How to Cultivate Berries and Pick Fruit from Your Own Trees

Whatever your age, juicy, sweet berries are a summertime delight but which types and varieties suit which garden? And can you really grow a blackberry without prickles?

The beauty of berries is that they provide a quick return after planting, but while strawberries, raspberries and blackberries share some common ground, such as a preference for moist, well-drained soil that’s mildly acid, their growing habits and cultivation techniques are all significantly different.

Strawberries

For some, strawberries are the ultimate summer fruit. To get the best from the Strawbs, plant them in July or August to fruit the following summer. The plants prefer an open sunny spot with plenty of space between them, and need to be kept well watered, especially in spring when the fruits are swelling. To keep the berries off the ground, where they can fall prey to slugs or rot, surround the plants with straw (one of many theories behind the plant’s name) or strawberry mats, making sure the ground is moist first. As a final deterrent, net them to protect from the birds.

Raspberries

This prickly customer is relatively easy to grow, crops best in full sun and can last up to 20 years. Before planting dig a trench, fill it with plenty of muck and mix in an all-round fertilizer. As the canes grow, cover them at the base with compost or grass cuttings to keep in the moisture, making sure the soil you’re covering is already damp. But while they mustn’t be allowed to dry out, water-logging can be just as harmful. Plant summer fruiting raspberries in autumn, feeding and mulching in spring.

Blackberries

Blackberries are one of the most abundant fruits in nature’s larder and throughout September blackberrying is one of those few pastimes that seems to appeal to all ages. They enjoy the same rich, moist soils as the other berries but are a little less fussy. Plant in the autumn and immediately cut the stems down to just one bud. Each year, once fruiting has finished, cut down the stems that have fruited to allow new ones to develop. Make this easy by separating out the stems as they grow and training them against a fence.

Getting Fruity: How to Pick Fruit from Your Tree

Picking fruit from your own tree is one of the ultimate horticultural highs.

In the last thirty years, half of Britain’s pear orchards and over sixty per cent of its apple orchards have been destroyed. So what better time to start planting some of the fabulously named traditional varieties of British fruit, from the Kentish Fill basket apple to the Vicar of Wink field pear?

First, always buy trees from a reputable supplier, who specializes in fruit and can answer the following questions.

Is the tree on the right rootstock?

All fruit trees are grafted onto roots that have been specially selected for the size and shape of the tree they will ultimately support. They are identified by the letter M followed by a number. The rootstock determines the vigor, resistance to pests and disease, and the eventual formation of the tree. Only buy trees on recommended rootstocks, as these are also the only ones guaranteed virus free.

How does the tree pollinate?

If the tree is a self-pollinator it will produce fruit all by itself. If not, it will need another tree, of a different variety, with which to ‘mate’. Find out from a specialist book or nursery which varieties are compatible. It may be that one exists nearby in a neighbor’s garden. If not, you’ll need to do some matchmaking.

What growing conditions does the tree require?

Take account of the area you live in, the space and shelter you can offer the tree, and the soil type. Horticultural developments mean that you can now buy apples and pears that have been trained to specific shapes. Cordons grow at a 45o angle, while espaliers have a main vertical stem with horizontal tiers. Both are great space savers and can be grown against a wall or along a wire frame.

Step-over apples are espalier trees with the upward growth pruned out above the first set of horizontal branches, and provide excellent low ‘walls’ around the vegetable garden. Espaliers too can be used as decorative, productive screens.