Autumn is the optimum time to plant soft fruit while the earth is still warm and moist. It’s easy to imagine you need at least a reasonably sized garden to grow your own fruit, but in fact a small patio, or even a balcony could be home to a whole host of fruit if you know which ones to choose. These include all your old favourites such as blackcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries and blackberries. Or you can try the new super-fruits; blue berries, gojiberries, honeyberries and jostaberries.
Try planting our favourite top five soft fruits
Blackberry and hybrid berries
The fruits of cultivated blackberries and hybrid berries such as loganberries and boysenberries are borne on canes in late summer. The hybrids have arisen from crosses between different Rubus species or cultivars. Before planting, the ground should be well prepared and fertilized. Thornless cultivars are usually less vigorous than prickly ones. Blackberries and hybrid berries are all self-fertile and consequently may be singly grown. They need a sunny or partially shaded position. So not plant them in exposed sites. Provide support for the canes: walls and fences, with horizontal wires set up at 30cm (12”) intervals. Plant shallowly, spreading out the roots well and firming the soil at the base of the plants. Space more vigorous cultivars 4-5m (12-15ft) apart, less vigorous ones 2.5-3m (8-10ft apart. After planting, shorten the canes to 22cm (9”). Tie in new growth to wires or weave new growth along wires on more vigorous varieties. The plants fruit on one-year-old wood, so training needs to separate fruiting canes from newly developing ones. After cropping, cut out the fruiting canes at ground level. Retain and tie in those canes that have grown during the current season.
Blackcurrant Ben Alder
This variety is a cross between Ben More and Ben Lomond. It is widely grown commercially for juice production due to very high yield and content of Vitamin C. Ben Alder is late flowering so escapes most Spring frosts. The medium sized berries need to be picked soon after ripening. The high quality fruit crops late July/August. The bush has an upright habit and a high level of disease resistance. Prepare area before planting be digging over and mixing organic manure or compost into the topsoil. Soak bush for 2 hours in water and plant to the depth of the soil mark on the stem, tread in firmly and water. After planting, prune all stems back to 5cm (2”) above the ground. In later years, remove 25% of the stems to encourage new growth from the base. From the first years growth select 8-10 main stems (leaders) evenly spaced round the bush as in a goblet shape. These will remain for the whole life of the bush – about 20 years. Remove and remaining shoots and cut back the 8-10 leaders selected to half their length. In future winters cut back the top-most shoot from each of the leaders, remaining 25% of the previous season’s growth. All other side-growths should now be cut right back to within 1cm (1/2”) of the main stems and on these spurs will come the next years fruit. Mulch yearly with well rotted compost or manure to retain moisture and suppress weeds, water in dry periods and apply a growmore type fertiliser in the spring.
Raspberry Autumn Bliss
One of the best and most reliable Autumn fruiting varieties. Bliss is a heavy cropper from late August through until the first frosts with the highest yield coming in September. The attractive berries are large with a firm texture, and the flavour is excellent. The fruit is mid-dark red in colour and has good keeping qualities. The short, erect, spiny canes are sturdy and need only minimal support. Bliss has good disease resistance to Root Rot. Fruiting season is late August to October. Planting distance 45cm (18”), height 1.5m (5’). Raspberries grow best in free draining soil, if drainage is poor, grow on a raised bed. It is essential that they are planted in ground that has never grown raspberries or any plant of the genes Rubus before. Prepare ground before planting by digging over and mixing organic manure or compost into the topsoil. Plant canes as soon as possible after purchase, provided weather conditions are suitable. Soak canes for 2 hours in water and plant to the depth of the soil mark on the stem, tread in firmly and water. Canes may not break bud up the stem but fresh shoots will emerge from the base. Apply ‘Rootgrow’ (mycorrhizae) to aid establishment. Fruit is produced on current seasons growth so cut down to the ground level in winter. Mulch yearly with well rotted compost or manure to retain moisture and suppress weeds, water in dry periods and apply a growmore type fertiliser in the spring.
Gooseberry Hinnonmaki Red
Is a very hardy and vigorous mid-season red gooseberry. Produces heavy crops of large, sweet, red berries of excellent quality, fruiting in mid-July. It was specifically bred for hardiness and disease resistance and is particularly resistant to mildew making it ideal for organic gardeners. It is also a slow growing variety so is ideal for small gardens. It is an excellent variety for dessert or culinary purposes. Soak in water for to 2 hours before planting. Pruning is not required after planting but in subsequent years prune the new growth on the main branches back by 50% and any side shoots back to 5cms (2”). Mulch yearly to retain moisture and suppress weeds., water in dry periods and apply a growmore type fertiliser in the spring.
This superb mid-season variety is without doubt the leading commercial blueberry to date. Vigorous upright growth reaching 4-6ft at maturity but can be kept compact by growing in a container. The high quality fruit has a good rich flavour and is borne in medium-large open clusters for easy picking from the end of July. The firm berries are light blue in colour and are ideal for all purposes. It has stunning bronze foliage in the autumn followed by attractive red stems in winter. Frost tolerant. Prepare area before planting by digging over and mixing organic manure or compost into the topsoil. Plant as soon as possible after purchase, provided weather conditions are suitable. Soak bush for 2 hours in water and plant to the depth of the soil mark on the stem, tread in firmly and water. Where the soil is not suitable, plant in a 20 litre container using ericaceous compost. Needs no pruning, mulch yearly with well rotted compost or manure to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Blueberries have a very fine shallow root –system making them very susceptible to drying out. Water throughout the summer to ensure their soil remains moist, a thorough weekly drench should prove sufficient. Apply a growmore type fertiliser in the spring.