Winter is a time for togetherness and rest before spring. It’s also a great time to look ahead and make plans for new garden ventures.
A perennial fruit garden is a great project with years of benefits. Proper planning and set up can give home gardeners decades worth of fresh produce.
Begin by looking at the landscape and deciding if and how much space there is for new additions. Tree fruit such as apples, peaches, and cherries need more space than small fruits such as kiwifruit, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Those with limited space can consider container fruits.
Next, consider the site. Fruit plantings prefer a full-sun fertile location. Planting in an elevated or sloped site helps with water drainage and air circulation. A windbreak helps tree fruits in the winter and keeping out of low laying areas helps to avoid frost pockets.
Make sure to pick a convenient location close to a water source. If it is out of sight, gardeners may not prioritize its maintenance or prefer not to walk to a distant site in the heat of the summer.
Doing a soil test provides a baseline of nutrients and pH and amendments can made as needed for fruit crop varieties.
Avoid areas that may have had Verticillium wilt, a soilborne fungus that can affect more than 300 plant species. Verticillium wilt reduces fruit yields, causes wilting, stunting and killing of plants. Plants may be infected for awhile before symptoms are visible. Try not to plant in areas planted with in the last three to five years with tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, melons, okra, beats or roses.
The final step of planning your fruit garden, is selecting plants. Cultivars should be adapted for the USDA zone in your area. Look at local garden centers, nurseries, and national fruit stock retailers for cultivars and necessary cross-pollinator cultivars.
Article by Bruce Black, Horticulture Educator, Illinois Extension