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With what looks like an early spring around the corner, thoughts will soon be turning to gardening. If you have yet to add a few fruit trees or bush (small) fruit to your garden area, now is a good time to give consideration to the wide vari-ety of fruits that do well here in Missouri. With planning, even the smallest of backyard spaces can accommodate some type of fruit planting, such as strawberries or dwarf blueberries in a container.
There is no fruit as good as the fresh fruit we grow ourselves. Many species are well-adapted to the Midwest, with apples by far the most popular. For Missouri, other good choices are peaches, sour cherries, and pears, and small fruit such as brambles (blackberries, raspberries), blueberries, straw-berries and grapes. For each type of fruit there are numerous variety selections with differences such as hardiness, disease resistance, fruit size and flavor.
Keep in mind for successful fruit growing there are specific growing considerations depending on the species being grown. Disease and insect protection is the most important factor for success. For certain types of fruit it is nearly impossible to have quality product without some level of pest management. This is especially true for apples and peaches. For most small fruit, an organic or low-spray approach can work, though a certain percentage of fruit is often lost. Specific disease resistance is found in some fruit varieties, but there are no selections that combine resistance to all diseases, and there are few examples of insect resis-tance. For this reason, if you have never grown fruit before, start small, and gain a feel for the time and effort involved in appropriate pest control. The University of Missouri has a very useful publica-tion: “Fruit Spray Schedules for the Homeowner”, #G610 available for free by internet download at: http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G6010, or for a small charge get the print version at your local Extension office.
Site selection and preparation, and variety choice are important initial considerations to growing fruit. Choose sites that have adequate sunlight, avoiding frost pockets, and with a well drained soil. Preparation should include adjusting pH and base fertility, and having a well-worked soil prior to planting. Site preparation can be particularly important for blueberries which require an acid soil, much like azaleas or rhododendrons, and a soil test is needed to determine how much pH adjustment is required. Blueberries also need a raised bed on heavy clay soils for drainage. Variety choices should be based on flavor, space needs, climate adaptability, plant availability, disease resistance and pollination compatibility. Dwarfed fruit trees may be more expensive, but are more suited to small areas, and are easier to spray, prune and pick.
Young trees require careful planting, pruning early to develop strong limbs, and they must be watered and fertilized regularly in early years. For mature trees, regular pest management, winter pruning, fruit thinning and fertilizing round out the necessary seasonal tasks. For small fruit such as blackberries and grapes, a trellis should be constructed to support trailing vines. For blueberries, a structure will be needed to support a net over the plants at harvest to prevent bird raiding. Pruning needs / methods vary greatly according to species for small fruit.
There are a number of considerations in growing fruit and the University of Missouri has a several excellent publications to get you started and put you on the path to enjoying the “fruits” of your labor. Go to your local University of Missouri Extension office, or online to download these publications: http://extension. missouri.edu/publications/.