The Q&A Archives: Fruit Trees and Berries

Question: I was wondering about the best way to plant raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and bush cherries, along with peach trees and apple trees. Do I put manure in the ground first? How deep? I heard that a person should not "J" the roots of berry plants or they will die--is this true? Also, will my berries produce the first year? One last--is it true that a person should thin runners on strawberry plants down to four per plant? I am quite new to this and hope to learn much--thanks for you help.

Answer: I'm thinking of all the jam you'll be making soon...yum! It's great that you're going to grow a wide variety of fruit plants, since some should bear soon (strawberries and raspberries) and others won't bear fruit for a few years (peaches and apples). It sounds like you could use a good book on home-gardening fruit guide. I can recommend a couple of great books and some web sites for you to peruse, and I suggest that you check out our database, too. "Fruits and Berries for the Home Garden" by Lewis Hill (Storey Publications, ISBN: 0882667637) is a great reference guide, as is the Cornell University publication "The Home Fruit Planting", a 46 page illustrated bulletin available for only $5.95 via their website:
Informational websites are numerous; check out St. Lawrence Nursery's on-line planting guide and catalog offerings as well as the Cornell University website above.

To answer your specific questions, it's best to improve soil all around the planting area, not just the planting holes, especially if the soil has extreme characteristics (poorly drained, droughty, clay, gravel, etc.). If it's like this and you improve the soil just in the planting hole, often the plants' roots won't want to leave the good soil - they may as well be planted in a pot. Roots of plants/trees should be spread out in a natural pattern the planting trench. The only berries that might produce this year are strawberries (day-neutral or "everbearing" varieties), but you should have a good crop of strawberries and raspberries next year, and perhaps bush cherries and gooseberries as well. There are lots of ways to train strawberry plants, and one method is to leave only 4 daughter plants per mother plant and pinch off the rest. You can read about the reasons behind different training methods in the recommended texts/ webistes to determine which will work for you. Have fun!

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