Grow your own - Soft Fruit

Tired of buying tasteless, expensive summer fruit? Then grow your own, it’s cheap, easy, and your taste buds will thank you for it. Laurel Farm has a wide range of soft fruit plants for your Kitchen Garden.

Raspberries

Plants grow as canes that reach 1.5 - 2m tall. The canes look like dead sticks, this is because they are cut short for easier handling. Plant raspberry canes in a sunny spot for the best results, although they will do reasonably well in partial shade.

  • Grow them against a fence or as single plants, they may need supporting by stakes. 
  • Autumn-fruiting varieties don’t usually need supporting.
  • Plant about 40cm apart. Allow plenty of space on either side of the row for picking.
  • Feed in spring with a balanced fertiliser such as Growmore applied at 100g per sq/m, then mulch the surface with organic material. 
  • Water in dry spells, especially when the fruit starts to swell.
  • Prune them once you have picked all the fruit. 
  • Cut the old, brown canes down to the ground, leave the new green canes and space them about 10cm apart. 
  • If there are too many new canes, cut out the thinnest or shortest.
  • With autumn-fruiting varieties, cut all the canes down in February or March.
  • Replace your plants once they are over 10 years old, or are cropping poorly. 
  • Raspberries should crop well for six to ten years. After this, disease build up will start to reduce yields.

Blackberries

Position in sun for the sweetest fruit, or semi shade. Shelter isn’t too crucial, as blackberries flower quite late, so cold spring winds are not a problem.

  • Support the plants by tying them to horizontal wires fixed at intervals of 30cm, supported between stout posts.
  • Alternatively train them over an arch, 1m apart, and just cut off shoots that don’t fit the space. 
  • If planting against a fence position 3 – 4m apart.
  • Feed in spring with sulphate of potash, but only if your soil is sandy or low in nutrients, then mulch with organic material.
  • Water in dry spells, especially when the fruit starts to swell.
  • Tie in new shoots as they grow. 
  • On wires, train them straight up, then outwards along the top wire.
  • Prune once you’ve picked all the fruit.
  • Cut the old shoots down close to the ground, then untie all the new shoots and retie them in a rough fan shape, using the lower wires, leaving a space in the centre for the next year’s canes.
  • Dig out any that have spread too far – the tips of blackberry shoots can root where they touch the ground, so can spread in leaps and bounds.
  • Replace plants that fail to produce strong new shoots, or don’t fruit well after two years.

Strawberries

Strawberries are usually grown in the vegetable patch, but putting them in strawberry pots or grow-bags is a good idea as it means they are safer from slugs, and you don’t need to protect them from mud splashes.

  • You can buy plants from early spring right through to late summer.
  • Plant three plants to a 10-litre pot, using a general potting compost. 
  • You can expect about 700g of fruit per plant.
  • Position in a sunny, sheltered spot. 
  • You can take some pots into the greenhouse or conservatory in February to get an earlier crop. 
  • Put them outside again when fruiting is over, as they need a cold spell to produce flowers for the next year.
  • Feed with tomato food every fortnight from spring through until fruits start to form, then weekly until fruiting finishes.
  • Increase your plants, or replace old ones, by selecting large, healthy runners – small plants produced on the ends of long stems. 
  • Peg these down into small pots of compost and cut the stem when they have rooted.
  • It is a good idea to cut back all the foliage and unwanted runners when fruiting has finished to help reduce the chance of disease.
  • Replace plants in pots after three or four years, changing the compost at the same time, as plants crop best in their second year.

Gooseberries

Gooseberries are the first soft fruit to be ready for use - often by mid-May. Although rarely seen fresh in the shops they’re great for pies and puddings, and when fully ripe provide a sweet treat straight from the bush. Gooseberry bushes are tough and long lived, and the only drawback is the thorns.

  • You should get about 4kg of berries per plant after a couple of years. Plants trained as standards are decorative and the fruit is easy to pick.
  • Position in a sunny, sheltered spot. Although gooseberries are pretty tolerant of different growing conditions.
  • Plant so each bush has at least 1.2sq/m of ground. 
  • Cut back all the main branches by half and remove any within 20cm of the ground to create a short trunk.
  • Feed in spring with sulphate of potash applied at 70g per sq/m, then mulch the surface with organic matter. Water in dry spells, especially when the fruit starts to swell.
  • Thin the fruit when the berries are semi-ripe, from mid-May to early June, and use them for cooking. 
  • The remaining berries will get bigger and can be left to get fully ripe for eating fresh in the middle of July.
  • Prune in the first winter after planting by removing any branches that are too low, or crossing the centre of the bush. Cut back the others by half to create a goblet-shaped bush with an open centre and six to eight main branches.
  • Cut all the short side-shoots back to two buds. 
  • Next summer lots of new side-shoots will appear. 
  • Cut these back by two-thirds or so, to allow light and air into the developing fruit. 
  • In winter, cut these shortened shoots back to two buds, and repeat this cycle each year.
  • Restore old bushes by pruning in winter. If they’re healthy and cropping well, they’re worth saving.

Blackcurrants

Position in a sunny, sheltered spot. The plants are tough, but the flowers may be damaged by a cold spring.

  • Plant 2.5cm deeper than its original planting depth to encourage new shoots from the base. Cut back existing shoots to one bud. Allow each plant 1.5sq/m.
  • Feed in spring with a balanced fertiliser such as growmore applied at 100g per sq/m, then mulch the surface with organic material. 
  • Water in dry spells, especially when the fruit starts to swell.
  • After a year or two, blackcurrants are highly productive and should produce around 5kg of berries per plant.
  • Prune in winter a year or two after planting, once the plant has seven or eight good branches. 
  • Remove a third of the branches, starting with the oldest (darkest), cutting them down to ground level or to a strong new side branch to encourage new shoots.
  • Restore old bushes by cutting up to half the branches down to the ground. Aim to leave six to eight well-spaced, upright branches.
  • New shoots should appear the next year, when you can remove half the remaining old branches; cut down the rest the next year. 
  • If the bush doesn’t produce strong new shoots, or fails to fruit well in two years, it may have blackcurrant reversion virus so buy new plants.