Growing your own fruit means that you can enjoy the pick of delicious varieties fresh from the tree or bush, turn them into pies, jellies and jams or store or freeze them for the winter.
With a little care throughout the year, you can enjoy the best possible harvests – here’s how.
Buy bare-root plants
You’ll get a better choice of varieties if you buy bare-root trees, bushes and canes and they are generally cheaper than container-grown plants, too. They’re available in the dormant season, from November to March, usually by mail order.
Plant at least two fruit trees
Plant at least two fruit trees so that they can cross pollinate. Where space is limited, choose self-pollinating varieties that fruit on their own, or try family trees with several varieties grafted onto a single trunk.
Prune bush fruit such as blackcurrants and gooseberries into an open, goblet shape in winter. This lets light and air into the centre of the plant so that fungal diseases can’t take hold. Stone fruit trees, such as plums, should be pruned in summer; apples and pears in winter.
Protect blossom from frost if possible, by covering with fleece. Remove the covers by midday so that pollinating insects can get in, then recover at night.
Mulch around the base of plants with well-rotted organic matter in autumn, to lock in nutrients and water into the soil and suppress weeds. Use pine needles around blueberries as they create the acidic conditions they love. Scatter slow-release fertiliser, such as chicken manure, each spring onto moist soil.
Net fruit against birds as it starts to colour, using bamboo canes to hold it off the leaves. Peg down firmly and check daily to make sure birds don’t become entangled.
Water new fruit plants regularly until they are established, and continue to water any plants in pots. Water all fruit plants when they have ripening fruit, but be careful not to over-water as this can lead to tasteless fruit and can leach nutrients from the soil.
Pick off fruits
Pick off baby fruits from newly planted fruit trees in their first season. It takes willpower, but it allows the tree to concentrate on establishing well. Mature trees will drop fruits early in the season (called the ‘June drop’) but it’s a good idea to thin fruits growing too close together so that those remaining have room to mature.
Underplant with flowers
Underplant fruit with nectar-rich flowers such as nepeta, lavender or annual flower mixes to attract bees and other pollinating insects – they’ll pollinate your blossom at the same time.
Let fruit ripen fully
Let fruits ripen fully on the plant or tree, so that they have more time to build up nutrients. But pick them before they become overripe as they may rot and spread disease – and will attract wasps too.