Spotlight on Small Fruits in the Home Garden

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Our Small Fruit Plant Sale is underway for 2021. We are currently taking orders for plants that will arrive in March – just in time for planting season. Each week, we will be spotlighting one group of plants that we offer in our sale so tune in weekly to explore some fruit varieties you may want to consider planting in your home garden! For specific details on all our plants, or for information on ordering plants, visit our Small Fruit Plant Sale page.

Apples

Brought to America by the Jamestown settlers, apples quickly became an important crop in the colonies. Oddly enough it wasn’t for fresh eating but for the production of cider which was an important staple for the settlers. Due to the lack of sanitation, fermented apple cider was consumed when fresh water was not available. Apple cider was even used to pay salaries and was considered in colonial America to be more valuable than tobacco.

Apples need a sunny, well-drained location and ample space. Most trees sold today are semi-dwarf which makes them a little more compact than a standard apple tree but they still need about 16 feet to grow. Two different varieties are needed for good pollination and and after planting the gardener should start seeing a good harvest in 3-5 years. Apple trees can live for many decades with proper pruning and are considered to be one of the healthiest snack choices available. There are many varieties to choose from with about 100 varieties being grown commercially in the US.

We are selling Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith and Arkansas Black in this year’s Small Fruit Sale. Each of these selections is unique with its own distinct flavor and any apple lover is sure to find a favorite among this year’s choices.
Apple trees are $20 each and come bare root – gel packed and wrapped.
apple tree with red apples

Figs

Among the oldest fruits to be consumed by humans, the fig hails from Asia Minor and was introduced to America by Spanish Franciscan missionaries who came to Southern California in 1520. Figs were used to sweeten foods long before sugar was popular and became a commercially viable crop in the US in 1891 with the invention of the Fig Newton. Ancient Olympians were actually awarded figs instead of gold medals for their athletic achievements!

Most commercial figs are grown in California and Texas and plants have been known to live and produce for over 100 years. Important fig growing culture includes hot temperatures and full sun. Here in western NC only 2 of the 700 named cultivars can withstand our winter weather. Brown Turkey or Celeste are hardy for Burke County but should be grown in a protected area. Well-drained sites close to the house or other out buildings are most suitable. They prefer a northern exposure to prevent early spring growth. Celeste and Brown Turkey are self-pollinating and will bear fruit in about 3 years. Figs can be pruned as small trees or bushes but the bush form gives better cold protection.

We are offering both the Brown Turkey and Celeste Fig in our Small Fruit Plant Sale this year. Fig trees are $20 each and will come bare root – gel packed and wrapped.
fig growing on a fig tree

Elderberries

Native to both Europe and North America the elderberry is a mythical plant steeped in much folklore. It was believed that elderberry warded off evil and gave protection from witches. Any person who cut down an elderberry was cursed and for Harry Potter fans, the elder wand from the last book, The Deathly Hallows, was made from elderberry wood.
Today it is prized for its medicinal properties and actually all parts of the plant have some type of medicinal use. Although high in vitamin C and antioxidants, elderberries make great jams, jellies and syrups as well as wine. Elderberries must be cooked before eating. In their raw state they are bitter and unpleasant and can cause digestive issues.
Elderberry plants prefer a moist but well-drained location and can be found growing in ditch lines all around Burke County. They need a pollinator so two varieties must be grown for sufficient fruit production. We are selling our elderberry plants as a package with two different varieties, John and Adams, so that proper pollination will be assured. The elderberry plants are $20 (for 2 plants) and come potted in a one gallon containers.
elderberry plant with berries on it

Raspberries

Raspberries are thought to have originated in Greece and spread throughout Europe. They were brought to North America by explorers early on and were quickly claimed as a food source for both early Americans and wildlife. Considered a food of the wealthy in Europe they were also used to make ink and paint.
Edward I in England loved them and by the 17th century they grew in most English gardens. George Washington grew many varieties of raspberries in his gardens at Mount Vernon. Commercial production in the US began in the northern states soon after the Civil War ended. Today, Washington state produces 70% of the raspberries grown in the US. Russia is the world’s largest producer of raspberries.

Raspberries are a trailing, thorny plant and should be trellised for the best yields. Some raspberries give 2 harvests, one in the summer and another in the fall while others provide only one large harvest in the summer. These plants need plenty of room in the garden and should be planted in a sunny, well drained location. They will not tolerate wet soil. They grow better in the western part of the state where the temperatures aren’t quite as hot.

While there are red, black and gold raspberries, Extension’s small fruit sale is offering Double Gold which offers 2 harvests per season. The berries are deep gold with large, sweet berries. These raspberry plants are $10 each and come potted in a one gallon container.
double gold raspberries

Strawberries

Strawberries, the gem of the garden, have become one of America’s favorite fruits with a well-traveled past. Wild strawberries exist around the world but were never a cultivated crop because of their small size. But due to the accidental cross-pollination of a wild Chilean strawberry smuggled into France and the Virginia strawberry that was brought from the colonies to France in the 1600s, the ancestor to our modern strawberry was created. Cold-hardy, large and firm and able to grow in most soils this strawberry became the first cultivated strawberry. After many decades of breeding, the first commercial strawberry crop was produced in Massachusetts in 1851.

Strawberries fall into the categories of June-bearing or ever-bearing. Burke County is much more suited to the June-bearing varieties. We are offering 2 varieties in our small fruit sale this year, Earliglow and Jewel. Earliglow is the first to ripen, followed by Jewel a little later in the season. Both berries are sweet and bright red but the Jewel produces a slightly larger fruit while Earliglow is the sweetest strawberry on the market. Both need a well-drained site in full sun. Strawberries will bear for several years but weed control and thinning are necessary to keep the plants in good shape. They require even moisture in the spring while the berries are ripening. To insure a longer harvest both varieties can be planted in the same garden to provide an extended picking time. Strawberries come in bundles of 25 bare root plants and are $10 per bundle.
red ripe strawberries

Blackberries

Blackberries have been around forever and are one of the toughest fruit plants out there. They grow in all parts of the world except for Antarctica and Australia. As a food source for both humans and wildlife blackberries also have some medicinal purposes, are high in antioxidants and vitamins and were used to make dyes and roping by native americans. Commercial blackberry production drastically increased in the 1990s with the introduction of thornless and erect varieties which made mechanical harvesting possible.. While Mexico is the worldwide leader in blackberry production, Oregon is the top producer in the US.
Blackberries start producing fruit the second year after planting. They spread quickly and yearly pruning is essential for continued fruit production. Blackberries are self-pollinating and may be trellised for convenience when picking. Both Navaho and Von are thornless with Navaho ripening a bit earlier than Von. They prefer a well-drained location with at least 6 hours of sun per day. They should not be planted close to wild blackberries. Blackberries need plenty of space. While both of these blackberries are hybrids, Von is a new selection developed by NC State University that has shown excellent results in our area. Both of these varieties are available at our Small Fruit Plant Sale for $10 each. The plants come potted in a one gallon container.
ripe von blackberries

Grapes

Grapes were growing in the countries of Georgia, Armenia and Greece as early as 6500 B.C. Primarily used for wine-making it was widely drunk by both children and adults because of a lack of safe drinking water. Raisins were discovered by accident in 2000 B.C. in the Mediterranean region when the fruits were found hanging dried on the vine. They became popular for fresh eating in the 1500s. The first cultivated vineyards in the US were established in 1876 in California. Today, the US grape industry brings in 162 billion dollars to our economy.

All grapes need a sunny, well-drained location. They should be trellised for maximum production and yearly pruning keeps plants healthy and yields large. Grapes are versatile, used in jams, jellies, juices, wine, raisins and also for fresh eating. High in vitamins, they are a healthy snack and there are many different cultivars to choose from. Our two selections, Thompson seedless and Concord seedless, are popular varieties and grow very well in western NC. Grapes are $10 each and come potted in one gallon containers.

white and blue grapes in baskets

Muscadines

Muscadines are a true southern delicacy, native to the southeastern and south central US. Used for winemaking as early as 1565 muscadines were widely eaten as fresh fruit throughout the south by native Americans. They were preserved by drying on the vine making them the country’s first raisins! The first named cultivar was found growing in Tyrell county in NC and was known as “big white grape”. It was later re-named scuppernong after the area in which it was growing. This name has since become a generic name for all bronze muscadines.

Some muscadines are self-pollinating while others are not. Some cultivars are not hardy for western North Carolina so care must be taken when choosing plants. Muscadines need a well-drained, sunny site and trellises are a must for good fruit production. They are also prolific growers and yearly pruning is necessary to keep vines to a manageable size.

The muscadines in our small fruit sale, Ison and Tara are self-pollinating and are suitable for growing in western NC. Muscadines are $10 each and come potted in a one gallon container.

bronze muscadines hanging on a vine

Blueberries

Native to North America, wild blueberries have been eaten by the earliest inhabitants of this country. But it wasn’t until 1916 that a New Jersey farmer decided to try and cultivate blueberries as a crop. It quickly became a major crop in the US. Definitely one of the easiest of the small fruits to grow, there is minimal maintenance involved in the care of the blueberry and the abundance of the harvest is well worth the time that is needed to grow a healthy plant. It is important to remember that blueberries need a pollinator so more than one variety of blueberry must be planted to ensure a good crop. Titan, Powderblue and Premier are three cultivars that do very well in western NC and are available in our Small Fruit Sale.
Blueberries are $10 each and come potted in a one gallon container.
ripe blueberries on on the bush