If you're new to fruit growing, here are a few basic tips to help you.
Whether it's a strawberry plant or an apple tree, preparation is key to a successful fruit harvest. Most fruit plants prefer a slightly acidic soil (with a pH of 6 to 6.5) and testing kits are available from most garden centres. You can then add organic compost or manure as necessary and dig into the soil, improving structure, moisture retention or drainage and fertility.
Ideally you will want the area to be free from perennial weeds well in advance of planting so it pays to get your soil in good order before you head to the garden centre.
What fruit you grow will obviously depend on the available space. Strawberry plants or bushes such as blackcurrant, redcurrant or gooseberry don't take up too much room, but a fruit tree, such as apple or pear, will clearly need a good deal more space. However, it is possible to train fruit plants along walls or fences which may help in a smaller garden, and many plants can also survive happily in containers. Dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks are a better choice when it comes to trees, as you will end up with a more manageable plant.
Fruit plants need a sunny spot to flourish, and should ideally be sheltered from strong winds and away from frost pockets, frost being fruit's sworn enemy.
What to plant?
Fruit plants and trees are readily available from garden centres and knowledgeable staff will be only too happy to help out when it comes to picking the right plants for your garden.
Strawberries are ideal if you're new to growing fruit as they take little space and bear fruit quickly. A fruit tree, on the other hand, will require a good deal more attention and it may be some time before you get a good harvest.
It is particularly important to seek expert advice when it comes to pollination. For example, some varieties are self-pollinating while others require another plant for pollination. There are some known as 'family' trees, where compatible varieties are grafted onto the stem, but again, ask for advice if you are unsure.
If you buy bare-rooted fruit trees or bushes from the garden centre, it is essential to keep the roots moist until you are ready to plant. Wrapping them in wet newspaper or hessian covered in plastic will allow you to store them in a shed or garage until you decide to plant, but ideally you will want them in the ground as soon as possible.
Dig a hole to suit your particular choice of plant (an apple tree may require a square metre, for example), and look for old soil marks on the trunk, which will be darker in colour, as this will show you how deep the tree needs to be planted. Trees and bushes will also require staking to ensure that they stand up to any winds.
As mentioned, plenty of organic matter such as manure or compost should be used, and your new plants should be well watered to help them bed in, as well as throughout their first summer, keeping them well-weeded also.
Caring for your fruit plants
Provided that your fruit trees or bushes are sheltered from wind and frost, you should have many years of tasty harvesting to come. But keeping on top of pests and pruning are essential.
When it comes to the art of successful pruning, it is wise to purchase a book on the subject, particularly when it comes to fruit trees or those plants that you plan to train to a particular shape or area. Pruning is usually done between November and March, the dormant period, and the idea is to encourage the production of more fruiting wood, removing the unwanted growth and thereby ensuring a healthy harvest.
Pest control is similarly important, so keep an eye out for slugs and snails heading for the strawberries, and moths and aphids that can damage your fruit trees. Grease bands attached to the trunk of a fruit tree prevent female moths from reaching the branches to mate, and therefore keeping caterpillars at bay. And for a truly harmonious garden, try to encourage frogs, toads, bats and hedgehogs, all of which will help to keep the pest population to a minimum.
There are few things quite so pleasurable as growing and harvesting your own fruit, and even if you start small, the enjoyment you will get from sampling freshly-picked, homegrown, seasonal fruit will undoubtedly leave you hungry for more.
Do you grow your own fruit? What advice would you give to beginners? Leave your comments below...