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Best expert advice on how to grow soft fruit

Strawberry ‘Vibrant’ from Suttons

Let’s talk about berries and how to grow them. Here’s a wealth of tips from across the internet, courtesy of bloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers who are happy to share their knowledge of soft fruit plants. Their excellent advice will help you grow bumper crops of the most delicious soft fruit you’ve ever tasted, including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries.

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Best general advice on growing soft fruit

Steel fruit cage from Suttons
Small fruit cages protect your crops from birds
Image: Steel fruit cage from Suttons

Every garden, of every size, should include at least a few berries,” says Benedict Vanheems from Grow Veg. He recommends starting with something easy, like strawberries which, if you go for early, main crop, and late fruiting varieties, can see you harvesting all the way from spring right through to autumn. Check out his YouTube video for an excellent overview.

If you’re planting soft fruit bushes like currants, raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries, Pete at Real Men Sow says the best time is during their dormant period between November and February, but preferably November while the soil still holds some warmth. He says fruit bushes are a great investment because a couple of harvests will cover your costs and you could still be enjoying the lovely fruit twenty years later. 

A fruit cage offers the best protection for your soft fruit from birds and other creatures who’d like nothing better than to feast on all your gorgeous produce. If you’d like to see the type of thing we mean, Instagrammer Julia Parker @parkers_patch showcases hers. As one commenter puts it, “that’s a grownup fruit cage if ever I saw one!

Best advice on growing blackberries

Blackberry (Rubus) Coolaris Patio from Suttons
Blackberry (Rubus) Coolaris is perfectly suited for growing on your patio or balcony
Image: Blackberry (Rubus) Coolaris Patio from Suttons

Easy to care for, heavy cropping, and full of healthy vitamin C, blackberries are humble but have much to offer says John Harrison at Allotment & Gardens. An expert grower, he offers some great advice on growing this delicious but sometimes overlooked fruit. He says blackberries can be vigorous to the point of rampancy but aggressive pruning will keep your bushes in check.

Tanya at Lovely Greens loves to grow thornless blackberries. She says, not only does this type produce some of the biggest, juiciest fruit, but it’s also really easy to care for and propagates readily too. If you’d like to have a go, do check out her brilliant YouTube video on growing and pruning thornless blackberries and also visit her blog for info on how to build a blackberry trellis to support your plants. 

Training your blackberries correctly helps your plants to produce maximum yields. Over at Huw Richards’ Youtube channel, this avid and extremely knowledgeable permaculture and no-dig gardening advocate shows you exactly how to train your blackberries effectively. He says you can easily tell the difference between new and old growth because new stems are pink.

Best advice on growing blueberries

Blueberry ‘Elliott’ from Suttons
Blueberry ‘Elliott’ is a new upright variety perfect for growing in patio pots or borders
Image: Blueberry ‘Elliott’ from Suttons

Homegrown blueberries are “crammed with essential nutrients like vitamins K and C, minerals including manganese and health-boosting polyphenols,” says Benedict Vanheems at Grow Veg. His advice is to choose a sheltered site for your bushes, out of buffeting winds and in full sun. Check out his video for more tips on growing this succulent superfood.

Some people think blueberries do best in pots, says Tony at Simplify Gardening. His view is that getting abundant harvests from your blueberries is simply a matter of providing an ideal environment. With this in mind, you must check out Tony’s excellent video in which he shows you the best way to plant your blueberries in beds – as the clip shows, his harvests are mammoth.

If your preferred option is to grow your blueberries in containers, Alan Down at Down to Earth agrees. He says his instinct is that this helps maintain a steady temperature round the roots. If you’re wondering which receptacles are best, Alan says “oak barrels cut in half make excellent containers to grow fresh blueberries in.” Do take a look at his blog post for full growing instructions.

Are you the sort of gardener who tends to plant things and leave them to fend for themselves? If so, blueberries could be a good choice of soft fruit to grow. Want proof? Instagrammer Peppe of @pepgrows posts the results of his own inattention. He says “we left the bushes alone, other than a little bit of light pruning in winter, and the return has been the best we’ve ever had.”

Best advice on growing gooseberries

Part of the ‘Giggles’ series, ‘Gold’ produces large, juicy fruits with a superb sweet flavour
Image: Gooseberry ‘Giggles Gold’ from Suttons

Gooseberries like “a full sun site in moist but well-drained soil, but they will also grow in dappled shade and can be grown in pots and containers,” says John Moore at Pyracantha. He recommends giving the soil a boost with some well-rotted manure before planting your gooseberry bushes at least 5ft apart to give them plenty of room to grow and crop.

Gooseberry bushes have a tendency to become quite straggly, says Marie at Plews Garden Design. She suggests getting off to a good start by training them right from the get-go. Do check out her super-informative post for thoughts on growing your goosegogs in bushes, cordons, half standards, and fans. Red gooseberries fanned across a north facing wall look wonderfully decorative, says Marie.

Pruning is essential for maintaining the vigour of your gooseberry bushes. For information on when and how to go about it, Lee at Garden Ninja is your go-to source. He says the first stage, once you’ve grabbed yourself some thick, protective gardening gloves, is to cut out stems that cross or rub, or which are damaged or dead. For more on pruning gooseberry bushes, check out Lee’s post.

Gooseberry sawflies are, as the name suggests, a common pest, the larvae of which feast on the foliage of gooseberry bushes. Fixes include picking them off, spraying with neem oil or garlic spray, watering in nematodes and encouraging birds and ground beetles to visit your garden and eat the foe. Instagrammer, @gooseinthegreenhouse, dug their infested bushes up, washed the roots, and repotted them. Did it work? Check out the pic.

Best advice on growing raspberries

‘Malling Minerva’ is easy to grow and produces a reliable crop
Image: Raspberry ‘Malling Minerva’ from Suttons

Raspberries offer exceptional harvests for the effort involved in growing them,” says Benedict at Grow Veg. There are two types – summer and autumn fruiting – but if you’re new to growing raspberries, Benedict says autumn-fruiting are the easiest to start with. These, he says, need “minimal support and pruning couldn’t be easier.” Do take a look at his post for more info.

@gooseinthegreenhouse likes an autumn-fruiting raspberry. This one’s called ‘Malling Minerva’ and the bushes are really simple to prune – just “cut them back to the ground in late winter,” says this Instagrammer. If that sounds too good to be true, check out the image of their bumper crop – you’d be a mug not have a go at growing this variety.

If you’d like to try a summer-fruiting raspberry, there’s a little more to pruning them, but a succinct piece of advice from @ivyhouse_garden sums it up nicely: “Fruit will grow on the previous year’s canes. Once these have been harvested we will cut them down to ground level. It’s then a case of selecting the best new canes and tying them in, then cutting the remainder down.”

Anyone for a yellow raspberry? You’re in for a treat, says Julia Parker @parkers_patch: “If you haven’t tasted a yellow raspberry they are tastier and sweeter than their red cousins.” With that recommendation, you’re sure to want to get planting as soon as possible. Autumn, Julia says, is the best time to plant raspberries, because the canes are dormant and the ground is still warm.

Best advice on growing strawberries

Strawberry ‘Albion’ is a new, disease-resistant variety that is ideal for containers 
Image: Strawberry ‘Albion’ from Suttons

The Romans used strawberries to treat depressive illness, says Michael Perry, aka Mr Plant Geek. Such is the joy that the sight and taste of this jewel of a fruit evokes, no wonder they found it such a mood booster. Fancy growing some yourself? Michael’s guide to growing strawberries is a great place to start. For full planting instructions, check out his post.

If you implement these 10 tips to grow the best strawberries ever, you’re guaranteed to do just that, says Tony over at Simplify Gardening. An avid and highly knowledgeable gardener with great advice to share, his first tip is to get the growing conditions right: “Strawberries need sun, shelter, and very good fertile soil that’s well drained.” Check out his video for more excellent strawberry growing tips. 

Is growing space an issue for you? That’s not a problem for strawberries, says Peppe over @pepgrows. Do take a look at his incredible DIY vertical strawberry wall – it holds 40 plants and makes great use of a sunny siding without eating up valuable ground space. A wonderful vertical gardening solution, this Instagrammer is nothing if not inventive. 

Strawberries are so bright and tasty, it’s no wonder the birds love them just as much as we do. If you’re looking for an innovative solution to bird pecked berries, Rob @robsallotment shares an unusual fix – placing rock hard red decoy fruit around his strawberry plants. The idea is that the birds will be disappointed and go elsewhere for their berry fix. Think it’ll work? Some of the commenters say it does.

Not only are blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blueberries and strawberries easy to plant and care for, the reward to effort ratio is very definitely tilted in your favour. We hope all this inspiring and informative berry knowhow inspires you to have a go at growing your own soft fruit.

Lead Image: Strawberry ‘Vibrant’ from Suttons

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