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Having been raised by parents of European decent, it is impossible for me to imagine a garden that does not have fruit ripening every summer. I remember climbing our plum trees to eat loads of sweet ripe plums, and watching my brother’s young children dance through his tall berry patch with a fist full of warm blackberries in one hand, and blueberries in the other, so excited and happy, their smiles and clothes purple from the juice. Refrigerated fruit, irradiated and neatly packaged from the grocery store is just not the same.
Many different fruits grow well in our temperate climate – apples, pears, peaches, plums, muscadine grapes, even hardy kiwis – but in order to have good fruit, these often require significant effort.
Wow! Easy enough? Here is my list of the five cannot-refuse fruits to grow and love.
Blueberries and huckleberries are native to North Carolina, but newer cultivars provide bigger harvests. Plant at least 3 different varieties for the best fruit production. They require a sunny location, acidic soil with a pH of 6 or below that is well amended with organic matter, and has good drainage. Provide consistent moisture and you should be harvesting blueberries the second year. They almost never get pests or disease. Birds can be kept at bay with plastic netting or plastic snakes.
An added bonus is that blueberries are beautiful shrubs in the landscape. They are covered with delicate white flowers in early spring, berries in the summer, and red foliage in the fall. They are slow growing so they usually do not need pruning for the first several years they are in the ground. Some popular varieties include Climax, Chandler, Premier, Blue Ray & Tifblue.
Blackberries or “dewberries” are also native to the Piedmont. Cultivated blackberries have fewer thorns and bigger berries. The original thornless varieties were named after Native American tribes and include names such as Navaho, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Shawnee and Kiowa. My personal favorite is one called ‘Natchez” that was developed in 2007. These exceptionally cold tolerant, disease-free plants produce big sweet berries on strong erect canes. They are easily managed with some simple wire trellising to hold them upright.
Blackberries will grow well in fertile soil with a neutral pH around 6.5. Potted plants can be purchased locally. Bare root plants are less expensive and can be ordered online for planting in late fall. Expect ripe berries in their second year.
Did you know that the most heat tolerant raspberry for our area, the “Caroline” raspberry, will produce delicious berries from June through frost? They need neutral pH fertile soil, and a bit of wire trellising to keep the branches from bowing to the ground when they are heavy with fruit. The plants spread vigorously so you won’t need to plant many. You will have fruit the first year you plant them!
Fig “trees” are really giant multi-trunked bushes with bold, tropical-looking leaves. They need well-drained, fertile, moist soil, and if possible, protection from winter winds. Figs are amazingly pest and disease free. Our winters can be hard on young trees, so it is best to plant them in spring so that they have a full season to get established.
You cannot go wrong with the Celeste, Brown Turkey, or the Texas Everbearing Fig tree. These reliable varieties produce abundant crops of sweet, brown figs in mid-summer.
The fruit of these trees is quite different from our native persimmon, so forget any painful childhood memories of being tricked into biting into a green persimmon! The ‘Fuyu” is the most popular persimmon in Japan. The fruit is almost as big as a tennis ball, usually seedless, and non-astringent, so it is sweet even when it is still firm. It turns a deep reddish orange in October and hangs on the tree like Halloween ornaments after the red fall foliage has fallen. It usually produces a few fruit the first year you plant it.
As if all of that were not enough, the tree is lovely with ornamental glossy foliage. It grows slowly to about 15 feet in 10 years so it rarely needs pruning. Japanese persimmons are pest and disease free, and survive well on our average rainfall once established.
Have you noticed that the fruits listed above are the most expensive to BUY? That is not because they are hard to grow, but because figs and berries have a short shelf life. Japanese persimmons DO store well and their $2 price per fruit still amazes me.
Fall is the perfect time to plant, and the best way to get any of these plants established is with an ample amount of compost mixed into your planting bed. Additional nitrogen is not needed, and can actually harm your plants. Start soon and before you know it you will be gathering yummy fruit from your own organic garden.
Gardening Enthusiast, Educator, Speaker, Blogger
Ellen Ashley teaches an annual program of “hands-on” gardening classes on her 10-acre property in Summerfield. Contact her at email@example.com.