In just a few short weeks soft fruits will be bursting into leaf, ready to start a new season of delicious abundance. Many soft fruits are both heavy cropping and surprisingly easy to grow.
If you’ve never tried growing soft fruits before, this video and article is for you: because we’re going to show you which soft fruits are the best for beginners.
Strawberries need no introduction, and with early, mid and late-season varieties to choose from you could be picking fruits from spring all the way through to fall. Strawberries will crop the first summer after planting and because they’re not woody plants, the only ‘pruning’ they need is trimming back the leaves after fruiting.
Fruits that lie on bare soil or are splashed with mud can rot, so protect them by laying straw around plants when they begin to flower. You can even enjoy a late crop of strawberries by planting an autumn-fruiting or perpetual variety then protecting plants from the cold with row covers or cloches.
Raspberries offer exceptional harvests for the effort involved in growing them. There are two types of raspberry: summer-fruiting and fall-bearing. Fall-bearing raspberries are the easiest to grow because they need only minimal support to stop them flopping over, and pruning couldn’t be easier – simply cut back all of the old canes in late winter ready for new canes to replace them in spring.
Fall-bearing raspberries produce a steady supply of berries from late summer right up to the first frosts.
Bountiful Blackberries and Hybrid Berries
Banish thoughts of viciously spiny blackberry canes. Most modern varieties are thornless, while the fruits tend to be bigger and sweeter than their wild counterparts. The canes are vigorous and generally trouble-free. Simply tie them to supports to maintain order and cut out old canes to encourage new growth.
Hybrid berries such as loganberry, boysenberry and tayberry are the result of a cross between the blackberry and other cane fruits, often raspberry or another hybrid. The result is a treasure trove of tasty berries – all easy to grow, and all juicy and delicious.
With red, white and blackcurrants to choose from, you’re spoiled for choice. All currants crop well, producing heavily laden clusters, or strigs, of currants to eat fresh, blitz into sauces or perhaps turn into flavorsome jam.
Red and white currants prefer cooler climates and will even grow well in shade. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, opt for white currants, which tend to be a little sweeter than reds. Blackcurrants require very little care indeed, even cropping when neglected. But prune them in winter to remove some of the older and crossing branches, and you’ll encourage lots of new, healthy growth and plenty of those tempting fruits.
The near-indestructible gooseberry will thrive in seemingly any soil, though it prefers cooler climates and some shelter from the wind. Choose between culinary varieties for cooking up into jams, jellies and pies, or dessert varieties to enjoy fresh.
Gooseberries will produce their fruits even when they are neglected. But show them some care by feeding, pruning and mulching and you’ll have bumper pickings to enjoy every summer.
Historically, the cultivation of both currants and gooseberries has been restricted in many areas of the United States. The reason is that they serve as an intermediary host for white pine blister rust, which is fatal to white pines, an important tree for the lumber industry. Thankfully, modern breeding has created varieties resistant to the disease, and restrictions have been lifted in most states. Check the situation where you live before planting.
General Care for Soft Fruits
Soft fruits generally require less space than tree fruits and are quicker to reach maturity, so you won’t have to wait long before your first pickings. Container-grown soft fruits may be planted at any time of year, while bare-root fruits are best planted from late winter to early spring, or in milder climates from fall onwards.
Keep your soft fruits thriving by watering thoroughly once a week in dry weather, especially in the first year. A spring top-dressing of organic mulch such as compost will help to feed the plants while improving soil structure. Lay it at least a couple of inches (5cm) thick, taking care to keep it clear of the canes or trunk of the plants.
You may find birds like your fruits as much as you do! Netting, or for a more permanent solution, a walk-in fruit cage will keep them off.
Every garden, of every size, should include at least a few berries. If you’re already growing fruits, please tell us in the comments section below what you have and whether you’d recommend them for beginners too.