Growing Fruit
Martha Maletta, Home Horticultural Consultant
Dated - January 20, 2004

Thinking about getting into growing apples? How about peaches, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries? Take the time now to find out what is involved before taking up the challenge of a backyard orchard or berry patch.

Too often residents come to Rutgers Cooperative Extension with questions about growing tree or small fruit “after the fact”, wondering how to prune an overgrown apple tree, why blueberry plants are languishing or what caused the strawberry patch to die off. Before “leaping” into fruit growing, do some research on the crops of interest before opening the enticing 2004 garden catalogs.

Any fruit crop will need a well-drained soil, full sun location and, for some, a spot not prone to late spring freezes. Fruit trees require early training, annual pruning and regular disease and insect control. Producing edible tree fruit without pesticides is extremely difficult in New Jersey. Small fruits also need annual maintenance or pruning and weed control is essential. All fruit crops need proper and regular fertilization.

Once the basic challenge of growing fruit is accepted, choosing the crop and suitable varieties or cultivars is very important. With tree fruits, disease resistance (or susceptibility), dwarfing characteristics, pollination requirements must be considered. Apples, most sweet cherries, pears and many plums require cross-pollination; two or more cultivars will need to be grown. Apricots are not reliably productive year to year in New Jersey. Strawberry cultivars are June-bearing, ever-bearing or day-neutral. Everbearers do not produce well in New Jersey. Red raspberries are summer-bearing or summer and fall-bearing; management practices vary. Blueberries are very particular about soil pH, drainage and moisture and may be difficult to grow in Hunterdon County.

There most certainly is lots of information on fruit culture available on the internet, but be cautious about following variety and cultivar recommendations for other regions. Rutgers Cooperative Extension has several publications available that provide basic cultural and cultivar information relevant for New Jersey growers. Some are free (and some are online at the Rutgers website; there is a charge for certain of them. For starters, there is “The Home Fruit Planting” (published by Cornell Cooperative Extension, $6.00) that covers the basics of growing tree and small fruit, from apples to hardy kiwi.

And there are RCE Fact Sheets on: Blueberry Cultivars for the Home Garden; Establishing Blueberries in the Home Garden; Grape Growing in the Home Garden: Establishment and Maintenance; Raspberries in the Home Garden; Strawberries in the Home Garden I; and publications on nectarine, cherry, peach, raspberry, wine grape cultivars for NJ. Home garden spray schedules for most tree and small fruits are also available. These publications can be picked up at the Extension Center in the Rt. 31 County Complex just north of the Hunterdon Medical Center, M-F, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (directions)