Chapter 10: Fruits in the Home Garden

Success with a fruit planting depends upon how well it is planned and how well carried out the plans are. Proper attention must be given to insect and disease control, pruning, fertilization, soil management, and other necessary practices. Small fruits offer advantages over fruit trees for home culture in that they require a minimum amount of space for the quantity of fruit produced. Small fruits are also quicker to bear fruit after planting than trees and pest control typically is often less intensive. When planning for your fruit garden, plant only what you can care for properly. It is better to have a small, well-attended planting than a large, neglected one.

Planning a Tree Fruit Planting

It is desirable to locate the fruit planting as close to your home as possible. Where space is limited, fruit trees may be set in almost any location suitable for ornamental plants. Consider the mature size of the tree when designing the planting. Dwarf fruit trees fit nicely in ornamental plantings as well as orchards. They come into bearing earlier than standard-sized trees, occupy less space, and can be more easily pruned and sprayed with equipment normally available to the average gardener. Most nurseries carry dwarf and semi-dwarf apple trees of all varieties. Dwarf pear, peach, and cherry trees of a few varieties are offered by some nurseries, but are not recommended because trees may not survive more than five years due to disease and incompatibility problems.

Spacing and Size of Planting

How far apart must the trees be set? This is an important factor and, to a large extent, it influences selection of site and varieties. The table below shows the minimum desirable distances between fruit trees in home orchards. They can be set farther apart if space allows but, for best results, should not be set closer than the minimums indicated. To maintain a bearing surface low enough for necessary pest control, and to maintain uniform bloom throughout the tree, trees should not be crowded.

Space, site, family size, available time, and pollination requirements determine the size of the planting. Choose fruits based on family preference, adaptability, and available space. Never attempt to plant more than you can care for properly.

Table 10-1: Space requirement, yield, bearing age, and life expectancy of tree fruits

Fruit Minimum Distance Between Plants (feet) Approximate Yield per Plant (bushels) Bearing Age (years) Life Expectancy (years)
Apple - seedling root 30 8 6 to 10 35 to 45
Apple - semidwarf 18 4 4 to 6 30 to 35
Apple - dwarf 8 2 2 to 3 30 to 35
Pear - standard 25 3 5 to 8 35 to 45
Pear - dwarf 12 0.5 3 to 4 15 to 20
Peach 20 4 3 to 4 15 to 20
Plum 20 2 4 to 5 15 to 20
Quince 15 1 5 to 6 30 to 40
Cherry - sour 18 60 qt. 4 to 5 15 to 20
Cherry - sweet 25 75 qt. 5 to 7 20 to 30

Site Selection

The importance of selecting the best site possible for fruit planting cannot be overemphasized. Good air drainage is essential. Cold air, like water, flows downhill. For this reason, fruit buds on plants set in a low spot are more likely to be killed by frost than those on a slope. Frost pockets; low, wet spots; and locations exposed to strong, prevailing winds must be avoided. South-facing slopes encourage early bud development and can sometimes result in frost damage. Select late-blooming varieties for this location.

Deep, well-drained soil of moderate fertility should be selected. A fertile, sandy loam or sandy clay loam is suitable for most tree fruits. Adequate water drainage is the most important soil characteristic. Poor fertility may easily be improved by proper fertilization and cultural practices, but improving soil with poor internal drainage is difficult and expensive. Moderately fertile soil is desirable; deep, well-drained soil is vital.

Variety Selection

Give special attention to the selection of varieties. They must be adapted to your soil and climatic conditions. If possible, without sacrificing too much yield or quality, select varieties with the fewest insect and disease problems.
Several varieties of the same kind of fruit maturing at different times may be planted to prolong the harvest season. Consider the value of certain varieties for special uses, such as freezing, canning, and preserving. Some varieties may be purchased in season from commercial growers more economically than you can grow them yourself.

Cross-pollination is necessary for satisfactory fruit set in many tree fruits. Select varieties that are cross-fruitful and that have overlapping bloom dates. To be certain of adequate cross-pollination, plant at least three varieties of apples. Don’t confine your selections to Winesap and Stayman; These varieties will not cross-pollinate. Golden Delicious is used by many commercial growers as a pollinizer for other varieties of apples in their orchards. Ornamental crabapples can also be used as a pollinizer for all apple varieties.

Some suggested varieties for the home fruit garden

Varieties are listed in order of ripening

1 – Principal uses: c – cooking; d – dessert; f – freezing.

2 – In Eastern Virginia mildew, blight, brown rot, bacteriosis, fruit cracking, and poor color can be serious problems due to climatic conditions, and these varieties are difficult to grow.


  • Lodi – 1c, 2
  • Jerseymac – 1c, d, 2
  • Ginger Gold – 1c, d
  • Paulared – 1c, d, 2
  • Gala – 1d, 2
  • Grimes Golden – 1c, d, 2
  • Jonathan (red strain) – 1c, d, 2
  • Golden Delicious – 1c, d
  • Delicious (red strain) – 1c, d, 2
  • Idared – 1c, d, 2
  • Winesap – 1c, d, 2
  • Stayman (red strain) – 1c, d, 2
  • Rome Beauty (red strain) – 1c, d, 2
  • Fuji – 1c, d, 2
  • Granny Smith – 1c, d, 2
  • Cripps Pink (Pink Lady) – 1c, d, 2

Scab-immune apples

  • Pristine – 1c, d, 2
  • Williams Pride – 1d, 2
  • Redfree – 1d, 2
  • Dayton – 1c, d, 2
  • Crimson Crisp – 1d, 2
  • Scarlet O’Hara – 1d, 2
  • Jonafree – 1d, 2
  • Liberty – 1d, 2
  • Sundance – 1c, d, 2
  • Enterprise – 1c, 2
  • Goldrush – 1c, 2

Cherries (sweet) – 2

  • Napoleon (Royal Anne) – 1c, d
  • Vernon – 1c, d
  • Ulster – 1c, d
  • Hedelfingen – 1c, d
  • Windsor – 1c, d
  • Hudson – 1c, d

Cherries (sour)

  • Montmorency – 1c, f


  • Harrow Delight – 1c, d
  • Moonglow – 1c, d
  • Harvest Queen – 1c, d
  • Maxine – 1c, d
  • Seckel – 1c, d
  • Orient – 1c
  • Kieffer – 1c

Plums (European)

  • Earliblue – 1c, d
  • Blue Bell – 1c, d
  • Stanley – 1c, d
  • Shropshire (Damson) – 1c

Plums (Japanese)

  • Early Golden – 1c, d
  • Methley – 1c, d
  • Shiro – 1c, d


  • Redgold – 1d
  • Flavortop – 1d
  • Fantasia – 1d


  • Jerseydawn – 1d
  • Redhaven – 1c, d, f
  • Loring – 1c, d, f
  • Redkist – 1c, d, f
  • Earnies Choice – 1c, d, f
  • Cresthaven – 1c, d, f
  • Biscoe – 1c, d, f
  • Encore – 1c, d, f
  • White Hale – 1d
  • Carolina Belle – 1d
  • Summer Pearl – 1d
  • Raritan Rose – 1d

Some fruit trees should be planted in pairs to encourage proper pollination. At least two of the recommended pear, plum, and sweet cherry varieties should be planted. In general Japanese and European plums are not effective as pollinizers for each other; two varieties of the same type should be planted. Windsor is a good pollinating sweet cherry variety. Sour cherries cannot be used to pollinate sweet cherries because they are different species.

All of the sour cherry, peach, and nectarine varieties listed are sufficiently self-fruitful to set satisfactory crops with their own pollen.

Apricots present a unique challenge to Virginia growers. The buds of currently available varieties respond to the first warm days of early spring and are usually killed by frost or low temperature after bloom. Unless protection can be provided, a crop can be expected no more frequently than once every 3-5 years.

Apple Rootstocks

Apples, like other tree fruits, will not produce trees with the same characteristics from seed. If you plant a seed from a Red Delicious apple, the fruit would likely be small, unattractive, and of poor quality. Therefore, fruit trees are propagated vegetatively by either budding or grafting scion wood of the desired cultivar on a rootstock. The rootstock and scion variety maintain their respective genetic identities, but are joined at the graft union and function as a unit.

Traditionally, apple trees have been propagated on rootstocks from apple seeds. More recently, increasing use is being made of vegetatively propagated or clonal rootstocks which have inherent advantages over seedlings. Three major considerations in rootstock selection are:

Size control

Most apple trees available are grafted onto clonal rootstocks for tree size control. By proper selection of rootstock, one can determine mature tree size. For example, the same variety of apple will produce a 16- to 18-foot tree on the rootstock Malling Merton (MM)111, down to a dwarf tree of 7 to 8 feet or less on Malling (M)9 or M.27rootstock. Intermediate sizes can be attained by other rootstocks, such as M.26 and M.7. Some apple trees offered to consumers may be labelled as dwarf trees, but the buyer does not know the rootstock or how dwarfing it may be. However, there are nurseries willing to offer selected scion/rootstock combinations to home fruit growers. Some of the earlier rootstocks such as M.9 and M.26 were susceptible to diseases, such as fireblight. The newer “Geneva-series” rootstocks are more resistant to fireblight and collar rot and these are suggested for planting if available. The relative sizes of trees on the various rootstocks are shown below. Another rootstock Budagovsky.9, “Bud.9” produces trees similar in size to M.9, G.11 and G.41 is also resistant to fireblight.


Precocity is the ability of rootstocks to induce fruitfulness. Precocity is measured in apple rootstocks by observing the length of time from planting to when the cultivar produces flowers. Trees on seedling rootstocks usually do not begin fruiting until they are 7 to 8 years old. Trees onM.9, G.11, G.41 or Bud.9 rootstock will often produce crops in 2-3 years. Other rootstocks are intermediate in this regard. Usually, the more dwarfing the rootstock, the earlier the tree will bear fruit.


A major consideration in selecting apple rootstocks is the degree of anchorage provided. For example, trees on M.9, M.27, G.11, G.41, G.65 and Bud.9 rootstock are very small, but because of brittle roots, must be provided some type of support. This can consist of a post, a trellis, or other means of holding the tree upright. The semi-dwarfing M.7 rootstock may require support for the first few years, but some varieties can grow without support. The more vigorous MM.111 rootstock does not require support and is thus like a seedling. More detailed information on selecting apple rootstock, see the VCE publication “Tree Fruit in the Home Garden.”

Buying Trees

Obtain the best nursery stock available. Buy only from reputable nurseries that guarantee their plants to be true to name, of high quality, and packed and shipped correctly. Beware of bargains. High prices do not necessarily mean high quality, but good nursery stock is not cheap.

Usually, 1-year-old trees are preferred. A common mistake made by many gardeners is to select oversized or ready-to-bear nursery trees. Experience has shown that younger trees bear almost as soon, are easier to keep alive, and develop into more healthy, vigorous trees. The older trees cost nurseries more to grow and are sold for higher prices, but are usually worth less than younger trees.

For peaches, nectarines, and apricots, a 4-foot tree, ½-inch in diameter, is considered the ideal size for planting. Vigorous, 4- to 7-foot, 1-year-old whips about 3/4-inch in diameter are preferred for apples. Pears, quince, plums, cherries, and apples may be planted as 1- or 2-year-old trees. Either will be satisfactory as long as the trees have attained sufficient size and have good root systems.

When purchasing apple trees on dwarfing rootstock, be sure to specify the rootstock desired. There are several possibilities for planting: M.9, G.935 and Bud.9 trees and smaller are very dwarfing, have rather weak root systems, and must have mechanical support; M.7 and G.30 trees, which produce trees 70 to 80% as large as a mature tree from seedling may require early support for most varieties; and MM.111EMLA (virus free) which produces a tree 80 to 90% of the size of a mature tree from seedling, does not require support, and is nearly problem-free except for its large size.

Planting Fruit Trees

Time of Planting

Virginia climatic conditions are such that good results can be obtained regardless of whether the trees are planted in fall or early spring. Planting about a month after the first killing frost in the fall or about a month before bloom in the spring is generally recommended. The important things to remember are that trees should be dormant and the soil should have proper moisture content.

Handling Nursery Stock

Fruit trees are usually purchased as containerized plants from local nurseries and garden centers or as bare root trees from mail order companies. Both types of trees can give good results. Mail order companies usually offer a larger selection of varieties.

Mail order trees should be inspected upon arrival to make sure the roots and packing material are moist. If trees cannot be planted immediately, they can be stored in the original packing for a week or two in an unheated basement or garage. Do not expose to freezing temperatures which may damage roots, or high temperatures which may induce bud break. Check the roots frequently and moisten if necessary. In the absence of a cool storage place, trees can be heeled in carefully in a trench of moist soil in a shaded location. It is a good idea to soak the roots in a bucket of water for a few hours before planting.

Planting the Trees

Thoroughly prepare the soil where fruit trees are to be planted.. If the places selected for trees are in a lawn, it is best to remove the turf and spade the soil deeply over an area of several square feet where each tree is to stand.

Dig the hole a little deeper and wider than necessary to accommodate the roots, leaving the soil loose in the bottom of the hole.

Prune the roots of young trees only where necessary to remove broken and damaged shoots or to head back some that are excessively long. Should a tree be so badly scarred or damaged that there is doubt of its survival, it is wise to discard it.

Set the tree at approximately the same depth it grew in the nursery. Never set it so deep that the union of the scion and rootstock is below ground level when the hole is filled.

Then begin filling the hole with topsoil, shaking the tree gently to filter the soil among the roots. Tamp the soil firmly and thoroughly with your foot or a well-padded stick. The addition of water when the hole is about 3/4 full will aid in settling the soil around the roots and increase chances for the tree’s survival. After the water has completely soaked in, finish filling the hole, leaving the soil loose on top.

Fruit Tree Management

Cultural Practices

Young fruit trees should be mulched or cultivated until they begin to bear. Weeds must be eliminated so they will not compete for available moisture and fertilizer. Cultivation must be shallow to avoid injury to roots near the surface. The cultivated or mulched area should extend a little beyond the spread of the branches.

There are several concerns with the use of mulch around fruit trees. Both organic and inorganic mulch (e.g., black plastic) provide habitats for voles. Organic forms of mulch also release nitrogen throughout the season, which affects the grower’s ability to control when and how much nitrogen is available. Fertility of established trees can be managed with mulch, and fertilizer is often not needed and can cause a reduction in fruit load.

Fertilize young trees three times. Apply fertilizer about two weeks after planting, and again six and ten weeks after planting. Apply 0.3 pounds of actual nitrogen each time (i.e., 1/3 pound 10-10-10, 0.2 pound nitrate of soda, or 0.1 pound ammonium nitrate).

Temporary nitrogen deficiency may occur when mulch material low in nitrogen begins to decay. This can be overcome by the addition of nitrogen fertilizer. Usually about ¼ pound of ammonium nitrate, ½ lb. of nitrate of soda or 2 pounds of 10-10-10 to each 100 square feet of mulched area will be enough.

The use of black polyethylene plastic as a mulch has given good results.

Holes may be punched in the plastic to allow moisture penetration. Although it does not decay and add humus to the soil, neither does it cause a temporary nitrogen shortage.

When trees are planted in rows, the area between the rows may be allowed to grow in sod or used for interplanting with low-growing vegetables or strawberries. Another option for inter-row planting is clover, which is easily managed and provides an organic source of nitrogen. There is no objection to this practice in the home orchard, provided ample plant nutrients and moisture are available for proper development of the fruit trees. Under sod culture, frequent, close mowing during the growing season is desirable. This reduces competition for necessary moisture and plant nutrients and also aids in disease and insect control.

Fruit trees, especially those on dwarfing rootstock, are becoming prominent in landscape designs. Under lawn culture, fruit trees can be given more attention than is usually convenient under other systems of culture. Equipment and materials for watering, pruning, spraying, and other cultural practices are essentially the same as those required for ornamental plantings. It is a good practice to cultivate lightly for the first year or two or until the tree has become firmly established. Lawn grass, if kept closely clipped, may be allowed to grow around the base of the tree in the third year, but fertilizer should be applied at twice the usual rate.

Chemicals for weed control should be used with extreme caution in the home garden. Careless use can result in severe injury to fruit trees and nearby ornamental plantings. See your Extension agent for latest weed control recommendations.


Before planting, test your soil pH. If your soil is acid, it should be limed to adjust the pH to a level between 6.0 and 6.5. As a rule, no fertilizer is recommended or needed at planting time. After the young tree becomes established and growth begins, apply nitrate fertilizer in a circle around the tree, about 8-10 inches from the trunk. Usually fruit trees show no increased growth or fruitfulness from the use of any nutrient element except nitrogen. Other elements are used by the tree; however, only in special cases are they deficient in the soil. Deficiencies are more likely to occur on light, sandy soils.
Because there are many soil types and varying levels of natural fertility, it is difficult to make one fertilizer recommendation that will apply equally well in all areas.

A rule of thumb practiced in many commercial apple orchards is to apply about ¼ pound of a 16% nitrogen fertilizer, or its equivalent, for each year of the tree’s age from planting. For peach orchards, the amount of fertilizer should be doubled.

Avoid over-fertilization with either organic or inorganic materials. Excessive vegetative growth will result, usually accompanied by delayed fruiting and possible winter injury. Where poor growth results after the use of nitrogen only, other elements may be needed. Contact your local Extension agent for fertilizer recommendations specific to your locality.

Fertilizer may be applied either after the leaves have fallen or in early spring, about 3 or 4 weeks before active growth begins. On light, sandy soils, it is best to delay application until early spring. When trees are grown in a lawn area, delay fertilizing the lawn until after trees are dormant to avoid late-summer growth on the trees. The usual method of application is to scatter fertilizer evenly under the tree, starting about 2 feet from the trunk and extending to just beyond the tips of the branches.

Terminal growth and general vigor of the individual tree should be observed closely. Where growth the past year was short, increase the amount of fertilizer slightly. If growth was excessive, reduce the amount or withhold it entirely. Remember that both pear and quince are highly susceptible to fire blight, and excessive growth will make this disease more prevalent.

Mature, bearing trees of peach, nectarine, and sweet cherry should produce an average of 10-15 inches of new growth annually. From vigorous, young, nonbearing trees, about twice that amount can be expected. In general, 8-10 inches of terminal growth is considered adequate for mature, bearing apple, pear, quince, plum, and sour cherry trees. About twice that amount is sufficient for young, nonbearing trees.


The general purpose of pruning fruit trees is to regulate growth, improve fruit size and quality, control tree size, and reduce production costs. Pruning is necessary to shape the trees for convenience of culture and for repair of damage.

Most pruning is done during the dormant season, preferably just before active growth begins in the spring. At this time, pruning wounds heal faster, flower buds can be easily recognized, and injury from low winter temperature is avoided. Summer pruning may be done to help train young trees to the desired shape, remove water sprouts and other undesirable growth, and maintain smaller tree size. It should be remembered, however, that all pruning has a dwarfing effect. For maximum yield of high-quality fruit, prune only as necessary to establish a tree with a strong framework capable of supporting heavy crops annually without damage and to maintain a tree sufficiently open to allow penetration of sunlight, air, and spray material for good fruit development and pest control.

Although pruning procedures vary according to the type, age, and variety, all newly planted fruit trees should be pruned in the spring before growth starts. This is necessary to stimulate lateral bud development from which to select good scaffold limbs. For a discussion of the proper pruning techniques to use on different fruit trees, see Chapter 14: Pruning.


Drawing of a tree growing from a patch of green grass. Main stump has been cut leaving two branches on each side; branches slope upwards forming a V shape in the center.
Figure 10-1: Vase.

Quite frequently, peach and apple trees set many more fruit than they can mature to a desirable size. By thinning or removing excess fruit, this difficulty can be overcome. Thinning not only allows for an increase in size of the remaining fruit on the tree, but also improves fruit color and quality, reduces limb breakage, and promotes general tree vigor. Thinning helps maintain regular, annual bearing in certain apple varieties, such as Golden Delicious, Yellow Transparent, and York Imperial, that otherwise have a tendency to bear heavy crops every other year. Another benefit from thinning fruits is that it permits more thorough spraying or dusting for effective disease and insect control.

The sooner peach trees are thinned after bloom, the earlier ripening will occur and the larger the fruits at harvest. Fruit size will not greatly increased by thinning if it is delayed until after the pits begin to harden (60 days after bloom).

Drawing of a tree growing from a patch of grass. Main stump grows straight up coming to a taper at the top. Branches grow evenly spaced along each side, but do not extend beyond the height of the central stump.
Figure 10-2: Central leader.

It is generally recommended that peaches be spaced 6-8 inches apart on a branch. When thinning by hand, grasp the stem or branch firmly between your thumb and forefinger and pull the fruit off with a quick motion of the second and third fingers. Small fruited varieties on trees that are pruned lightly should be thinned to a spacing of 8-10 inches between fruit.

Many growers use the pole method of thinning peaches. A 4- or 5-foot section of bamboo or other light wood is used. A piece of 3/4-inch garden or spray hose about 15 inches long is forced tightly onto the end of the pole, leaving 8-10 inches of the hose extending beyond the end of the pole. A snug fit is necessary so the hose will remain in place while being used. Many modifications of this tool are used. One of the most common is a 30-inch section of plastic pipe, 1 inch in diameter. Remove peaches by striking the limbs about 18 inches from their tips with the flexible part of the hose, using sharp, firm blows. This dislodges any loosely attached fruits. With a little practice, you should be able to remove individual fruits by this method. Remove small and insect-injured fruit and retain the largest fruit.

Apples should be thinned as soon as possible after the fruit has set. If full benefits are to be obtained, thinning should be completed within 20 to 25 days after full bloom. In hand-thinning apples, use the same general technique used in hand-thinning peaches. A distance of 6-10 inches between fruits is recommended. With varieties of Delicious apples, where greater size of individual fruits is important, the greater spacing is preferred. The center apple of a cluster is usually the largest and the best apple to leave.

Thinning plums usually is limited to the large, Japanese varieties. The primary concern here is to facilitate insect and disease control. Plums are usually thinned by hand to about 4 inches apart.

Pest Management for Fruit Trees

Voles may cause serious damage to the fruit planting. They chew off the bark at ground level or below and often completely girdle a tree, causing it to die. Most of this damage takes place during winter. Keep mulch pulled away from the base of the tree, and examine it frequently for the presence of voles. In many home and commercial plantings, voles are controlled by placing poison bait in their runways. These poisons and complete directions on how to use them may be obtained from many spray material dealers. Voles may also be controlled by trapping. This can be successful where only a few trees are involved.

Rabbits are responsible for the loss of thousands of young fruit trees each year. Perhaps the most satisfactory method of preventing rabbit damage is the use of a mechanical guard. Galvanized screen or “hardware cloth” with a ¼-inch mesh is frequently used. A roll 36 inches wide may be cut lengthwise, forming two 18-inch strips. By cutting these strips into pieces, 14 inches long, guards 14 by 18 inches are obtained. Roll or bend the strip around the trunk of the tree so the long side is up and down the trunk and the edges overlap. Twist a small wire loosely about the center to prevent the strip from unrolling. Push the lower edges well into the ground. This metal guard will last indefinitely and can be left in place all year, but do not allow weeds to grow inside the guard.

Tar paper, building paper, sheets of magazines, and aluminum foil can also be used in a similar manner, but must be removed in the early spring to prevent damage to the tree. Perforated plastic guards are available, but are not recommended because they do not allow enough air movement around the tree. However, there are plastic meshes, like the metal ones, that are acceptable.

Other methods of rabbit control have been successful. Ordinary whitewash has given good results in some instances. A repellent wash recommended by the USDA, containing equal parts of fish oil, concentrated lime sulfur, and water, is used by some commercial growers. Also, rabbit repellents under various trade names are available. All these materials may be applied with a paint brush, from the ground up into the scaffold limbs.

Tree Fruit Spraying

To successfully manage significant insect or disease problems, it is necessary to follow a spray program. Information on the use of chemicals for such a program is available from your Extension office. If growing organically, a spray program is still necessary. Your Extension office can provide organic alternatives.

To be successful with your spray program, spray at the proper time and do it thoroughly. Leave no portion of the tree unsprayed. To make the job easier and to ensure adequate coverage, thin out excessive growth and remove all dead and weak wood. Cut old trees back to 20 feet or less, if possible. Train younger trees so they reach a height of no more than 18 feet.

Semi-dwarf and dwarf trees should be considered when making your planting. Their small size makes the task of spraying easier. Early maturing varieties are less likely to be seriously affected by insects and diseases than late-maturing varieties because of the shorter growing season. This factor should not be overlooked in the selection of varieties.


Adopt good orchard sanitation practices. The destruction of places that harbor insects and diseases plays a large part in the control program. Conditions that encourage voles should also be eliminated.

These are some practices to include in an orchard sanitation program:

  • Collect and burn debris.
  • Remove and destroy all dropped fruit.
  • Rake and burn apple and cherry leaves.
  • Scrape loose bark from trunks, crotches, and main limbs of apple trees.
  • Prune out and destroy all dead or diseased limbs, branches, and twigs.

Apple Varieties of Yesteryear

A watercolor botanical illustration of a yellow apple with a blush of red-orange in front. Below the whole apple, a cross-section shows cream-colored interior flesh with one black seed off center core.
Figure 10-3: Roxbury Russet apple specimen watercolor from 1912.

Arkansas Black Twig, Baldwin, Fall Cheese, Miliam, and Roxbury Russet are apple varieties not found in the modern supermarket, yet in the opinion of some apple connoisseurs, the dessert quality of these and other old-time apple varieties is superior to that of most of those in popular demand today.

Most of the old varieties are no longer grown because they had serious cultural problems such as poor storage, disease, bitterpit, alternate bearing, and nonuniform ripening. Many of the old varieties lost favor with the commercial grower because of low productivity, lack of attractiveness, susceptibility to the ravages of insects and diseases, and poor storage and shipping quality. Before growing an old variety, you should taste the fruit and talk to experts to determine the problems you are likely to have.

There is increasing interest in growing old fruit varieties. Individuals, historical organizations, and government-supported institutions are getting involved. Some commercial nurseries now propagate one or more of the better-known varieties, and there are several that specialize in antique fruit varieties of all types. North American Fruit Explorers, a nonprofit association of fruit gardening enthusiasts, actively promotes the culture of old fruit varieties. It is a valuable source for anyone interested in locating information on sources of bud wood, characteristics of varieties, and successful cultural practices.

Among the old-time apple favorites available from private and commercial sources are some that have occupied a prominent place in Virginia history. Perhaps the most widely known is the Albemarle Pippin. Although seldom found in the orchards of Virginia, it is of some importance in western states under the name Yellow Newtown. Still found in some of the old orchards on both the eastern and western slopes of the Blue Ridge are such varieties as Arkansas Black Twig, Baldwin, Ben Davis, Esopus Spitzenburg, Fallawater, Gano, Golden Russet, Gravenstein, Grimes Golden, Horse Apple, King David, Lady Apple, Limber Twig, Lowery, Maiden Blush, Milam, Mother Apple, Northern Spy, Roxbury Russet, Smokehouse, Virginia Beauty, Winter Banana, and Wolf River. Many of the less well-known but equally good varieties, such as Bellflower, Father Abraham, Fall Cheese, and Winter Cheese, may be found in private collections and at renovated historical sites.

Whether from a sense of nostalgia, a desire to preserve some of our history, or pride in having an antique to display, many of the old apple varieties have been saved from extinction. Some have already been around for centuries; hopefully, they can survive a few more. They are too good to lose.


Table 10-2: Space requirement, yield, bearing age, and life expectancy of small fruits

* per parent plant grown in the matted row system

Fruit Minimum Distance Between Rows (feet) Minimum Distance Between Plants (feet) Approximate Yield per Plant (lbs.) Average Bearing Age (years) Life Expectancy (years)
Blackberry (erect) 10 5 5-10 1 5-12
Blackberry (trailing) 8 6 5-10 1 5-12
Blueberry  6 5 4-6 3 20-30
Grape (American) 8 6 10 3 20-30
Grape (hybrids) 8 5 10 3 20-30
Grape (muscadine) 8 10 15 3 20-30
Raspberry (red) 8 3 3-5 1 5-12
Raspberry (black) 8 4 3-5 1 5-12
Raspberry (purple) 8 4 3-5 1 5-12
Strawberry (June bearing and day neutral) 3 1 1-2* 1 1-2
Strawberry (ever bearer) 3 1 3/4 - 1 3-Jan 2

Planning the Small Fruit Garden

As a general rule, plant selection and production area in a home garden should be limited to what you can properly care for. It is better to have a well-tended, small planting area rather than a neglected, large one. Small fruits offer certain advantages over fruit trees for home culture in that small fruits require less space for the amount of fruit produced, and bear one or two years after planting. Success with small fruit planting will depend on the attention given to all phases of production including crop and variety selection, site selection, soil management, fertilization, pruning, and pest management.

Table 10-3: Suggested varieties for the home small fruit planting

Blueberries: Rabbiteye and southern highbush varieties are suitable for southern and Central Virginia; northern highbush varieties are suitable for Northern Virginia and the mountains.
Raspberries: Killarney and Nova are floricane-bearing raspberries not suitable for southern or Central Virginia.
Strawberries: Camarosa and Sweet Charlie are suitable only for the Coastal Plains and Piedmont regions of the state.

Crop Variety Type Fruit size Yield/plant (lbs) Flavor
Blueberry Brightwell Rabbiteye Medium 5 Good
Blueberry Duke Northern Highbush Medium 2-3 Very good
Blueberry Legacy Northern Highbush Medium 5 Very good
Blueberry O'Neal Southern Highbush Medium 2-3 Very good
Blueberry Powderblue Rabbiteye Medium 5 Good
Blueberry Premier Rabbiteye Medium 5 Good
Blueberry Suziblue Southern Highbush Very large 2-3 Excellent
Blackberry Chester Floricane Medium 10-15 Good
Blackberry Kiowa Floricane Very large 10-15 Excellent
Blackberry Natchez Floricane Very large 5-10 Good
Blackberry Navaho Floricane Medium 5-10 Excellent
Blackberry Ouachita Floricane Medium 5-10 Very good
Blackberry Prim-Ark® 45 Primocane Large 10-15 Very good
Blackberry Prim-Ark® Freedom Primocane Very large 10-15 Very good
Raspberry Caroline Primocane Medium 3-5 Excellent
Raspberry Heritage Primocane Medium 5 Good
Raspberry Himbo Top Primocane Large 3-5 Very good
Raspberry Joan J Primocane Medium 3-5 Excellent
Raspberry Josephine Primocane Large 3-5 Excellent
Raspberry Killarneye Floricane Medium 3 Good
Raspberry Novae Floricane Medium 3 Excellent
Strawberry Earliglow Early Season Medium 0.5-0.8 Excellent
Strawberry Camarosa Mid-season Medium 0.8-2 Good
Strawberry Camino Real Early Season to Mid-season Large 1-2 Very good
Strawberry Chandler Mid-season Medium 1-1.5 Good
Strawberry Flavorfest Mid-season to Late-season Medium 0.8-1.5 Very good
Strawberry Sweet Charlieh Early Season Small 0.5-0.8 Excellent

Table 10-4: Suggested varieties of grapes for home planting

* These grape varieties must be grafted to a rootstock to ensure adequate vigor and tolerance to root-feeding phylloxera.

Grape use Variety Type Fruit Color Flower Type  
Table use Concord Seeded Blue/black
Table use Delaware Seeded Red
Table use Himrod Seedless Golden-yellow
Table use Mars Seedless Black
Table use Niagara Seeded White/green
Table use Seneca Seeded White/yellow
Table use Steuben Seeded Blue/black
Table use Sunbelt Seeded Blue/black
Wine Chambourcin* Red
Wine Chardonel* White
Wine Norton Red
Wine Traminette White
Wine Vidal Blanc* White
Muscadine Carlos Bronze Perfect
Muscadine Magnolia Bronze Perfect
Muscadine Nesbitt Black Perfect
Muscadine Scuppernong Greenish bronze Female

Site Selection

Locate your small fruit planting in full sun, as part of, or near the vegetable garden. Select a site that is free from frost pockets, low/wet spots, and exposure to strong prevailing winds. Blueberries should be planted far enough from the roots of trees, to avoid competition for moisture and nutrients. Blueberries may be planted to form a dense hedge, or used in a foundation planting around the home. Where space is a limited, small fruits could also be integrated with ornamental plants. Caneberries grow best on leveled lands. Grapes and raspberries may be planted on a trellis, or a fence along a property line.


Small fruits thrive in a fertile, sandy loam soil, rich in organic matter, but they will give good returns on the average garden soil under adequate fertilization and good cultural practices. Incorporation of additional organic matter before planting is desirable. Small fruits are best planted on raised beds 8-12 inches high and 2-4 feet across. Drip irrigation is highly recommended.

For best results, small fruit plants should be set no closer than the minimums indicated in Table 10-2. Overcrowding frequently results in weak plants and low yields. It also makes insect and disease control more difficult.

Special attention should be given to variety selection. Varieties must be adapted to your soil and climatic conditions. If possible, without sacrificing too much yield or quality, select varieties with the least insect and disease problems.

Ordering Plants

Obtain the best nursery stock available. Buy certified plants from a reputable nursery. Place your order early, as soon as you decide what you want. Specify variety, size, grade of plants desired, and the preferred time of shipment. It is best to have the plants arrive at the time you are ready to set them out. Unless you specify otherwise, some nurseries will only send plant material at the proper time to be planted in your area.

When your order arrives, unpack the bundles and inspect the plants. The roots should be moist and have a bright, fresh appearance. Shriveled roots indicate that the plants have been allowed to freeze or dry-out in storage or transit. Such plants seldom survive. Water root system lightly only if they are very dry.

If the plants cannot be set immediately, they should be kept either in cold storage or heeled-in to soil. Wrap them in a garbage bag or other material that will prevent them from drying out, and store them at a temperature just above freezing. Strawberry plants in small quantities may be held in the refrigerator for a few days. If refrigerated storage is not available, remove the plants from the bundle and heel them in carefully in a trench of moist soil in a shaded location. Pack the soil firmly around the roots to eliminate all air pockets and to prevent the roots from drying out.

Establishing and Maintaining the Planting

There is probably nothing that causes more disappointment and failure in small fruit plantings than the lack of careful preparation and attention to detail, at the time the plantings are established. Prepare the soil properly, set the plants carefully, and generally create conditions favorable for new growth. Detailed suggestions for the establishment of each of the small fruits follows. These suggestions should be closely followed for best results.

Once the planting has been established, future success will depend on the care it is given. If the planting is to be productive and long-lived, it must be properly fertilized. Competition from weeds or other plants must be avoided. Insects and diseases must be controlled, and the plants must be properly pruned. Study the maintenance suggestions for each of the small fruit crops, and plan to care for the planting properly. To do otherwise, will probably result in disappointment and wasted effort.


Photograph of a lush, green bush with a cluster of fruits; some fruit are bright blue while some are purple and white.
Figure 10-4: Rabbiteye blueberries.

There are three types of blueberries that can be grown in home gardens in Virginia: rabbiteye, southern highbush, and northern highbush. Although they may be grown in any area where native blueberries, azaleas, mountain laurel, or rhododendrons do well, they have a better flavor when grown where nights are cool during the ripening season. They are very exacting in soil and moisture requirements. Berries should be picked as soon as they ripen, to minimize infestation of fruits with spotted wing drosophila.

Rabbiteye and southern highbush type blueberries are best suited for climates where summers are generally hotter. These varieties have low winter chilling requirements. “Chilling” is a measure of accumulated hours of temperatures below 45°F in the dormant season. In general, the chilling requirement or rabbiteye and southern high bush type are 250-600 hours, and for northern highbush requirement is 800-1000 hours. Therefore, when buying blueberry plants for your garden, make sure to ask whether you are buying rabbiteye, southern, or northern highbush type.

Variety Selection

To provide adequate cross-pollination and to increase chances for a good crop of fruit, two or more varieties that bloom at the same time should be planted. The following varieties suggested below for planting, ripen over a six- to eight-week period, beginning in early June and continuing through July. Most are vigorous and productive under good growing conditions and produce berries of large size and good quality.

Rabbiteye varieties

Alapaha, Climax, Premier, Titan, and Vernon are early season varieties. Brightwell, Powderblue and Tifblue are mid-season varieties. Centurion and Ochlokonee are late season varieties. In central and southern Virginia, planting early, mid, and late season Rabbiteye varieties will allow you to harvest fruits during the July-August months.

Titan is a new variety. It is the largest fruited rabbiteye variety that has been developed to date. Vernon also has large berries. Alapaha and Ochlockonee have medium sized berries with good eating quality and less pronounced seeds than other Rabbiteye varieties.

Southern highbush varieties

Most of the southern highbush varieties blooms early in the season and may be damaged by frosts in late spring. Southern highbush varieties are recommended for central and southern Virginia. Suziblue, Palmetto and O’Neal are early season varieties. Suziblue has very large fruit and it has excellent flavor. Palmetto is a medium sized berry and it has an outstanding flavor. O’Neal is a popular variety with medium size and very good flavor fruit. Camellia, Jubilee and Magnolia are mid-season southern highbush. Camellia has a very large size fruit. Jubilee and Magnolia are smaller fruited varieties with good plant vigor. Bird and deer feeding may be a problem with southern highbush varieties.

Northern highbush varieties

Northern highbush blueberries are self-fertile; however, larger and earlier ripening berries result if several varieties are planted for cross-pollination. In Virginia, the northern highbush varieties should be planted in northern Virginia and in the mountain region with adequate soil conditions.

Duke, Earliblue, Patriot and Spartan are early season northern highbush varieties. Duke is a popular variety with medium size fruit and very good flavor. Earliblue produces very early in the season, it is not a heavy a producer. Patriot is a heavy producer with very large berry size. Spartan has large berry size and good flavor.

Bluecrop, Blueray and Legacy are mid-season northern high bush blueberries. Bluecrop, although lacking in vigor, is very hardy and drought-resistant. The fruits are medium sized. Blueray is very hardy, and productive, and is recommended for planting. The fruit is large, dark blue, flavorful. Legacy is a highly adaptable variety, slower in production in the first few years, however, yields can be very high once the plants become established.

Elliott and Jersey are late season northern highbush varieties. Elliott has a good, mild flavor when fully ripe (if not fully ripe the flavor will be very tart). It is winter hardy and bears firm, medium sized fruits. Jersey, one of the leading commercial varieties, is also a favorite in the home garden. The plants are vigorous and hardy, producing heavy crops of medium, dark berries of good quality. Since these are picked fully ripe, they are also more susceptible to damage caused by spotted winged drosophila.

Establishing the Blueberry Planting

Soils: Blueberries are shallow-rooted plants and must either be irrigated, heavily mulched, or planted in a soil with a high water table. Adequate drainage must be provided, because they cannot tolerate saturated soils. High water table in clay soils promote root rot diseases. Raised beds with drip irrigation are preferable. They grow best in porous, moist, sandy soils, high in organic matter, with a pH range of 4.2 to 5.2. Have the soil tested, and if the pH is not in the 4.2 to 5.2 range, work such materials as peat moss, pine needles, pine bark, or sulfur into the area where the plants are to be set. This should be done six months to a year before planting. To acidify sandy soils, sulfur is recommended at the rate of 0.75 pound per 100 square feet for each full point the soil tests above pH 4.5. On heavier soils use 1.5-2 pounds. Once proper soil pH is established, it can be maintained through the annual use of an acid fertilizer, such as ammonium sulfate or cottonseed meal. pH of the soil should be tested every three years.

Planting: Vigorous, two-year-old plants about 15 inches high are recommended for planting. Set in early spring about 3 or 4 weeks before the average date of the last frost. For rabbiteye varieties, plant every 4-5 feet in row, and 10 feet between rows. For northern and southern high bush verities, plant 3-4 feet in row, and 6-8 feet between rows.

Give the roots plenty of room. Where the plants are to be set, dig the holes wider than and as deep as necessary to accommodate the root systems. It is not necessary to incorporate organic matter or other soil amendments into the backfill soil. Trim off diseased and damaged portions of the top and roots, and set the plants at the same depth that they grew in the nursery. Spread the roots out, and carefully firm the soil over them. Water thoroughly after planting.

Maintaining the Blueberry Planting

Soil Management: Mulching is the preferred soil management practice in the blueberry planting. The entire area around and between the plants should be mulched. Hardwood or softwood bark and sawdust, applied to a depth of 4 or 5 inches is recommended. Many growers use a combination mulch – a layer of leaves on the bottom, with 2-3 inches of sawdust on top. Renewed annually, this heavy mulch retains moisture, keeps the soil cool, and adds needed organic matter. If soil pH is an issue, make sure to mulch with pine bark or apply sulfur on top of mulch. Mulches provide a relatively warm environment, and can attract voles particularly during winter season. In areas where voles are a problem, mulch application should be less thick and be applied more frequently. Control through trapping and chemical baiting may be needed.

Fertilization: No fertilizer should be applied at planting time, and usually none is needed during the first growing season. On poor soils, however, the application of 2 ounces of ammonium sulfate around each plant about the first of June is beneficial.

Ammonium sulfate, at the rate of 2 ounces per plant, should be spread in a circle around each plant, about 6-8 inches from its base, just before the buds begin to swell the second spring. Increase the amount each succeeding spring by one ounce, until each mature bush is receiving a total of eight ounces annually. Cottonseed meal has proven to be an excellent fertilizer for blueberries and is used by many home gardeners. It supplies the needed nutrients and helps maintain an acid soil. Use it at the rate of one half pound per plant. Where sawdust is used as a mulch, it will be necessary to apply additional nitrogen to prevent a deficiency as the sawdust decays. Usually about 0.75 pound of ammonium sulfate for each bushel of sawdust is sufficient.

Pruning: Until the end of the third growing season, pruning consists mainly of the removal of low spreading canes, and dead and broken branches. As the bushes come into bearing, regular annual pruning will be necessary. This may be done any time from leaf fall until before growth begins in the spring. A mature blueberry plant should produce three to five new canes per year. During pruning, clean out old, dead wood, and keep three best one-year-old canes. Locate the oldest canes and prune out one of every six existing canes; cut as close to the ground as possible. A mature blueberry bush should have ten to fifteen canes: two to three canes each of one-, two-, three-, four-, and five year old canes.

Pest Control: Birds are by far the greatest pests in the blueberry planting. Covering the bushes with wire cages, plastic netting, or loosely woven cotton fabric cloth (tobacco cloth), is perhaps the best method of control. Aluminum pie tins have been used successfully. They are suspended by a string or wire above the bushes, such that they twist and turn in the breeze and keep the birds away. Spotted wing drosophila will lay eggs on ripe or ripening fruits, and infestation on fruits can be minimized by picking fruits as soon as they are ripe.

Harvesting the Blueberry Planting

Some varieties of blueberry will bear the second year after planting. Full production is reached in about six years, with a yield of 4-6 quarts per plant, depending on vigor and the amount of pruning. Blueberries hang on the bushes well and are not as perishable as blackberries or raspberries. Picking is usually necessary only once every five to seven days, more frequently if bird pressure is high. Blueberries will keep for several weeks in cold storage.


Both raspberries and blackberries (often, commonly referred to as caneberries or brambles) will usually yield a moderate crop of fruit the second year after planting, and a full crop the third season. With good management, it is possible for gardeners to extend the productive life of well-maintained plantings beyond 10 years.

Variety Selection

For blackberry and raspberry, there are two fruiting types: primocane and floricane. Primocane type raspberry and blackberry bear fruits on the first year cane (shoot) which are ready for harvest in late summer. After harvest, if the cane is pruned at the point below where it produced fruit in the first year, the lower part of the cane will produce another crop (second harvest) next summer after the cane is exposed to chilling during the winter months. Therefore, the primocane fruiting blackberry and raspberry varieties can produce two crops (harvests) each year. The second crop is usually ready for harvest in Central Virginia in first week of June. It is important to prune and remove canes after the second harvest, and allow the new canes to grow.

Of the many varieties of blackberries and raspberries available, few have proven totally satisfactory for growing under Virginia conditions. Only top-quality, virus-free, one-year-old plants of the best varieties should be planted.

Blackberry varieties

Photograph of drooping bramble branch laden with a cluster of red/white berries. One dark purple berry is visible at the tip of the custer. In the background, more canes droop down with the weight of ripening fruit.
Figure 10-5: Blackberries.

Of interest to home owners would be the thornless blackberry varieties that would allow children and adults to pick berries without the concern of being scratched on the skin. However, there are some very tasty and productive thorny blackberry varieties. Some popular blackberry varieties include:

  • Chester is a thornless, late bearing, semi-erect variety, high in yields with a medium fruit size. The variety is resistant to cane blight.
  • Kiowa is a thorny, early-season, blackberry variety that bears the world’s biggest blackberry fruit. Kiowa blooms earlier and longer than other blackberry varieties. The berry ripens in early June.
  • Navaho is a thornless, erect, mid to late season blackberry, that produces better quality fruits when trellised. The fruit shape is conic, the berry size is medium, but very firm, and the flavor is excellent.
  • Natchez is a thornless, early bearing variety that produces large fruit that ripens in early June. When fully ripened, it is very sweet and tasty. Natchez is a semi-erect variety and needs trellising for improved production and better fruit quality.
  • Prime-Ark® 45 is thorny primocane variety that produces firm berries, free of molds and diseases. Berries are large in size, with good flavor, and are suitable for long distance shipping.
  • Prime-Ark® Freedom is the world’s first thornless primocane, released in 2013. This is an erect type, producing very large fruits, and has a good flavor. The fruit is harvested in the fall and is good for fresh consumption. As a primocane type blackberry, the Prim Ark° Freedom can produce two crops per year.

Dewberries and boysenberries are also included under blackberries. Dewberry is a trailing form of blackberry, and boysenberry is a hybrid of loganberry (Rubus loganobaccus) and various blackberries and raspberries. The boysenberry plant is easily winter killed and should be planted only in areas of mild winters. Plants are extremely vigorous and productive and the berries are large and flavorful when fully ripe. Thornless boysenberries are also available. Recommended varieties of dewberry and boysenberry include:

  • Lucretia dewberry, best of the trailing blackberries, is relatively winter hardy, vigorous, and productive. The fruits are very large, often 1.5 inches long, shiny, sweet flavor berry.
  • Lavaca, a seedling of the boysenberry, is superior to its parent in production, size, and resistance to cold and disease. The fruit is also firmer, less acidic, and of slightly better quality.

Raspberry varieties

Raspberry types are based on berry color: red, black, and purple. Chances for success with raspberry plantings are better if the plantings are located in the cooler mountain sections of the state. Fruit production and quality can be improved if trellises are used when planting raspberry.

Red raspberries have generally been more successful in the warmer areas of the state than have the other types.

  • Caroline is an early primocane bearing variety. The conical fruit is medium sized, firm, and has excellent flavor. The variety has medium vigor and good disease resistance.
  • Heritage is primocane bearing variety. Fruit of Heritage is medium sized, firm, and of good quality. This variety is resistant to most diseases, but is susceptible to late leaf rust.
  • Himbo Top is a primocane raspberry variety, with high tolerance to Phytophthora root rot disease. This variety produces a large, firm, conic fruit, bright red in color, with very good flavor.
  • Joan J is a very productive, spine free, primocane bearing variety. Fruit is very firm, glossy, and dark red in color used for fresh consumption.
  • Jaclyn is the earliest of the primocane bearing varieties. Fruits are dark red, large, and have an excellent flavor. Used primarily for fresh consumption.
  • Josephine is a primocane bearing variety that has an upright, vigorous plant. Berries are dark red in color, large, have excellent flavor, and long shelf life. Plant is resistant to potato leaf hopper.
  • Killarney is a high yielding, floricane bearing variety. Fruit is medium-sized, bright colored, but is soft in warm weather. This is a hardy cultivar and suitable for colder climates. Susceptible to mildew and anthracnose. Good flavor and freezing quality.
  • Latham is a standard, floricane bearing variety. Plants of this variety are vigorous, with few spines, moderately productive, and susceptible to fire blight and powdery mildew. The berries are small in size and soft. The flavor is somewhat tart.
  • Nova is mid-season, floricane bearing variety. Fruits are somewhat acidic in taste. Considered to have better than average shelf life. Plants are hardy and resistant to cane diseases and late leaf rust, but are susceptible to cane botrytis.

Black raspberries are very susceptible to viral diseases and are readily infected when grown near red varieties carrying a virus. Plants of red and black raspberries should be separated by at least 700 feet.

  • Cumberland, a floricane bearing variety, ripens about one week later than New Logan. Cumberland has long been a favored variety due to its attractive, firm berries with fair flavor. The plants are vigorous and productive, but not particularly cold hardy.
  • Jewel, a floricane bearing variety, has firm, glossy, large and flavorful fruits. Plants are vigorous, cold hardy, upright, and resistant to most diseases. Jewel is a high yielding variety.
  • New Logan yields heavy crops of good quality, large, glossy-black fruits. Plants hold up well during drought, and are relatively tolerant to mosaic and other raspberry diseases.
  • Purple raspberries are a hybrid of the red and black types. The fruits have a purple color and are usually larger than the parent varieties. They are tarter in taste compared to either the reds or black raspberries, and are best used in jams, jellies, and pies. They are excellent for quick freezing. Plants are less hardy than the parents, but are vigorous, and very productive.
  • Brandywine is the best purple raspberry available. It ripens later than most red or black varieties. The fruit is large, firm, and quite tart, but of good quality. This variety is resistant to most diseases, but is susceptible to crown gall.
    Royalty, has a delicious sweet flavor, soft fruit, and high productivity. It is excellent for fresh use, and for jam and jelly.
  • Royalty is resistant to mosaic-transmitting aphids and raspberry fruit worm. Canes have thorns.

Establishing the Caneberry Planting

Soil: Caneberries grow best in deep, sandy loam soils, rich in organic matter. Ideal soil should have a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, and be well drained to a depth of at least 3 feet. Caneberries are sensitive to excess waterlogging, and even temporary water accumulation can weaken canes, hinder plant growth, and increase incidences of diseases, particularly root rots. Therefore they are best grown on raised beds.

Planting: Caneberries should be planted late in fall, or early in the spring, about four weeks before the average date of the last frost. Work the soil as for garden vegetables, particularly where the plants are to be set. When planting in rows, allow at least 8 feet between rows to facilitate cultivation. Red and purple raspberries may be set 3 feet apart within the row; set erect and semi-erect blackberries plants 5 feet apart. Black raspberry rows should be no less than 4-5 feet apart, and trailing blackberry rows no less than 6 feet apart.

Set the plants at about the same depth they grew in the nursery. The crown should be at least 2 inches below the soil line. Spread out the roots, and firm the soil carefully around them. Do not allow the roots to dry out. Most caneberry fruits come with a portion of the old cane attached. This serves as a handle in setting the plants. Soon after new growth begins, the handle can be cut off at the surface of the ground and destroyed, as a safeguard against possible anthracnose infection.

Maintaining the Caneberry Planting

Soil Management: Caneberries grow best in soils containing three percent or more organic matter. Organic matter in soil can be maintained using a permanent mulch. Mulch should be applied soon after setting the plants, and maintained throughout the life of the planting by replenishing annually, or as needed. Hardwood or softwood bark should be applied at least 5 or 6 inches in depth. If mulch material is unavailable, or if cultivation seems necessary, keep the cultivation very shallow to avoid disturbing the roots, and repeat cultivation often as necessary, to control weeds until the beginning of harvest.

Fertilization: If materials low in nitrogen are used, it may be necessary to add sufficient nitrogenous fertilizer to prevent a temporary deficiency as the mulch begins to decay. Usually about 0.5 pound nitrate of soda, or 0.75 pound of 10-10-10, for each 100 square feet of mulched area will be enough. On fertile soils, or where good mulch is maintained, it is usually unnecessary to make an application of fertilizer in the caneberry planting. Additional fertilizer should be added after soil test has been done, and on basis of recommendations. If growth is poor, addition of 2-3 pounds of ammonium nitrate to each 100 feet of row, when growth begins in the spring, will be beneficial. Adjustments to fertilizer grades and amount should be made based on plant growth and soil type. However, do not over fertilize, because it may result in too much vegetative growth, burning of foliage, yield loss, injury to roots, a decrease in fruit quality, and an increase in disease.

Training and Pruning: Trailing and erect-growing blackberries and black and purple raspberries need some kind of support. They may be grown on a trellis, trained along a fence, or tied to stakes. Other caneberries may either be trained to supports, or with more severe pruning, grown as upright, self-supporting plants. Red raspberries sucker so are frequently grown in hedgerows. On vigorous sites some type of minimal containment trellising may be needed in some seasons.

A simple trellis, used in many home gardens, consists of two wires stretched at 3 and 5 foot levels between posts set 15 to 20 feet apart. Fruiting canes are tied to these wires in the spring. The erect varieties are tied where the canes cross the wires. Canes of trailing varieties are tied horizontally along the wires, or fanned out from the ground and tied where they cross each wire.

Where stakes are used for support, they are driven into the ground about one foot from each plant, and allowed to extend 4 or 5 feet above the ground. Canes are tied to the stake at a point about midway between the ground and the tips of the canes, and again near the ends of the canes.

Caneberry plants are biennial in nature; the crowns are perennial. New canes grow from buds at the crown each year. The new shoots called ‘primocanes’ will produce vegetative growth the first season, go through a dormant winter season, and then are referred to as ‘floricanes’ the second year. Primocane bearing varieties produce fruit on first year canes (shoots). The base of these primocanes will survive, while the top portion of the cane will die off after fruiting.

Dormant pruning is usually delayed until danger of severe cold has passed, and accomplished before the buds begin to swell in spring. Dormant pruning consists of the removal of all dead, weak, diseased, and severely damaged canes, and the selection and pruning of the fruiting canes for the coming season. At the dormant pruning, thin each plant until only 4 or 5 of the best canes remain. Where possible, fruiting canes 0.5 inch or more in diameter are selected. Cut the lateral branches of the black raspberry to 9-12 inches long; those of the purple raspberry to 12-15 inches long and the blackberry to 15-18 inches long. At the dormant pruning, where supports are used, head the canes to 4 or 5 feet in height. Canes grown without support should be headed to 3 feet. All dead and weak canes should be removed after harvest or at the dormant pruning. They should be thinned to seven or eight of the best canes per hill, cut to about 5 feet in length, and tied to either a stake or trellis.

Summer top pruning stimulates lateral branching. Summer top pruning consists of removing the top 3-4 inches of the new shoots by snapping them off with the fingers, or cutting them with shears or a knife. Where trained to supports, let them grow 6-8 inches taller than the support before topping. Blackberry plants should be summer-top pruned when the young shoots (primocanes) are about 5 feet tall. For, black raspberries and purple raspberries summer-topping should be done when young shoots are about 3-4 feet tall. To prevent the planting from becoming too thick and reducing yields, it may be necessary to remove excess sucker plants as they appear. This can be done either with a hoe or by hand. In the hedgerow type of culture, leave only 3 or 4 shoots per running foot of row. Grown in hills, 4-5 new shoots may be allowed to develop in each hill.

Primocane bearing red raspberries should not be summer-topped, as this will reduce potential of canes to bear fruits in summer. Canes of primocane bearing varieties are handled in the same manner as the others during the dormant season. At the dormant pruning, where the hill system of culture is used, thin until only five to seven of the best canes remain per hill.

If the plants are grown in hedgerows, keep the width of the rows to 18 inches or less and remove all plants outside the row areas. Thin the canes within the hedgerows to 6-8 inches apart, saving the best canes.

Where the canes are supported either by a trellis or stakes, cut the canes back to a convenient height for berry picking, usually about 5 feet. Grown as upright, self-supporting plants without use of trellises or stakes, the canes should be cut back to about 3 feet in height whether in hills or in hedgerows. Any lateral branches should be cut to about 10 inches in length.


Photograph of large, spherical green fruit clustered along a woody branch. Leaves grow irregularly off the branch and in the background.
Figure 10-6: Muscadine grapes.

Grapes of some type can be grown almost anywhere. Careful selection of cultivated varieties compatible with local soil and climatic conditions has led to successful production in home gardens and commercial vineyards.

Variety Selection

Table grapes

Grape varieties should be selected for their intended use. Some seeded varieties such as Concord or Niagara may be used either for fresh table consumption, home juice or jelly production, or for wine production, but most varieties were developed or selected for a specific use. The following varieties are generally classified by intended use and have fared reasonably well over a wide geographic area of Virginia, with certain noted qualifications. All American, hybrid and Vitis vinifera grapes are self-fertile, meaning that a different pollinizer is not required for them to adequately set fruit.

  • Concord is by far the most widely planted blue-black grape. The good-quality fruit ripens unevenly in the hotter areas of the state. A similar variety called ‘Sunbelt’ was developed in Arkansas to ripen more uniformly in hot climates. Concord is an excellent and versatile variety for the home gardener! The vines are vigorous and productive and, except for black rot, they are relatively disease tolerant.
  • Delaware is a high-quality, red grape ripening about one week before Concord. Quite susceptible to downy mildew, this variety produces clusters and berries that are rather small and vines that grow slowly. Delaware has an unusually good balance of sweetness and acidity. It yields fine-quality white wines and is often used in blends for sparkling wine.
  • Himrod, a golden-yellow grape, has good flavor and is considered seedless, although vestigial seeds can be present. Hardy, vigorous, and productive, it has been superior to its sister seedling, Interlaken, in areas where both have been grown.
  • Mars has medium-sized, seedless, blue-black berries of the slip-skin type, and is sweet and enjoyable. It is a cold-hardy plant with high resistance to black rot, powdery mildew, and downy mildew.
  • Niagara has green-white berries and is used in wine and as a table grape. It is the most widely planted white American grape in the United States and is used extensively for white juice.
  • Seneca, an early season yellow grape, is noted for its good flavor and tender pulp. It holds well on the vine and will keep in cold storage for about two months after harvest. Vine vigor and productivity are only moderate, and this variety is quite susceptible to black rot and powdery mildew.
  • Steuben is a blue-black variety ripening about one week after Concord. The berries are medium in size with a sweet, spicy flavor. They keep well in storage. The vines are hardy, vigorous, and productive. Steuben makes a very nice wine in addition to its use as a table grape.

Wine grapes

American and hybrid varieties

  • Chambourcin is a black grape that produces a red wine often compared to Merlot. Although Chambourcin can be grown on its own roots, graft to a rootstock, such as C-3309, 101-14, or 420-A, for best performance.
  • Chardonel is a mid-season, white wine grape. It is productive and generally more disease resistant than one of its parents, Chardonnay. Chardonel must be purchased from a grapevine nursery as a grafted grapevine. We recommend any commonly used rootstock variety, such as C-3309, 101-14, or 420-A.
  • Norton is a late ripening American type wine grape hybrid of Vitis aestivalis. Norton is a black grape with small clusters and small berries. The fruit can be very acidic and vines should be trained to a high wire cordon, affording excellent fruit exposure to help reduce fruit acidity.
  • Traminette is a mid-season white wine grape with good productivity and partial resistance to several fungal diseases. It produces a wine with some of the spicy, rose-like characteristics similar to one of its parents, Gewürztraminer.
  • Vidal Blanc is a mid- to late-season, white wine grape. It is moderately susceptible to downy mildew and powdery mildew, as well as aerial phylloxera. Vidal should be purchased from a grapevine nursery as a grafted grapevine. We recommend any commonly used rootstock variety, such as C-3309, 101-14, or 420-A.

Vitis vinifera varieties

Vitis vinifera grape varieties are the most important and the most abundant grapes grown globally for wine and raisin production. They are, however, difficult to grow in the backyard situation. Vinifera varieties are extremely susceptible to many diseases; most are susceptible to winter cold injury below 5 F, and all vinifera varieties must be grafted to rootstocks tolerant of grape phylloxera. If you choose to grow vinifera grape varieties, pay particular attention to the disease management described under “Pest Management” below.

Cabernet franc is a black grape that produces fine red wine. Vines are vigorous and more cold hardy than other black vinifera types.

Chardonnay, considered by many to be superior to all other varieties for dry white wine, is only moderate in hardiness, vigor, and productivity. It is a medium-sized, white grape in a compact cluster ripening 3-5 days ahead of Concord. Vines are extremely sensitive to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, downy mildew, and black rot.

Muscadine grape varieties

In areas where it is adapted, the muscadine grape is a favorite for home plantings. It is highly desirable for juice, jam, and jelly, and some varieties are cultivated for the unusual style of the wine. Muscadine grapes are cold-tender and should not be planted where temperatures fall below 5 F. In Virginia, plant only in USDA cold hardiness zones 7b or greater.

Many muscadine varieties have imperfect flowers and require pollination from either male or perfect-flowered varieties. Of those suggested for planting, Carlos, Magnolia, and Nesbitt are perfect-flowered and will supply adequate pollination for female-flowered varieties such as Scuppernong.

  • Carlos, a 1970 introduction from North Carolina, is a perfect-flowered bronze variety, ripening with Scuppernong and similar in size and flavor. It makes excellent white wine and is relatively cold hardy, disease resistant, and productive. It is recommended for both commercial and home garden plantings.
  • Magnolia is a perfect-flowered, bronze variety of large size and very high quality. The vine is vigorous and very productive.
  • Nesbitt is a large, black, perfect-flowered variety from North Carolina. Fruit ripens over a three-week period and vines are relatively cold-hardy.
  • Scuppernong, a name commonly applied to all bronze-skinned muscadine grapes, is the oldest and best-known variety. Berry clusters are usually small and shatter badly, but the grape quality is good, and it has a very distinctive flavor. As a female flowered variety, Scuppernong would require a pollinator variety that blooms at roughly the same time.

Establishing the Grape Planting

Site and soil essentials

Grapes should be planted where they have benefit of the sun for most of the day. They are deep-rooted plants, frequently penetrating to a depth of 6 to 8 feet under good soil conditions. Most grapes require 160 or more frost-free days to ripen the crop, so the site should be relatively high to surrounding topography to allow cold air drainage, and the general climate of the area should afford at least 160 frost free days. Good air movement aids disease management. Avoid use of volatile herbicides, such as those that contain 2,4-D or dicamba, in the vicinity of the grape planting, as grapevines can be severely damaged by drift from such herbicides.

Grapevines grow best on well drained, sandy loam soils with 2-5 percent organic matter and moderate fertility. Sandy or heavy clay soils may be used, however, if provisions are made for adequate fertilization, moisture, and soil drainage. Grapes are tolerant of a wide range of soil acidity, but prefer a 6.0 to 6.8 pH range.

Planting grapes

Dormant grapevines are usually set in early spring, at or slightly before the average date of the last frost. Vigorous, one-year-old plants are preferred. Allow plenty of room between plants within a given row; at least 5 feet for the American bunch varieties and 8 feet or more for the vigorous-growing muscadine type. Trim the roots to about 6 inches in length to encourage formation of feeder roots near the trunk. Where the vines are to be set, dig the holes large enough so the roots can be spread without crowding and the plants can be set at about the same depth that they were grown in the nursery. For grafted vines, use care in firming the soil around set vines to ensure that the graft union remains about 3 inches above the final, settled soil line. Prune the planted vine to a single cane, and head it back to two buds, after buds have broken and all risk of frost has passed.

Maintaining the Grape Planting

Soil management for grapes

Mulching is the preferred soil management practice in home grape planting as mulch will suppress weeds and conserve soil moisture. Hardwood or softwood bark mulch to a depth of 4-6 inches is recommended. There have been cases where mice have girdled vines with mulch up to the trunk, so it is best to keep some space between the trunk and mulch through the winter.

Although grapes are deep-rooted plants, they do not compete well with weeds and grass, especially shortly after planting. If mulch material is unavailable, some cultivation should be done. Cultivation should be shallow and only as necessary to eliminate undesired vegetation.

Fertilization of grapes

Like all fruit plants, grapes usually require nitrogen fertilization. Except in sandy soils, this element may be the only one needed in the fertilization program. In the home garden, 2 ounces of calcium nitrate (15.5 percent N) per vine should be applied after growth begins in the spring. Spread the fertilizer in a circle around the plant, 10-12 inches from the trunk. Repeat the application about six weeks later. Repeat this fertilization at the same timing and rates in the second and third seasons. A blended fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, applied at 3 ounces per vine may be substituted where phosphorus and potassium are also needed.

Fertilizer applications to mature, bearing vines should be based on the growth and vigor of the plant. If the average cane growth is only 3 feet or less, additional nitrogen may be needed. Where proper pruning is practiced and competition from weeds and grass is kept to a minimum, however, it is doubtful that you will need to go beyond the amount recommended for a three-year-old vine.

Training and pruning grapes

Much attention is given to the training and pruning of grapes. To be most productive, they must be trained to a definite system and pruned rather severely. There are several training systems used. Two that are commonly used are the vertical trellis and the overhead arbor. Both of these are satisfactory in the home planting if kept well pruned.

Of the many variations of the vertical trellis, the single trunk, four-arm Kniffin system is the most popular. Posts are set 15 to 20 feet apart and extend 5 feet above the ground. Two wires are stretched between the posts, the lower being about 2.5 feet above the ground and the upper at the top of the posts. Set between the posts, the vine is trained to a single trunk with four semipermanent arms, each cut back to 6-10 inches in length. One arm is trained in each direction on the lower wire.

During annual winter pruning, one cane is saved from those that grew from near the base of each arm the previous summer. This cane is cut back to about ten buds. The fruit in the coming season is borne on shoots developing from those buds. Select another cane from each arm, preferably one that grew near the trunk, and cut it back to a short stub having two buds. This is a renewal spur. It should grow vigorously in the spring and be the new fruiting cane selected the following winter. All other growth on the vine should be removed. This leaves four fruiting canes, one on each arm with eight to ten buds each, and four renewal spurs, one on each arm cut back to two buds each.

The same training and pruning techniques may be effectively used in training grapes to an arbor system. Arbors are generally overhead structures occasionally used in home plantings to add a decorative feature to the garden or lawn. Many variations can be found by browsing the Web. The principal difference between trellises and arbors is that the wires supporting the grapevine arms are placed overhead and parallel with each other on the arbor instead of vertically on trellis posts. Overhead wires or wooden frames are usually placed 6-7 feet above the ground, well within reach.

If an arm dies or for any reason needs to be replaced, choose the largest cane that has grown from the trunk near the base of the dead arm and train it to the trellis wire. To renew the trunk, train a strong shoot from the base of the old trunk to the trellis as though it was the cane of a new vine. Establish the arms in the same manner as for a new vine, and cut off the old trunk.

A high-wire cordon training system can be used with varieties such as Norton that have trailing or procumbent shoot growth habits. The top wire of the trellis is placed about 6 feet above the ground. Trunks are trained up to this wire and then horizontally extended along the top wire to which they are loosely tied. These horizontal trunk extensions are termed “cordons” and are annually pruned to short, two- to four-node “spurs” derived from the previous season’s canes. It is important to train or comb the current growing season’s shoots downward from the cordons if using a high-wire system.

Pruning may be done at any time after the vines become dormant. In areas where there is danger of winter injury, pruning should be delayed until early spring. Vines pruned very late may bleed excessively, but there is no evidence that this is injurious.

Pest management in grapes

Grapes and grapevines are subject to diseases and insect pests. Certain varieties, such as Norton, as well as most muscadine varieties, are relatively resistant to common fungal diseases. On the other hand, all of the Vitis vinifera varieties and many of the hybrid grape varieties are either moderately or highly susceptible to one or more fungal diseases, including black rot, downy mildew, and powdery mildew. Chief insect pests include Japanese beetles and grape berry moth. If acceptable to the grower, a fungicide spray program will likely be minimally required for American and hybrid grapes, and mandatory for Vitis vinifera varieties to avoid crop loss to these diseases. Japanese beetle and grape berry moth infestations vary from year to year and may or may not require insecticide sprays. For further information on chemical pest control, please consult the VCE Pest Management Guide. In addition to potential disease and insect threats, ripe grapes are attractive to birds, deer, and raccoons. Bird netting can be used to exclude birds, but must be applied to the planting soon after grapes begin to acquire color and ripen. Vertebrate pests such as deer and raccoons can be excluded with woven wire, electric fencing, or combinations of fencing small enough to exclude raccoons and tall enough (8-10 feet) to discourage deer.

Harvesting the Grape Planting

For best quality, bunch grapes should be fully ripe when harvested. They will not improve in sugar content or flavor after being removed from the vine. Most varieties should be used immediately because they do not keep well after ripening. Cut the clusters off with a knife or shears to avoid bruising the fruit and damaging the vine.

Muscadine grapes grow either singly or in small, loose clusters. Some varieties may be shaken off easily when ripe, others have to be handpicked. The grapes should be used soon after harvesting, since their storage life is relatively short.


Photograph of small red, triangular fruits growing on small green stems among brown leaf litter. Green, shiny leaves rise above the level of the fruit.
Figure 10-7: Strawberry.

Strawberries are the most widely cultivated small fruit in America. They are the favorite of many for pies, jams, jellies, preserves, and for eating fresh. Strawberries are adaptable to a greater range of soil and climatic conditions, and are well suited to the home garden, (where supplemental watering is readily accessible).

Variety Selection

Strawberry varieties vary in their adaptability to soil and climatic conditions and can be classified into short-day or June bearing types, and day-neutral or everbearing types. The short-day strawberries will initiate flower buds when days are shorter than 14 hours or when temperatures are below 60 F. Most of the varieties that fruit solely in May-June are short day varieties, with flower buds initiated from late August to early November, however the short days in spring (March) will also initiate flower buds. Day-neutral varieties will initiate crown growth and flower buds throughout the season except when temperatures are very high (above 86 F). These varieties will bear fruits in May-June somewhat yielding lower than short-day varieties. Day-neutral varieties will yield a second crop in midsummer at most locations, and a third heaviest crop in late summer and early fall. The varieties suggested for planting in Virginia have been selected on the basis of plant vigor, productivity, and quality of the fruit. Virus-free plants of the varieties are available and should be purchased. To keep disease pressure low, it is recommended to replace strawberries each year, and plant new berries at a different location in the garden than previous year.

Short-day or June bearing varieties:

  • Camino Real has a compact growth habit, and a darker fruit color compared to Camarosa. Fruit is attractive and conical in shape. The variety is suitable for both fresh market and processing, and is resistant to Verticillium wilt, and root and crown rots.
  • Camarosa is a widely grown cultivar in the world. It has good disease profile resistance but is susceptible to verticillium wilt. Fruit is large, firm, and holds well in the rain. The fruit tastes better when it is picked past its glossy red stage.
  • Chandler is another variety popular throughout the world and is greatly adaptable to the eastern United States. Fruit is medium to large in size, with medium firmness. Chandler has good taste, is high yielding, and is suitable for fresh consumption and processing. This variety is susceptible to diseases, but harvests over a long period.
  • Delmarvel is productive on a variety of different soil types. It is an attractive large sized berry, with good aroma and flavor. Plants are disease resistant except for Rhizoctonia, but exhibit good winter hardiness.
  • Earliglow is a variety noted for its superior dessert quality and disease resistance. The medium-large berries are very attractive, with a glossy appearance and deep-red color. It is one of the best for eating fresh, as a frozen product, and in jams and jellies. The plants are very vigorous and productive; however, they bloom early and are subject to frost injury, and late berries are small in size.
  • Flavorfest is a mid to late-season variety, with a sweet tasting berry, and a medium size fruit. This variety is resistant to anthracnose disease.
  • Sweet Charlie is a winter tender variety with overall lower yields for the season. This variety has a small fruit size. It is grown for its early bearing capacity, excellent flavor, and sweet taste. The plants are susceptible to Phytophthora.
  • Lateglow was developed for its production of late-season fruit and good disease resistance. Its berries are very large, symmetrical, and attractive. It is a good dessert variety, can be eaten fresh, or frozen.

Day-neutral or everbearing varieties:

  • Albion has a relatively open plant canopy. It is resistant to wilts and rots, and is one of the most widely grown varieties in northern California. Berries are cone shaped, with a dark red hue, and sweet flavor. The variety is good for fresh consumption and processing.
  • San Andreas has good disease resistance. This variety produces high quality fruit, has an outstanding flavor, and an exceptional appearance. Fruits are medium to large in size, and symmetrical/conic in shape. Fruit color is slightly lighter than Albion. This variety is suitable for fresh market, processing, and home gardens.

Establishing the Strawberry Planting


Although strawberries grow best in a fertile, sandy loam soil, with a pH of 5.9 to 6.5, they may be successfully grown in any good garden soil that is well drained and well supplied with organic matter. Soil for strawberries should be thoroughly prepared for planting, loose, and free of lumps. Raised beds are preferable.

Strawberries may be used as a border for a flowerbed, or as a ground cover Avoid planting early varieties on south-facing slopes and be sure to select a site where tomatoes, potatoes, or eggplants have not been grown. These crops often carry verticillium wilt which lives in the soil for many years, and some strawberry varieties are very susceptible to this disease. Strawberries bloom very early in the spring, and the blossoms are easily killed by frost. In areas where late frosts are a hazard, try to select a site for your planting that is slightly higher than surrounding areas. Do not set strawberries in soil that has recently been under sod. A land that was under crop cultivation for a prior year or two, may have soil better prepared for strawberries, and will assist in controlling weeds and white grubs, both of which are troublesome in strawberry plantings. Where grubs and ants are a problem, chemical control may be necessary.

Planting strawberries

Drawing of plants with dark brown pear-shaped structures at soil-level and roots growing down while leaves grow up. First plant is labeled "too deep" and shows the pear-shaped structure buried under soil. Second plant is labeled "too shallow" and shows the pear-shaped structure above the soil. Final plant is labeled correct and shows pear-shaped structure half-buried in soil.
Figure 10-8: Strawberry planting depths. Left is too deep, center is too shallow, right is correct.

Virus-free plugs should be set out in late fall or dormant crowns in early spring- about three or four weeks before the average date of the last frost. Plants should be placed no less than 12 inches apart in rows that are 2-3 feet apart. Take care to set each plant so the base of the bud is at soil level. Spread the roots out, and firm the soil carefully around them to prevent air pockets which allow them to dry out.

Maintaining the Strawberry Planting

Soil management

Cultivation for weed control in strawberries should begin soon after planting, and continue at approximately 2-3 week intervals throughout the first growing season. Cultivation must be shallow to prevent root injury. Hoe as often as necessary, to remove grass and weeds growing between the plants.

In colder areas, home garden strawberry plantings should be winter mulched. Any organic material free of weed seeds makes acceptable mulch. Hay, straw, and pine needles are most frequently used. Mulch should be applied 2-4 inches deep over and around the plants after the first freezing weather in the fall when the soil is below 50 F (usually around mid-December). This protects them from injury due to freezing, and heaving of the soil during the winter. After the danger of frost is over in the spring, about half the mulch should be raked off the plants into the area between the rows. Mulch left around the plants will help keep the berries clean, conserve moisture, reduce diseases, and check weed growth.

Fertilization of strawberries

Broadcast 4 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 linear ft of row, 2-3 weeks before planting. If leaves appear light green in color after three to four weeks of transplanting, side dress with 1.5 pounds of ammonium nitrate per 100 ft. of row. The limited shallow root systems will not initially benefit from fertilizer placed in the row middles. In coastal plains in late January or February, apply 0.75 pound of ammonium nitrate. In spring, choose a fertilizer grade with higher P and K and apply one-half pound of nitrogen per 100 ft of row.

Production system

There are two popular training systems used in strawberry production. Modifications of these systems can be found.

In the hill system or plasticulture system, plants are spaced 12-16 inches apart in a single or staggered double row. All runners are removed as soon as they appear, and the plants are encouraged to multiply in large crowns. This system is desired by many because the planting is easier to cultivate and harvest, and produces larger, better berries than other systems. However, many plants are required and the initial cost of the planting is high. Black plastic mulch is particularly effective with this training system, but requires drip irrigation lines for optimum performance. This “plasticulture” system is currently popular with commercial growers.

Under the matted-row system, used by many home gardeners, runner plants are allowed to set freely in all directions. The original plants should be set 18-24 inches apart in the row. Keeping the width of the plant bed narrow (16-18 inches), results in a good grade of fruit that is easy to pick. During the planting season, all flower stems on the plants should be removed as soon as they appear. This strengthens the plants and allows early and vigorous runner production. Early-formed runner plants bear the best fruit the following year.

Renovation of strawberry bed

If your strawberry planting is in a vigorous condition, it may be retained for fruiting the second year. However, allowing a planting to fruit more than 2 years often results in smaller berries and weak plants. If retaining plants, remove the mulch and clip the tops of the plants to within 1 inch of the crowns with a scythe or mower soon after harvest (mid-July). If insects and foliage diseases are prevalent, move the leaves and mulch material out of the planting, and burn them. Apply a quickly soluble nitrogen fertilizer such as ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) at 0.25 to 0.5 pound, or 1-2 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 feet of row, to encourage vigorous top growth. Any good garden fertilizer supplying an equivalent amount of nitrogen may be used if desired.

Some plant thinning may be needed, particularly in the matted-row system. Thin plants (remove oldest) to 6-8 inches apart after new foliage appears. Keep the planting free of weed throughout the summer, irrigating when necessary during the dry season, to keep the plants growing vigorously. Fertilize again in the early fall as recommended for the first year, and renew the mulch after freezing weather begins.

Pest control

Birds are one of the biggest pests in the strawberry planting. It may be necessary to cover the plants with plastic netting to keep the crop from being eaten before the berries are ripe enough to harvest. Aluminum pie tins or used metallic compact discs (CD’s), suspended by a string or wire above the plants in such manner that they twist and turn in the breeze, may be successful in keeping birds away.

Culture of everbearing varieties

Irrigation is particularly important for everbearing varieties because the late-summer/early fall crop ripens during a period when soil moisture is usually quite low. Soil preparation and fertilizer requirements before planting are the same as for regular varieties. Best yields are obtained from everbearing varieties if they are set in early spring in the hill system about one foot apart, cultivated for the first 10 days to 2 weeks, then mulched to a depth of 1-2 inches with sawdust. As the sawdust decays, the development of a nitrogen deficiency could occur. It can be quickly overcome with the application of one pound of 10-10-10 to each 100 square feet of mulched area.

Remove runners as soon as they appear, to encourage the plants to multiply in large crowns. Blossom clusters should be removed until the plants have become firmly established and are growing vigorously, usually about the first of August. Berries will begin to ripen about a month later, and plants will continue to bear fruit until frost, if weed growth is kept down and adequate moisture is supplied. Allow the plants to bear fruit for the spring and fall crops the second year, then replant the following spring.

Harvesting the planting

In the home garden, strawberries should be allowed to develop an overall red color and become fully ripened before harvesting. Sometimes the tops (sun exposed) are red but the bottoms are still white and not ready for harvest. It is at the fully ripe stage that the sugar content is highest and the flavor is best. It may be necessary to harvest every day during the peak of the season, especially in warm periods.

Harvest the berries carefully by the stems just above the caps to prevent bruising. Pick all that are ripe. Ripe fruits when left unpicked on the plant, increase infestation of strawberry sap beetle and spotted wing drosophila. Ripe strawberries may be held for a day or two in a refrigerator.

Strawberry growing in pyramids and barrels

Drawing of a barrel cut away to expose an interior, narrow cylinder that extends from the top of the barrel to the bottom; label "4-inch drain tile" points to interior cylinder. Label reading "add water to the tile and soil surface" with arrows that point to cylinder and space at top of barrel. Small circles hover on what would be the exterior walls of the barrel with label "holes 1 inch in diameter" and "holes 8 inches apart." Circles visible in bottom of barrel with label "drain holes."
Figure 10-9: Barrel planter.

In a garden where space is extremely limited or where the gardener wishes to use the strawberry planting as a novelty or decorative feature, the strawberry pyramid or the strawberry barrel can be useful and interesting. Pyramids may be square or round. The frames for a square pyramid can be constructed out of landscaping wood. A suggested soil mixture for the pyramid is two parts good garden soil, one part peat, and one part sand.

In preparing a strawberry barrel, 1-inch diameter holes are made in the sides of the barrel at approximately 8-inch spacing. As the barrel is filled with successive layers of soil, strawberry plants are carefully inserted through the holes, so that the roots are held firmly in contact with the soil. A porous tile inserted down the middle of the barrel will facilitate water reaching all of the plants (see diagram). Though the strawberry barrel may be a successful novelty, yields of fruit will be smaller than those in open field culture, and much more attention to planting, watering, and winter protection are required.

Stack of 3-dimensional squares of gradually decreasing sizes form a pyramid shape.
Figure 10-10: Pyramid culture.

Damage to the strawberry plants growing under normal cultural conditions can be expected if they are not protected from extreme cold during the winter. Owing to the fact that plants growing in a pyramid or barrel are elevated above normal ground level and therefore are highly exposed, additional winter damage can be expected to roots, crowns, and fruit buds. Consequently, care must be taken to provide adequate winter protection. Pyramids can be mulched with 6-8 inches of straw after the soil is frozen. In the coldest part of the state, strawberries in barrels will survive better if protected with burlap covering. In cold winters, enclose straw in the burlap for added insulation. However, even with careful mulching, some plant injury can be expected during severe winters.


Adapted from “Small Fruit In the Home Garden” 426-840 (SPES-399P) by Jayesh B. Samtani, Assistant Professor and Small Fruit Extension Specialist, Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center; Reza Rafie, Extension Specialist, Horticulture, Virginia State University; Tony K. Wolf, Professor, Viticulture, Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center

  • Michael Cole, Norfolk Extension Master Gardener  (2021 reviser)
  • Meagan Shelley, Bedford Extension Master Gardener (2021 reviser)
  • Dan Nortman, Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources (2015 reviser)
  • Jayesh B. Samtani, Small Fruit Production Specialist, Hampton Roads AREC, (2015 reviewer)
  • Reza Rafie, Extension Specialist, Horticulture, Virginia State University (2015 reviewer)
  • Tony K. Wolf, Professor of Viticulture, Alson H. Smith Jr. AREC, (2015 reviewer)
  • Keith S. Yoder, Extension Specialist, Tree Fruit Pathology (2015 reviewer)
  • Rich Marini, Extension Specialist, Tree Fruits (2009 reviser)
  • Jerry Williams, Associate Professor, Horticulture – Small Fruits (2009 reviser)

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