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The Natural Gardener – Soft Fruit

Here in West Cork we have fantastic growing conditions for all types of soft fruit. Even a novice gardener should be able to get great returns from just a few plants. Kids (and adults) will be delighted to feast on the tastiest fruit grown in their own gardens! Even with the smallest garden you will be able to find somewhere to grow some soft fruit, unlike fruit trees, which can take up lots of space .

This time of year is the best season to plant soft fruit, as plants have a great chance to establish strong roots, without any chance of drying out! There is also the largest range of varieties available at the best prices, as many are sold as bare root.

Listed below are some of the most popular as well as some more unusual, with information on planting and after care. They are all tried and tested with feedback from our customers here at Deelish garden centre. We also stock a range of more unusual soft fruits including; hardy paw-paw, chilean guava, feijoa, cape gooseberries, mulberry, figs, passion fruit and dead man’s fingers!

Blackberry, Wineberry, Tayberry, Loganberry, Sunberry & Boysenberry: A selection of these fruits can provide fresh berries from early July until the first severe frosts occur in the autumn. They provide a variety of flavours ranging from that of the true blackberry to those arising from crosses between raspberry with blackberry and other Rubus species. Plant in well-drained but moisture retentive soil in full sun or partial shade. Grow them on wires against a fence or wall, or as single plants up a post. Space at least 6ft/2m apart. Cut back to 10in/25cm straight after planting to promote fresh growth from the base. During autumn or winter each year remove canes that have fruited to ground level and train and tie in the new growth that has grown up from the base during the summer. In late spring cut out the tips of the leading canes to promote the growth of extra fruiting laterals.

Blueberry: Blueberries, a well known ‘superfruit’ grown for their health-boosting properties can be a tasty and attractive addition to the garden. In the autumn the bushes turn crimson, adding brilliant colour to what can otherwise be a dull season. In the spring the bushes are covered in masses of sweet scented dainty white bell shaped flowers. The soil in west Cork generally gives them the acidic conditions they require. If you do not have the appropriate soil, they should be grown in containers using an ericaceous compost. Two varieties should usually be planted to improve pollination and ensure a good set of flowers under adverse weather conditions. Plant 3ft/1m apart in a sheltered position in free-draining ericaceous soil in full sun/partial shade. In winter, cut out any damaged or dead branches. It is also recommended that each year a few old stems that have borne fruit are cut hard back to promote new growth in the following spring. They will thrive from an annual mulching of pine needles or similar acidic mulches.

Cranberry: Cranberries add a tangy flavour to everything from stuffing and sauces to drinks and barbecues. Best grown at the edge of a pond, otherwise in a container or raised bed lined with plastic which has been pierced so that water is retained but not allowed to stagnate. Incorporate plenty of moss peat when planting and water regularly with soft (rain) water. Space about 1ft/30cm apart.

Currants: Closely related to the gooseberry, currants have a markedly different flavour and use. Currants produce insignificant flowers followed by long strings of shiny berries, with a sharp flavour. Plant them in moisture retentive soil in an open position in full sun or partial shade. Avoid planting in a position where the bushes might catch a late spring frost which will damage any emerging leaves and new growth. Space currant bushes 3-4ft/1-1.25m apart, apart. After planting, cut blackcurrants down to 3-4in/8-10cm above ground level, and cut the stems of red and white currants back by about half. Blackcurrants fruit on new wood so aim to remove a third of the old wood each year, taking out at or near ground level the oldest branches (those with the darkest wood). Unlike Blackcurrants, Red and White currants fruit on two year old wood so require only that the leading shoots are shortened by about half each year to encourage branching. If and when the bush becomes crowded, remove the occasional branch to open it up to allow air to circulate more freely.

Gooseberry & Jostaberry: The gooseberry is the first fruit of the season. The fruit should be thinned in late May and the thinnings used for cooking. The remainder should be left to swell near to full size and then used for pies, jamming and freezing. Jostaberrys were produced by crossing a blackcurrant and gooseberry. The berries resemble a large blackcurrant, but are about twice their size. Plant in deep, well-drained but moisture retentive soil in full sun or partial shade. Avoid planting in shallow soil which dries out in summer as this will result in poor sized fruit. Also avoid sites liable to catch late spring frosts. Space bushes 4ft/1.25m apart Jostaberries 6ft/2m.Cut stems back by about half after planting. This is very important for successful establishment. Try to build up a well-shaped bush by annually cutting out crossing branches from the centre in the spring before bud break. Also cut out any diseased or damaged wood.

Goji Berries: Goji berries are the latest ‘must have’ fruit and are said to boost your immune system, contain more vitamin C than oranges, more iron than steak and play an important role in traditional Chinese medicine. Plant 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) apart. Goji berries are self fertile and are easy to grow and thrive even in poor soil. Flowers and fruit are formed on the stems that grew in the previous year, so pruning aims to encourage the production of this wood. Prune lightly in early spring, removing dead and badly-placed shoots.

Grapes: Grapes are very hardy and the breeding and selection of varieties has progressed so far in the last ten years, that it is now possible to plant a range of varieties suitable for growing under cover and outdoors. If we get more summers like 2018, we may see a West cork wine company in the future! They will give the best results if planted and trained against a south facing wall; they will also do well when trained onto a horizontal wire support away from any wall. When grown under glass or plastic, vines can be planted outside and brought in through the wall. Vines should be spaced 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) apart. Many a book has been written about pruning grapes and there are various methods to choose from depending on where you are growing them. Fruit will be produced on new growth, so pruning is needed for a good crop. The main pruning time is early winter. Pruning later can cause the vine to bleed sap, weakening the plant. Training and pinching out of new shoots, as well as thinning of fruits, is carried out in spring and summer.

Honeyberry: The fruits are very similar to blueberries in taste and looks, and can be eaten raw or used in jams and jellies. Like blueberries they are high in antioxidants and vitamin C and make an interesting addition to your fruit collection. Plant 3ft/1m apart in spring when there is no risk of frost, this allows the plant to get established over the following summer. They do not mind acidic or alkaline soil which makes them a great alternative for gardeners who struggle to grow blueberries. Young plants only need dead material removed for the first three years while they get established. For more established honeyberries, pruning should be done in early to mid-summer after harvesting. At least one other variety will be needed for pollination. It may be worth considering pollination by hand to increase yield of fruit.

Kiwi: The Chinese Gooseberry is a very hardy twining climber and can be cropped outdoors wherever grapes grow. Baby Kiwis (Actinidia arguta) are edible, grape-sized fruit similar to kiwi fruit in taste and appearance, but are green, brownish, or purple with smooth skin. Often sweeter than the kiwifruit, baby kiwi fruit can be eaten whole and do not need to be peeled. It is important that the bush is given very good shelter from the prevailing winds. Bushes are excellent for covering old walls and should be planted at least 5.5m (18ft) apart. Some varieties are self fertile, others need a male and female for pollination. In winter, cut existing laterals back to three or four buds beyond the last fruited stems. Each year cut back about one-quarter to one-third of the oldest laterals to a bud around 5cm (2in) from the main stem. New growth will be produced from this stub in the growing season.

Lingonberry: The Lingonberry is from the same family as the blueberry and cranberry and therefore enjoys the same acid soil conditions. They are Ideal for growing in pots in an ericaceous compost and are evergreen and self fertile. They have a natural spreading habit and are particularly useful as an under planting around blueberries.

Raspberry: Raspberries are really delicious, but very expensive to buy fresh in shops. A single cane (costing just over €1) can produce over 2kg. Of fruit! Plant in deep, rich well-drained but moisture retentive soil in a sunny or partially shaded position. Space canes 15-18in/40-45cm apart. Allow 4-6ft/1.25-2m between rows of summer-fruiting varieties (summer fruiting varieties will need a support) and at least 6ft/2m between rows of autumn-fruiting varieties. Dig the planting hole deep enough so that the root sits in the soil with the previous soil mark just below the soil surface, back fill and firm in. Cut back Regular canes to 2in/5cm above soil level after planting (these off cuts can easily be used as cuttings to produce more canes). Keep well watered until canes get established and add an annual top dress of organic fertiliser in the spring. Do not hoe in the planting area to remove weeds. Pick weeds by hand. The growing shoots of the Raspberry plant grow from underneath the soil. Hoeing could chop off these growing shoots resulting in canes dying. Summer-fruiting varieties fruit on canes produced in the previous year. After fruiting, cut out the old, fruited wood in autumn/winter and tie in the new growths to the support. Autumn-fruiting varieties fruit on canes produced in the current year. After cropping, these should be cut down to ground level to promote the growth of new canes.

Rhubarb: Rhubarb has been cultivated in Irish gardens since the late sixteenth century. Its leafstalks can be stewed or used for making preserves. Plant about 21/2-3ft/75-90cm apart in an open, sunny position in moisture retentive soil that has been enriched with well-rotted manure or organic matter prior to planting. Over the years the crown may begin to spread. To keep it producing healthy growth for long it will need to be divided, which can be done during winter-time (at a time when the ground isn’t frozen). This is done by digging up either the whole clump or a section of it, cutting it into smaller pieces, and then re-planting each bit in an area with a bit more space.

Strawberries, Framberry & Pineberry: Strawberries are most children’s and some adults favourite soft fruit! Pineberry is a white strawberry cultivar with a pineapple-like flavour, white colour, and red seeds, great for confusing hungry birds!. Framberry grows like, looks, and is classified as a strawberry, but has a distinctively different flavour, somewhere between that of a raspberry and a strawberry combined. Plant them in an open, sunny position in soil which is rich in humus. Set plants 18in/45cm apart in rows 30in/75cm apart. After planting, water thoroughly. If no rainfall occurs during the first few weeks after they have been planted, water regularly to keep the soil moist until plants re-establish. Replace with fresh, certified stock (or your own ‘runners’) in a new bed or a different part of the garden every 3-4 years. Strawberry ‘runners’ (baby plants on the ends of stalks) should be potted on next to the mother plant to increase the number of plants or cut off, giving the plant more energy to produce fruit.

All the soft fruit (as well as fruit trees) mentioned will produce much more fruit with the application of potash as a top dressing in late winter or early spring. This will help the plants produce more flowers and fruit. Potash will also help strengthen plants and make them resistant to extreme weather and diseases. An excellent source of potash is found in pure wood ash from your fireplace (not mixed with coal or briquettes),just spread on the ground around the plant and the rain will wash it down to the roots.

During the growing season an organic fertiliser and or mulch with added seaweed will add much needed nitrogen and trace elements for leaf growth and overall health of the plants. Fresh compost will make an excellent mulch around the base of the plants (keep it a few inches away from the stem), as this will contain earthworms and soil microbes.

If there are long periods of dry weather, regular watering is advised, especially for freshly planted fruit. Organic liquid fertilisers can also be added at this stage for a quick feed.

Fruit nets are sometimes needed to keep the birds from eating your buds and fruit before you get a chance to! Regular checking of the netting is needed to make sure they do not find a way in. If using a pest or fungal control on your fruit bushes, be sure to buy an organic product, or make your own. Always wait at least a week before eating any fruit after applying the product.

All that is left to do now, is to choose which of the above soft fruit is for you, plant it as soon as possible and enjoy your tasty rewards this summer! And remember, gardening doesn’t have to cost the earth!

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The Natural Gardener – Bare Root season

It’s a great time to plant trees! Not only will they create windbreaks and habitats for wildlife, absorb carbon dioxide, create oxygen and provide food for the native bird life the’ll also grow firewood! Below the surface their penetrating roots enhance the soil structure by improving aeration and drainage. Probing root growth breaks up the soil, which creates spaces for storing air and water. In wet ground suitable trees will dry the ground (a large oak tree can transpire over 150,000 litres a year). Some trees’ roots add nutrients to the soil, which naturally fertilizes surrounding plants and others are nitrogen fixers. A tree’s deep, strong root system protects against soil erosion due to heavy rainfall and flooding.

The cheapest way to plant trees, hedges or an orchard is to buy bare-rooted plants: those sold without a pot and delivered while the weather is still cold and the plants are dormant. As well as saving money, you will often find a much wider selection of varieties and sizes available as bare-rooted trees and shrubs.

Right now is an excellent time to plant bare root trees and shrubs. They will have the whole winter and spring to establish good strong roots for the growing season ahead. If you plan to plant in a very exposed site, it’s a good idea to wait until February or March to avoid the chance of storm damage.

Shop around for the best prices and varieties, ask for bulk discounts (here at Deelish Garden Centre we offer a 10% discount on orders of over 25 plants of one variety and larger discounts on larger quantities). Check that plants have spent a minimal amount of time with their roots exposed, as some suppliers have been known to leave tightly packed plants in bags for weeks and sometimes months! Never buy plants that look stressed or wilted, as these are unlikely to grow well.

Plant as soon as you can, or “Heel in”, (temporarily covering the roots with soil), any plants that can’t be planted straight away.

Soak any plants with dry roots for a few hours before planting, and only take the plants out of the bags just before planting, as roots can dry out very quickly once exposed.

Use a fist-full of Rock Phosphate at the base of each hole per plant in the winter for root development and a fist-full of Greenvale (seaweed dust chicken pellets) around the base in the spring for great growth. If you want to give them a really good start add some Mycorrhizal Fungi powder (if you have healthy soil, this is not needed, as it will already be in the soil). These fungi are living organisms and will live with the plant, sourcing a continued nutrient supply for its entire lifetime –a truly sustainable plant nutrition solution. More on this topic in a future article!

Many people want “instant hedges”, but the smaller bare-root plants will outstrip and out-grow substantially larger plants after only a couple of years. This is also true with trees and I would only recommend using large trees in a sheltered location, as larger trees have a hard time adjusting to exposed sites and spend the first few years growing roots to anchor themselves. You also have the added cost of stakes and tree ties. If in doubt start small and don’t use a stake, as quite often stakes do more harm rubbing away bark on the trunk and tree ties, when forgotten, can strangle trunks. If planting in an exposed site, angle the trees slightly towards the most common prevailing wind direction (usually the south west in West Cork). Over the course of a few years the tree will be pushed into a straight position and will have grown roots to brace against strong winds. If you do use a stake, place it a few inches away from the tree on the windy side (so the tree is blown away from the stake). Try not to damage any roots when driving it into the soil, or put it into the hole before the tree. The top of the stake should be about a third of the height of the tree. If it is longer, cut it off as it can cause damage by rubbing the trunk in windy conditions. The tree tie should be near the top of the stake and nailed into the stake, with a flat head nail (so the trunk doesn’t snag), to stop it slipping down the trunk. If there are branches there is no need for the nail. The tree tie should go in a figure of eight to stop the trunk rubbing against the stake. Sometimes 2 or 3 stakes are used for large specimen trees to protect from all wind directions. After a few years, loosen any ties that are tight and remove stakes when the tree has strong roots.

Here is a list of some common trees:

Alder (Alnus)

Alder is a fast growing native tree that works very well for planting in wet condition. Its round leaves provide excellent shelter in the Summer months and the whippy stems break the wind by about 50% in the Winter months providing all year round shelter. It also provides an excellent nesting and shelter habitat for birds and wildlife. The catkins on the end of the stems provide food also. Alder roots do not cause problems as they are not intrusive like some of the other native trees. Alder timber can be used in furniture making or for firewood. €1 for a 2-3ft tree*

Birch (Betula pendula)

Birch is a slight erect framed tree with light stems and relatively small leaves. There are two types of native birch mainly found in Ireland; Silver Birch and the Downy Birch. The Downy Birch is the most commonly found one as it tolerates poor soil conditions and also wet soil conditions. The Silver Birch needs relatively good drainage. Its root system is not intrusive so therefore it can be planted relatively close to developments etc. Its catkins contain see which can be eaten by birds and wildlife in the winter months. Silver Birch is often used in gardens because of the striking colour of its siler bark in the winter months. €1.05 for a 2-3ft tree*

Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia)

The Mountain Ash tree or more commonly known in Ireland as the Rowan Tree is widely seen around the Irish countryside. Like the Birch it too grows in an upright manner and doesn’t encroach on neighbouring developments etc. It is often seen on hill sides as it will tolerate poor soil conditions. Its creamy white flowers turn to bright red berries in the autumn therefore providing lots of food for the birds. The leaves turn yellow and red in the autumn giving great autumn colour. Like the Silber Birch it is often used in gardens due to its compact growing nature. €1.05 for a 2-3ft tree*

Oak (Quercus robur)

Oak is probably the most commonly known native tree, as at one time Ireland was covered in Oak. But due to lifetimes of harvesting that are very few natural Oak woods left. The Oak is a slow growing broad leafed tree, giving magnificent autumn colour. It will grow in most soils. Oak timber can be used in a wide variety of applications including furniture and kitchen making. €1.85 for a 2-3ft tree*

Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

Holly trees are extremely versatile and hardy, thriving in most conditions and soil types. It is evergreen and has dark and prickly leaves. The Holly hedge is very dense which makes it a great deterrent for unwanted visitors. Females produce colourful red berries in the winter months. Holly hedging is also slow growing, requiring little maintenance. €3.60 potted 2ft tree*

Some hedging options include:

Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Beech hedging is a deciduous hedge plant that provides all year screening and colour. Beech hedge plants can form dense hedges that are easily maintained and only need pruning once annually. The Beech leaves turn brown in autumn but are retained for the winter months. This enhances its winter appearance and makes beech hedging suitable as a year round hedge screen. €1.95 for a 2-3ft tree*

Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)

Laurel is a vigorous evergreen hedging plant with large glossy leaves. Laurel hedges are excellent as a screening or privacy hedge and can be easily pruned in spring or late summer. It is also suitable for shady conditions. €2.95 for a 2ft plant*

Griselenia (Griselenia littoralis)

Griselenia hedging is a vigorous evergreen hedge with broad leathery leaves. It makes good windbreaks, especially in costal areas. Griselenia is suitable for most soils and positions, but will thrive in light, fertile, well-drained soil in full sun and sheltered from cold winds. €2.95 for a 2-3ft tree*

Whitethorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Whitethorn plants, also known as hawthorn are a fast growing, thorny, native deciduous hedging plant with dark glossy leaves. In spring, clusters of prominent scented white flowers come into leaf. Followed by glossy red haws (berries) in autumn. Can be used in R.E.P.S and A.E.O.S schemes. €1.05 for a 2-3ft tree*

*All prices quoted are for single plants. 10% discount on 25 or more plants of the same variety, 15% discount on 100 or more of the same variety. All these and many more are available from Deelish Garden Centre. Full price list can be found on our website, or Facebook or Instagram pages.

The bare root season is also a fantastic time to plant fruit trees and soft fruit bushes; apples, pears, plums, cherries, cobnuts, peaches, nectarines, gooseberries, raspberries and many more soft fruits all available as bare root plants, at bargain prices!

Christmas Trees:

Last but not least it is also possible to get living Christmas trees at this time of year. There are many advantages to live Christmas trees, you get to use for a few seasons (you may have to repot it), you don’t loose so many needles over the Christmas season, eventually planting it out in your own garden to grow it for windbreak or firewood! A truly renewable and sustainable option!

Take advantage of the bare root season, as it only comes once a year. The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago! And remember gardening doesn’t have to cost the earth!