One of the most luxurious and cost saving crops to grow at home is soft fruit - eaten straight after picking, or even straight from the bush, there is a texture and freshness you simply don’t find in shop bought fruit.
With everything just bursting into leaf now is a great time to add some soft fruit to your garden plans – they’re heavy cropping and surprisingly easy to grow even in a small space.
Modern high yield varieties can work very well in amongst herbaceous border planting – a standard trained currant or gooseberry looks fantastic grown in flower borders - and corden-trained currants against a warm, sunny wall on one side of your patio or against a fence at the back of borders that face south or west will produce a surprising amount of fruit, which is also easier to pick than on a traditional bush.
See below our Top Five Soft Fruits to grow this season.
With varieties designed to crop throughout the season you could be enjoying fruits from May all the way through to Autumn.
Strawberries will crop the first year after planting and need very little looking after – just prune the leaves back at the end of the season. Protecting the fruit from birds and pests is they key - a Crop Cage will help you maximise your harvest and a Strawberry Grow Through will lift the fruit up off the soil to avoid rotting.
If you are short of space Strawberries can be grown in hanging baskets to keep them out of reach of many hungry pests and our Strawberry Table Top and specially designed Strawberry Planters are a good way to guarantee a bumper crop – why not try a few different varieties and see which is the sweetest?
There are two types of raspberries: Summer and Autumn fruiting so you can have a continuous delicious crop from mid summer to the first frosts if you have room for both.
Autumn fruiting raspberries (Autumn Bliss is our favourite) need minimal support and are simple to prune – cut canes right back in late winter ready for new canes to replace them in spring. Autumn fruiting raspberries produce a steady supply of berries from late summer to the first frosts.
Summer varieties such as Glen Moy and Tulameen are best grown with support – A Telescopic Raspberry Support is a flexible option – and need to be pruned twice. In early or mid-Spring remove all weak or damaged canes to ground level. Leave the most vigorous canes and aim to have them spaced around 15cm apart. After fruiting remove the spent canes – they will be brown in colour – to ground level after the last harvest of the summer to encourage growth of new shoots the following year.
The Elegance Long Fruit Cage is attractive, easy to install and perfect for protecting a couple of rows of raspberries from birds – you will really notice the difference in the size of your harvest!
Blueberries need an acid soil but are surprisingly easy to grow and once established will give you a bumper crop of fruit followed by a beautiful Autumn display of red leaves.
Blueberries need a lime-free soil so container growing in ericaceous compost is ideal as long as they are kept very well watered in summer. Being able to move the pots and get all around the plant easily not only helps with harvesting but also makes pots particularly easy to net when the fruits are ripening – the Elegance Domed Fruit Cage works well over pots or within the border.
Remove the tips of each branch in Autumn to keep the bushes contained and cut out any crowded or damaged branches to keep a good light and air supply throughout the plant.
With red, white and black currant varieties to choose from currants are a great option for any garden - they all crop well, producing clusters of fruit to eat fresh or turn into summer pudding, cordials and jam.
Red and white currants prefer cooler climates and will even grow well in shade adding beautiful jewel like colour to a border. If you got a sweet tooth, opt for white currants which are a little less sharp than red varieties.
Blackcurrants are very low maintenance and will happily fruit away with very little attention - pruning them in winter to remove some of the older branches will encourage a lot of new, healthy growth and plenty of fruit.
Domed Fruit Cages work very well with Currants in the border or Kitchen Garden.
Gooseberries were traditionally a feature in nearly all cottage gardens, partly because the fruits are delicious but also because they are virtually indestructible and do well in any soil and any site, with a little bit of protection from cold wind. Given a gentle prune and mulch with some garden compost they will produce a great bounty of fruit every year with very little care needed.
However – blackbirds can strip a bush full of fruit in one afternoon – we didn’t believe it until we saw it ourselves – so make sure you net your bushes with a cage or a cloche to be sure you can enjoy a crumble or two!
Of course if you have a little more room for growing, then a walk in fruit cage offers total protection and ease of cropping on a potentially industrial scale for jams, puddings, cordials and liqueurs.
So whether you are growing ornamentally or for fruit, to get the most out of your plants feed and mulch them in the Spring with well rotted compost, protect the plants from birds using net or a cage and keep the watering up in Summer to give you the plumpest fruit for you to pick regularly and enjoy!