DELAWARE, Ohio – With the downturn in the economy and the move toward healthier, locally produced foods, more Ohio homeowners are interested in growing their own backyard fruits. They'll be happy to learn that it isn't hard to get started.
Gary Gao, an Ohio State University Extension educator in agriculture and natural resources, said that several types of fruit crops are beginner-grower friendly.
"It just takes a little management input, time and patience," he said.
The following are some of the easier, more popular fruit crops to grow in a garden, or backyard landscape:
• Strawberries – "Strawberries are not tough to grow at all. It's the one fruit crop I recommend to those who are just starting to dabble in backyard fruit production," said Gao. The two most popular types of strawberries in Ohio are ever-bearing strawberries, which will produce a crop the same year they are planted, and June-bearing strawberries, which will produce a crop in the second year of planting. "Strawberries are great if you have limited space, as you can grow them in containers," said Gao. "You will want to protect the fruit from birds, squirrels and rabbits using netting or chicken wire. If you don't, you won't have much of a crop to harvest."
• Brambles, such as raspberries and blackberries – "There is tremendous interest right now to grow brambles," said Gao, "and homeowners have access to all kinds of varieties." With raspberries, growers can choose from red, black, purple and yellow varieties. "A traditional red raspberry that is quite dependable is ‘Heritage'. ‘Caroline' is another good red variety that produces bigger fruit and is said to taste better," said Gao. "For a good black raspberry, try ‘Jewel' or ‘Bristol', and for a good yellow raspberry, try ‘Fall Gold' or ‘Anne'." With blackberries, growers can choose between thorny or thornless varieties. "A good thornless variety is ‘Apache'," said Gao. "Two good new blackberry varieties are ‘Prime Jim' and ‘Prime Jan'. Both will produce fruit in their first year of growth, as opposed to traditional varieties which produce fruit in the second year." Gao said that these two blackberries are ideal for Ohio weather conditions because of their ability to produce fruit on new shoots if the floral canes are damaged by cold temperatures in winter.
• Blueberries – "Blueberries are bit more challenging to grow because you need to keep the soil acidic. Soils in central Ohio are not acidic enough so you have to apply a sulfur amendment annually to keep soil pH between 4.5 and 5.5," said Gao. In addition, Gao recommends growers plant two to three blueberry varieties to encourage cross pollination and keep the plants productive. "Blueberries will generally produce fruit in their third year of production," he said.
• Grapes – "If a homeowner wants to grow grape plants simply for landscape design, it's not that difficult, but it gets more challenging when fruit production and fruit quality come into play," said Gao. "From that standpoint, grape production can be challenging to control insects and diseases. A grower also needs to know what grapes are grown for which products. Are they interested in juice grapes, wine grapes, grapes for jellies? These are some things they need to think about." Gao said that to get started, most growers choose Concord grape – a popular variety in Ohio noted for jellies, jams and pies. "There are many other grape cultivars that can be grown in Ohio," said Gao. "Select those that are less susceptible to fungal diseases."
• Apple trees – Of all the fruit trees that Ohio homeowners can plant in their yard, the apple tree is the easiest to maintain and produce high-quality fruit. The biggest mistake homeowners make, however, is choosing varieties based on what they would normally buy in a grocery store. "People will go to the store and buy ‘Gala' or ‘Honeycrisp' because they love those cultivars. But such cultivars can be difficult to maintain from a disease and insect perspective," said Gao. "We generally recommend growers look to disease-resistant varieties and try growing those first. Some of them are ‘Enterprise', ‘Freedom', ‘Jonafree', and ‘Liberty'." Apple-lovers also have to wait several years before a tree produces fruit, depending on the type of apple tree and where it was purchased. "There are dwarf, semi-dwarf and standard apple trees. A dwarf tree, for example, will produce fruit in its third or fourth year. However, if a homeowner purchases a tree from a local nursery, it could already be two or three years old, so you may get fruit production sooner," said Gao.
For additional information on how to grow backyard fruits successfully, refer to the Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide. The 148-page how-to manual is available via PDF at http://ohioline.osu.edu/b940/index.html, or a hard copy can be purchased for $19 from the OSU Extension e-store at http://estore.osu-extension.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2231. In addition, refer to OSU Extension Bulletin 780, "Controlling Diseases and Insects in Home Fruit Plants," for spray schedules and pest management practices at http://ohioline.osu.edu/b780/index.html.