REAL ESTATE- GIMME SHELTER- Bearing Fruit: Small fruits yield big rewards

Peter Warren
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Agriculture & Natural Resources


Q: I would like to grow some fruit in my garden this year. What are my choice?

A: Your choices are many; some of the most popular include strawberries, grapes, brambles, blueberries, currants, and gooseberries. These small fruits offer advantages over fruit trees for home fruit production. They require a minimum of space for the amount of fruit produced and bear one or two years after planting. 

In addition, preparing food using homegrown fruit can be rewarding to your taste buds and your body. You'll find satisfaction growing them yourself, plus digging in the dirt is good therapy for mind and body. But before you get started, it is best to plan ahead.

Success with a small fruit planting will depend on the attention given to all phases of production: variety selection, soil management, fertilization, pruning, and pest control. Plant only what you can care for properly. It is better to have a well-attended, small planting than a neglected, large one. 

Location is also important. Locate your small fruit planting as close to your home as possible, in full sun. Space in or near the vegetable garden is usually preferred. Where space is a limiting factor, small fruits may be used in place of ornamental plants of comparable size. Strawberries may be used as a border for a flowerbed or as a ground cover.

Grapes and raspberries may be planted parallel to the garden on a trellis or a fence along a property line. Blueberries may be planted to form a dense hedge or used in a foundation planting around the home. Select a site that is free from frost pockets, low/wet spots, and exposure to strong prevailing winds. Small fruits thrive in a fertile, sandy loam soil high in organic matter, but they will give good returns on the average garden soil under adequate fertilization and good cultural practices. 

Overcrowding frequently results in weak plants and low yields. It also makes insect and disease control more difficult. 

Special attention should be given to the selection of varieties. They must be adapted to your soil and climatic conditions. If possible, without sacrificing too much yield or quality, select varieties with the least insect and disease problems. 

Obtain the best nursery stock available. Buy only from reputable nurserymen who guarantee their plants to be true to name, of high quality, and packed and shipped correctly. Beware of bargains. High prices do not necessarily mean high quality, but well-grown plants are not cheap. 

Place your order early, as soon as you decide what you want. Specify variety, size, grade of plants desired, and time of shipment preferred. It is best to have the plants arrive at the time you are ready to set them out. Unless you specify otherwise, some nurseries will only send plant material at the proper time to be planted in your area.