Juicy Fruit

Luscious thornless blackberries in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Luscious thornless blackberries (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Summer isn’t only a time for gorgeous flowers and fun in the sun, it’s also a time to partake of some of the most luscious fruits grown in our climate. For those of us in colder zones (5-6), that list includes blackberries, blueberries and grapes; a few of the fruit producing shrubs/vines that any novice (myself included) can grow in their back yard. What makes these fruits so easy to grow is that they don’t require a lot of care. And what I mean by that is you don’t have to worry about pollinators (except for blueberries), spraying chemicals or excessive pruning.

Clusters of grapes embellish an arbor in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Clusters of grapes embellish an arbor (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

I’ve been gardening ornamentally for over 25 years, but until recently the only fruit I grew was for the birds. I planted American cranberry, chokeberry, twig dogwood, spicebush, bayberry and juniper, all for my feathered friends. And then I had an “Aha moment” that led me to venture into the realm of edible fruits for the human residents of our property as well. Sort of like Jill with a bean stalk, I decided to start with a grape vine . . .

America’s favorite grape juice and grape jelly come from *Concord grapes (*named after the Massachusetts village of Concord, where the first of its variety was grown in the 1850’s), so when I saw a hardy (zone 5-8), self-pollinating Concord grape, Vitis labrusca, for sale at a local nursery, I thought “Why not?” Once home, I needed to figure out where to plant the grape and what sort of trellis I would provide for it. If you happen to have a sturdy fence or arbor with a vacancy for a vine that can grow about 6 foot tall and wide, you’re all set. If not, you’ll need to get creative.

** Find out more about growing grapes and the local wineries in Connecticut ~

Concord grapes in my homemade trellis in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Concord grapes in my homemade trellis (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Because I have horses and chickens, there is no shortage of fencing material. But, I’m no carpenter, so I made up my own “creation”, which has worked for the last five years. I used page wire and circled the grape (instead of lengthwise) using two metal fencing posts to secure my hoop cage. The holes in the wire were wide enough to allow me access for pruning (a little pruning is recommended in spring), while providing lots of openings for the branches to come through. Use whatever structure you can come up with as long as it pleases you and provides the necessary support and ventilation. Plant your grape in well drained soil, provide full sun, protection from harsh wind, water for the first year (after that, water only if a very dry summer), and enjoy your grapes in September. (Ironically, the birds do end up eating most of these as well, my fault for putting the vine near the bird feeder! You can net yours to prevent this from happening.)

** Would you consider Growing FIGS ?  You can do it even in the colder climates!

Blueberries ripe for the picking in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Blueberries ripe for the picking (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Our native blueberry is such a beautiful shrub that I would grow it simply for its ornamental attributes, however Highbush blueberriesVaccinium corymbosum, are not only a pretty face, but a wonderful addition to any garden. Growing 6-8 feet tall in sunny zones 4-7, they produce clusters of sweet indigo fruit (that contain more antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable) from July to September, concluding with a fiery foliage finale in autumn. Although not difficult to grow, blueberries do have a few requirements to keep them healthy and prolific: 1.) Pair with at least one other variety to allow for cross-pollination (the plant tag will specify a good partner) and to extend the harvest season. 2.) Blueberries crave a moist, well drained acidic soil, and may need some watering during extended dry periods and a light fertilizing with sulfur (I use organic HollyTone) to maintain soil pH. 3.) Once the plant is established (about 3 years) you will want to prune out older stems in winter to promote healthier growth in spring. Popular varieties for Northern climates are: ‘Atlantic’, ‘Berkeley’, ‘Bluechip’, ‘Bluecrop’, ‘Earliblue’ and ‘Jersey.’ So far, the birds share the blueberries with me, but you may eventually need netting to protect your portion.

** Read more about the benefits of BLUEBERRIES ~

Thornless blackberries on my homemade trellises in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Thornless blackberries on my homemade trellises (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

As a child, I experimented with growing blackberries (Rubus spp.), but their treacherous thorns and invasive nature soon led to abandonment on my part, to which they responded by happily taking over the hillside of my parent’s property. Fast forward forty years, when I discovered the thornless blackberry ‘Triple Crown’, a vigorous plant renowned for its unique flavor and generous yield. “I’ll take two,” I informed the nursery sales person after reading that Triple Crown was sun loving, self pollinating and hardy to zones 5-9. This thornless blackberry grows about 5 feet tall and 4 foot wide, so again, you will need to think about some type of support to grow it on. A few metal posts sunk 2 feet into the ground, with two strands of wire strung between at about 3 feet and 5 feet, is what professional growers do (allowing at least 6 feet between plants). I constructed something a little different, creating a wire trellis and weaving the branches through it. Again, use whatever works for you and adjust as needed. Blackberries do like a moist soil, so mulch heavily around each plant to maintain moisture and allow the decomposing mulch to fertilize for you. I prune in the winter to remove all canes that fruited that summer, and any excessively long canes are trimmed back along with thinning out crowded or spindly stems. Otherwise, no care is required and you can expect delicious berries in August, that is if the critters don’t get there first!

Concord grapes in early summer in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Concord grapes in early summer (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

*Good read suggestion: If you’re serious about growing fruit, especially combining it ornamentally, try Landscaping with Fruit by Lee Reich. This book is packed with ideas and tried-and-true experience.

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