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4 steps to growing fruit in a small garden

Tribune-Review
| Sunday, August 12, 2018 12:03 a.m
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Blackberry vines can be trained to cover existing fences or to make a lattice fence of blackberries.

Even gardeners with small backyards can grow a hearty crop of fruit, if you’re willing to get creative. There are many different ways to grow small fruits that require just a minimal amount of space. Here are some of my favorite ways to grow homegrown fruits in petite spaces.

1. Grow berries as foundation plants. Most homes have standard foundation plantings around them. Perhaps you have a few rhododendrons, yews, azaleas, boxwoods, or arborvitaes around the outside of your home. How about replacing these shrubs with fruit-producing varieties?

Blueberries, currants, and gooseberries are not just productive plants, they’re also beautiful. Blueberry bushes turn a gorgeous red hue in the autumn, and the bright jewel tones of ripe currants make a great addition to the landscape. All of these fruits are available in compact or semi-compact varieties, if you want the plants to stay fairly small without requiring a lot of pruning. Most varieties are fully hardy here in Pennsylvania, and they provide fruits for many years.

2. Use trellised cane fruits as fencing. If your yard is surrounded by a fence, or you have a privacy screen to shelter your patio from the neighbors’ view, consider replacing the fence or screen with a living edible fence made from trellised cane fruits. Blackberries, as well as red and black raspberries, are easily trained to grow into a lattice shape for a formal yard, or to create an edible fence of rambling vines, if you don’t mind a more casual look.

Cane fruits can be selectively pruned and secured to a wood and wire frame to create this beautiful look. Or you can simply plant a “hedge” of these fruits and let the plants naturally fill in the area. Thornless varieties are a good option if you have small children in your home, but traditional varieties with their thorned canes do make a good deterrent against neighborhood dogs and other unwelcome guests.

3. Cover pergolas and trellises with vine fruits. Gardeners with a pergola covering their patio or a large trellis over a walkway should consider replacing fussy climbing roses, clematis and other flowering vines with edible options.

Grape vines and hardy kiwis are exceptional choices for our cold climate. If you choose to grow hardy kiwis, know that the vines can be very aggressive, so a sturdy climbing structure is a must. And, since the actual hardy kiwi fruits are borne only on female plants, you’ll need to have one male plant for every three or four females in order to get any fruit. Still, hardy kiwis are delicious and smooth-skinned. For grapes, only one vine is needed and most produce well with the correct pruning strategy.

4. Grow a container fruit garden. Another great way to grow fruit in a small garden is to plant in containers. Strawberries and dwarf blueberry varieties perform beautifully in garden pots. Strawberries can even be grown in hanging baskets or a small raised bed.

If you choose to grow small fruits in containers, you’ll need to offer them a bit of extra winter protection, so plan to sink the plant, pot and all, into the garden or compost pile right up to the top of the container’s rim in the late autumn. This will keep the roots from freezing. If you don’t have a place to sink the pot into the ground, surround its exterior with several layers of bubble wrap or foam insulation to help the plant survive the winter.

As you can see, with a little creativity, you can grow fruit in almost any backyard.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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