing. These include the rootstock M27 for apples, Quince C for pears and Pixy or Colt for stone fruits. The exact type of rootstock ought to be shown on the label by reputable suppliers, so don’t buy where you can’t find out what type of rootstock has been used, and what effect you can expect.

Container growing

Modern housing comes with small gardens yet with only a patio it is still possible to grow fruit. Many types of trees, soft fruit and even vines are suitable for growing in containers. This cramps the root system and prevents them getting too big, and usually tends to bring them into fruit much earlier. Obviously, the total crop must be small and the plants need special attention. They will need watering regularly, possibly three or four times a day in summer.

One advantage of container-grown fruit is that the whole pot can be taken under cover. To prevent frost or bird damage, or to bring on earlier growth. Always use large containers — plastic dustbins are ideal — fill them with John Innes No 3 or, preferably, a good organic potting compost. Choose a dwarfing rootstock and arrange some form of automatic watering system. Don’t forget the need to pot up every couple of years, so rather than increase the size of container I start by only half-filling it, then I lift the lot up and add a layer underneath and repack around. Eventually, the container gets full and too heavy to move. At this stage, propagate and start again, planting the old one out if you have space.

Spacing and staking

Spacing is most critical with fruit culture as it affects the quality by allowing more nutrients, light and sun to each plant. Do not skimp. Give each plant more space than you think it needs and you will be surprisingly successful. With limited space you can squeeze them in, but you need to pay them more attention. Don’t forget when spacing trees that the soil and site will affect their growth rate and space requirements. As a rough guide, I have given the planting distances in paces for the average-sized person — adjust for yourself accordingly.

With fruit trees you need give each tree the spacing it requires according to the rootstock. This applies particularly to trained fruits and principally to apples which vary the most. Standard trees on the vigorous apple stocks M2, M25 and M111 will need to be at least seven to ten paces apart and need staking only the first year. Cordons, or those on the very dwarfing M27 and M9, will need to be just a pace or so apart and need permanent staking or wire supports. For medium-sized gardens, M26 and MM106 are probably best rootstocks to choose — plant at least four or five paces apart. They do not need staking once established, and grow vigorously enough so you can still use the space underneath.

Stakes should support trees as low down as possible to ensure the development of a strong trunk. The tie should be wide, padded, firm, but with some give, adjustable and removable. Plastic string and wire are not acceptable alternatives to tree ties, but old tights and bicycle inner tubes are.

05. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Fruit Gardening | Tags: , | Comments Off on Growing Fruit and Berries


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