Last week's winter weather and the resulting frost damage to fruit crops left many gardeners wondering when and if they will get fruit on their trees. While there is little you can do to prevent frost damage, there is a solution. That solution is to change and grow small fruits. While the approach is simplistic, it actually makes great sense. Small fruits include grapes, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, blackberries, currants and related plants.
Small fruits, as a general category make good sense for the backyard gardener. First, they don't take as much room as fruit trees in smaller lots and smaller gardens. Second, they don't require the rigorous and repeated pest control sprays needed for many of the tree fruits. Third, they start producing within one to three years after planting. Tree fruits, by contrast, take four to seven years to start producing. Considering the average American moves every seven years, you can tell when it's time to move by when your fruit trees start producing. Fourth, and significant at this time of year, is the fact that small fruits are more resistant to spring frosts. Because of their growth habits, they generally send out additional leaves and/or blossoms even when frost damaged.Raspberries are popular backyard fruits. There are actually three kinds of raspberries: red raspberries, black raspberries and purple raspberries, which are a cross between the red and black raspberries. Yellow raspberries are identical to red raspberries except for the fruit color. Red and black raspberries grow differently and are pruned differently.
Red raspberries are the most popular in Utah and are single crop, or everbearing types. Everbearing raspberries produce a second crop in the fall on canes which grew this summer. Those same canes produce only a summer crop the following year. Single crop raspberries produce only a summer crop. The best everbearing variety under Utah conditions is Heritage while the best single crop berry is Canby. Canby has nearly thornless canes and produces large attractive berries. They are grown extensively near Bear Lake. If you haven't already fertilized your raspberries, add about one cup of ammonium sulfate or equivalent per 10 feet of row.
Strawberries also do well in soils with adequate drainage. Right now is the time to buy and plant bare root strawberries. Space the plants about 15 to 18 inches apart and allow two or three runners to develop from each plant. Cut additional runners off during the summer. Failure to remove the runners lets strawberries develop into their own worst weed, resulting in a large mat of unproductive plants.
There are three different types of strawberries. Single crop berries produce the greatest yield. Some good varieties for Utah conditions include Tioga, Hood, Shuksan and Guardian. Everbearing raspberries include Quinat and Fort Laramie. Some of the most productive berries include the new day-neutral varieties. Hecker is a very productive berry though berry size is somewhat small while Tribute produces larger fruits and the plants are more disease resistant.
Blackberries do well in the milder areas of Utah. My choice is based on whether or not the plants are thornless. Good varieties of thornless blackberries include Dirksen, Black Satin, Thornfree and Hull thornless. If you insist on blackberries with thorns, Darrow is probably the best variety.
Currants make an excellent small landscape shrub and even tolerate moderate shade. Red currants grow on small, compact plants unlike the yellow and black currants that were grown during pioneer times. Recommended gooseberries varieties include Oregon Champion, Poorman and Pixwell.
Grapes also do well as a small fruit in the backyard garden providing there is adequate room for them to grow on a trellis. Grapes need extensive annual pruning to produce well. Again, grapes should be grown on well drained soils. Grapevines tend to be overfertilized and overwatered. They are quite drought tolerant and need little if any fertilizer after they start producing.
Good juice grapes include Concord and Fredonia. For those gardeners with shorter growing season, Campbells Early is a good choice. If you like white grape juice, plant Canada Muscat or Niagra. Green seedless table grape varieties include Interlaken, Himrod or Lakemont. Interlaken also makes excellent raisins. Venus and Glenora are large black table grapes while Alden is a black table grape with seeds. Red table grapes include Canadice and Suffolk Red. Two varieties that are often sold that will probably not produce much fruit under our conditions are Thompson Seedless and Black Monuka. They are better off in a warmer climate.
Grapes also have one feature particularly appealing after spring frost. In spite of extensive damage from frost, they will send to a second set of leaves and blossoms if frozen. They can send out a third set if conditions warrant. While the second and third sets are not as prolific as the first set, they at least assure you'll get some fruit most years.
Plan for some small fruits to round out your backyard orchard. They are productive, require only minimal care and reward you with an abundant harvest after a short period of time. Choose recommended varieties for the best production.