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Choosing the Right Plants

First decide what fruit plants would be most suited to your climate and soil type. In general, most plants like a well drained site with at least six hours of sun light a day. The diagram below is a general zone chart for Berries and Grapes.

Zone Map Zone Chart

  • Blackberries: Zone 5 - 9
  • Red Raspberries: Zone 3B - 7A
  • Black Raspberries: Zone 4 - 7
  • Blue Berries - Zone 4 - 7A
  • Grapes - Zone 4 - 7B
  • Gooseberries - Zone 2 - 6B
  • Currants - Zone 3 - 6 B
  • Asparagus - Zone 4 - 7
  • Strawberries - Zone 4 - 8
  • Rhubarb - Zone 4 -6B
  • Elderberries - Zone 4 - 7B

A - Represent the colder area of that zone
B - Represent the warmer area of that zone

Site Selection and Preparation

Choosing a Planting Site

Avoid sites that hold standing water, or just doesn't drain well. Low swags are also more susceptible to frost pockets. Choose an elevated site when possible to allow good air and water drainage. If the soil you have is not ideal drainage. Consider a raised ridge or bed to allow better drainage.

Preparing the Planting Site

After you decide which plants works best in your area, start preparing the planting site. If possible, a year in advance would be preferred. First take a soil test which is normally free of charge at your local county extension office. There is a small charge for certain soil, such as nematode testing, which is a recommended soil test, will tell you many things: your soil type, your P.H. balance, which nutrient are needed and how much to apply. It will also tell if you have nematodes, what kind, and how many your soil contains.

Weed and Grass Problem

If the planting site had a weed and grass problem, you might consider using a non-selective herbicide, such as RoundUp, to kill the existing weeds. It's good to do this the summer before planting. Or you could use a clean fallow type program. To do this, simply till the planting site, and each time new weeds emerge, till again. Do this the entire summer through the fall. You will be ready for planting in the spring.

Low in Organic Matter

If your sight is low in organic matter, consider a green cover crop to help build your soil back up. Simply till your site, sew the seeds, and till it under after it reaches maturity. Your county extension agent can help you decide which grain to plant. Some of the more common ones are buckwheat, oats and rye grain.

Avoid Tomatoes, Potatoes, Eggplants in Recent Years

Avoid sites that have had certain vegetable crops in recent years, such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants. These are host plants for nematodes, and some viruses. A nematode is a microscopic pathogen. which looks like a worm under a microscope. There are only a few species that cause any real problems. The root knot nematode, and the dagger nematode are the most destructive. The root knot nematode will burrow inside the roots and restrict the uptake of moisture and nutrients. Varieties of fruit plants susceptive are strawberries, grapes and red and black raspberries. Blackberries, blueberries, gooseberry, currants, elderberries, and rhubarb are not generally effected by nematodes. It is possible to reduce the numbers of nematodes by starving them out. To do this, avoid planting a host plant for a three to four year period, so that they have no plants to feed on Or you may simply plant a fruit variety that is resistant to them.

P.H. Balance

The P.H. balance is also important for good growing conditions. A PH of 7 is considered neutral, any number lower than 7 is acidic. Anything above is alkaline. Here are some fruit varieties and their most favorable PH levels.

  • Blueberries - 4.5 to 5.5
  • Red and Black Raspberries - 6.0 to 6.8
  • Strawberries - 6.5 to 6.8
  • Grapes - 6.0 to 7.5
  • Gooseberries - 6.2 to 6.5
  • Currants - 6.2 to 6.5
  • Blackberries - 5.5 to 7.0
  • Rhubarb - 6.0 to 7.0
  • Elderberries - 6.0 to 7.0
  • Asparagus - 6.0 to 7.0

To raise the PH level add lime as recommended by the soil test. To lower the PH add sulfur. If you are unsure of how much to apply, always consult your county extension agent. The soil test will also tell the proper amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and certain other trace nutrients recommended.

For More Information

For more in depth details, we recommend reading the Back Yard Berry Book which we offer.

For commercial growers we also recommend certain other helpful books, like the Compendium Series books, from the Phytopathological Society. Call or write us for any additional information.