Fruit Gardening

Blueberries by Charles Courtney Curran

Blueberries by Charles Courtney Curran

Even though I haven’t grown any of my own fruit, I took a class on the topic to familiarize myself prior to doing so. When we started our garden this year, I was flying by the seat of my pants in my learning curve. Here I was, trying to get ahead of the curve. I have a bunch of scribbled notes that need to be put in a saveable place! And where better than my blog to jot them down for future reference?

So first things first. Site selection. What can you grow there and how many plants? Is it shady or sunny? How accessible is it? Once you’ve determined the space, then it’s time to find what plants will fit there, or the plants you’d prefer to grow.

Plant Sources

So now it’s time to purchase plants. The sources are typically a big box store, garden centers and mail order unless you’re experienced and started them on your own.

Keep in mind that for mail order, there are cut off dates. So it might be in their catalog but not available if you wait too long into the season. So let’s talk about the mail order options.

So the mother of catalogs is a catalog called Fruit, Berry and Nut Inventory. The information presented in this book is so unique and invaluable that fruit growers everywhere will turn to it again and again, looking for sources that offer rare nineteenth-century apples, or for descriptions of newly bred grapes, or even for unusual varieties of tropical fruits.

Here are some recommended plant sources (in the US). You may have sources to nurseries that are more local to your vicinity, with plants that grow better in your hardiness zone.

Another great book to reference is Grow Fruit. Grow Fruit is a practical and inspirational guide that shows everyone how to grow their own fruit, no matter how much time or space they have. With foolproof, easy-to-follow advice, ideas and techniques for more experienced gardeners, a fruit grower’s year planner, and a troubleshooting section for common problems of fruit pests and diseases, Grow Fruit is the one-stop reference for growing your own delicious fruit.


I’ll be discussing the most successfully grown varieties for our region here in Northern Illinois, which is region 5A. Because there are an enormous amount of different fruits, the discussion is limited to popular garden varieties, not orchards (trees).


There are two types: June and everbearing.

The most popular June bearing is Jewel.
Popular varieties of everbearing are: Albion, Ozark Beauty, Sea Scape, Tribute, Tristar and Quinalt


There are two types: Summer and everbearing.

Summer varieties: Boyne, Nova, Prelude and Taylor. Taylor has the best flavor.

Everbearing varieties: Anne (yellow), Autumn Bliss, Caroline (tall), Polana (short, from Poland)


There are two types: Thorned and thornless, early and late varieties. Avoid Primocane blackberries, they winter kill. Dewberries, boysenberries, loganberries and marionberries are blackberry varieties and not different species altogether. Prune the first two weeks of June.

Thorned: Apache, Chester and Triple Crown

Thornless: Dole’s thornless


Jersey variety. All blueberries require high iron, use ironite.

Grapes (Seedless)

Any varieties by Elmer Swenson are very hardy for this region and can withstand temperatures to -30 degrees. Other varieties: Canadice, Marquis, Reliance, Somerset, Vanessa.

Soil (and Minerals)

Roots require as much oxygen as water. Use aged woodchips, aged straw, leaves, cocoa bean hulls, composted forest products.

The soil acts as a stomach for plants, so digestion has to happen in the soil. Fungi can make this happen. Small fruits are fed by fungi and fungi love woodchips. Fungi produces an acid so strong, it can dissolve glass. The woodier the plant, the more fungi they need.

Soil temperature is more important than air temperature. If we are comfortable, the plants are comfortable. The plant will stress if temperatures are uncomfortable. If soil temperatures fall below 60 degrees for two or more hours, plants put food to the roots.

Higher orders of plants require a high phosphorus (from leaves) and high calcium (from bedrock – lime and gypsum) soil. Calcium is in every cell of a plant and helps create the structure of the plant.

Healthy plants require the Big 5:

  1. Nitrogen – determines the size and color.
  2. Phosphorus – produces sugars and controls insects. Any insects are phosphorus deficiency.
  3. Potassium – determines the size and number of fruits. Determines the size of a cell.
  4. Calcium – builds cell walls and prevents disease. Calcium determines the number of cells. Any disease is calcium deficiency. Bitterness is caused by acids, which indicates a calcium deficiency. When fruit is about marble size, a plant has taken up 80% of the calcium it will ever uptake.
  5. Carbs – the building blocks of a plant.


Three reasons for mulching:


  1. Cools the soil 20 degrees in summer
  2. Conserves moisture, less evaporation
  3. Provides a home for fungi

– Fungi digest minerals in the soil and gives them to the plant
– Fungi pull water vapor from the air and give it to the plants

Feeding Plants

Recommended book – Mineral Nutrition of Higher Plants by Horst Marschner – if you have the ability to comprehend it! Highly technical, for the serious student.

Dry and liquid feeding


Mix one 40# bag lime with one 40# bag gypsum. Bone meal if growing strictly organic.

Lime releases in two to three months
Gypsum releases in two to three weeks
Bone meal releases in one to two months

Apply one handful per plant every one to two months (depending on condition of the plants). Use more or less depending on the size of the root system. Spread around the root area. This will supply the calcium plants need.


You should feed plants each week as they are watered. When plants are flowering and producing fruit, they are “pregnant,” and need extra nutrition throughout this period. This will also extend blooming and production times.

Mix for every gallon water:

1 oz. molasses
2 oz. apple cider vinegar
2 oz. household ammonia or 1/2 strength Miracle Grow (remove if strictly organic)
2 oz. milk

You can feed this formula to the roots. Uptake is about 12 hours. You can spray on the leaves of the plants (foliar spray) every two days if necessary. Foliar sprays take 20 minutes to get into the plant’s system.

If there are diseases or bugs, mix for every gallon water and spray on leaves:

2 oz. milk
8 oz. cola – soda pop (must contain phosphoric acid)

It is recommended to use apple cider vinegar in the soil every 10 days, so in the weekly feed should suffice. Vinegar dissolves minerals to make them available to the plant.


  • Ammonia or Miracle Grow are bloom boosters. But, If growing strictly organic, rather than using ammonia or Miracle Grow, mix a handful of bone meal for each plant every 1-2 months along with the lime and gypsum mix.
  • Miracle Grow can be overdone, so take care not to use it too often.
  • The recipe with ammonia cannot be overdone.
  • Fat molecules in milk will prevent calcium absorption, but microbes in the soil will eat fat. Using powdered milk, with no fat, is effective. You can also use spoiled milk or yogurt. The soil especially likes the microbes from yogurt.
  • If growing biologically (no pesticides), use one or two tablespoons of Scott’s Starter Fertilizer each month.

Problem Solving

When insects or diseases are apparent, it means plants are hungry.

  • Uneven ripening = potassium deficiency
  • Insects = phosphorus deficiency
  • Diseases = calcium deficiency
  • Cat facing = calcium deficiency
  • Hollow fruit = boron deficiency
  • Bitter = calcium deficiency
  • Blossom end rot = calcium deficiency – can be stopped in 20 minutes with a foliar spray of 2 oz. milk per gallon water.


Do not prune October 1-January 1. Generally, pruning is done after President’s Day, about mid-February.

One day I’ll be using this information! I hope it’s been useful to you.


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