If you dream of growing your own fruits, the best start is to plant berries. Fast to mature and needing less space than fruit trees, berries also are more weather resilient and rarely suffer from devastating diseases. Best of all, most berries are wonderfully nutritious, and regular consumption of berries is associated with improved brain health.
What makes a great berry? It should be easy to grow and pleasurable to eat, with palatable or easily removed seeds. There are more nutritious berries than those listed below, for example aronia and elderberries, but they are borderline bitter with funky flavor notes that make them difficult to eat without adding lots of sugar. The six berries discussed here can be eaten out of hand or easily preserved, and they grow in a range of climates. Provide homegrown berries with the right site and soil, and you can start picking fresh fruit in two years or less.
Self-fertile and naturally vigorous, blackberries can be grown as stand-alone pillars or incorporated into a bountiful hedgerow. Several newer varieties such as ‘Triple Crown’ can be trained into a flowing, upright mound that’s easy to cover with tulle or bird netting when the crop ripens in summer. Dwarf ‘Baby Cakes’ can be grown in a container. Most blackberries bear on one-year-old canes, which can be injured by cold winter weather. Where winters are too cold for blackberry canes (but not blackberry roots), try primocane varieties that bear on new growth such as 'Prime-Ark 45'.
Every berry has a special health benefit, and with blackberries it may be improved oral health. Compounds in blackberries impact several microbes that cause common gum diseases.
Easy to grow in naturally acidic soil, blueberries mature into attractive three season shrubs with red twigs in late winter, dark berries and lush greenery in summer, and bright color in late autumn. We have a great Planting to Harvest guide on blueberries, plus more coverage of types of blueberries and how to prune them. Choose a blueberry that fits your climate, and then be patient. The woody little bushes take a bit longer to settle in compared to other berries, but they are worth the wait.
Blueberries are so high in antioxidants that they may slow the aging process while promoting better heart health. Numerous studies have shown that blueberries increase stamina in athletes, and may speed muscle recovery from hard workouts.
Whether red, black or white, currants grow best where summers are cool. The tangy berries follow lightly fragrant spring blooms, and upright redcurrants are an especially good fit for tight places in partial shade. Bushier blackcurrants grow into lovely deciduous shrubs suitable for use in foundation plantings. Check out our Planting to Harvest guide on currants, which also explains their checkered history in the US due to their role in the spread of white pine blister rust 100 years ago.
The tastiest currants are generally the reds, which lack the musky flavor of blackcurrants. They make a fabulous jam.
Grapes are the most popular berries in the world, with good reason. Seedless table grapes are delightful to eat, and no fruit does what wine grapes do when fermented. Fermentation is so fast and sure with grapes that it seems they want to become wine. See How to Grow Your Own Wine to explore your options.
When choosing which grapes to grow, keep your search local. Grapes vary in their climactic adaptation, but in any area there are tried-and-true varieties to consider. Plus, climate change is altering the global wine-growing map, with grapes being tried in places that were once too cold or dry for grapes.
Nutritionally, grapes are a rare source of resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant associated with improved brain and heart health. Some people worry about the high sugar content of grapes, but this is a minor issue when grapes are eaten whole, skins and all.
The elegance of a perfect raspberry is a worthy pursuit for any gardener, and raspberries grow in a range of climates. Cold hardy, summer-bearing red raspberries produce huge crops on one-year-old canes, while fall-bearing raspberries produce lighter crops from midsummer onward. There are other types, wild and domesticated, and all can be frozen for year-round use. Ben Vanheems shares some great planting tips in Growing Raspberries from Planting to Harvest.
The go-anywhere berry, strawberries are small enough to grow in containers, which also helps keep them safe from slugs and snails. In most climates, strawberries planted in fall will produce the following summer. Strawberries need soil that’s on the acidic side and plenty of sun, but are fast and easy to grow.
Conventionally-grown strawberries are heavily treated with pesticides, and mass-market varieties must be firm enough to withstand shipping. Garden-grown strawberries are more delicate, with flavors and aromas intact.
Strawberries have the same health benefits of other berries, but don’t tell the kids. Children have emerged as leading consumers of strawberries and other berries, which some parents say is running them broke. What better reason to start growing your own!