BY GARETH AUSTIN: Not a great weekend of weather wise is forecast, its turned a but cold after a run of glorious weather, but in Gardening what’s important is soil temperature, this will dictate how fast plants grow, how quickly seeds with germinate and how much the grass grows.
Soil is like a storage heater, it takes a while to warm up but then it holds heat for a long period of time. A soil temperature of 8C upwards is ideal for sowing, planting, cultivating and working. Our focus this week is “Its your duty to be Fruity”
One area of the garden which benefits from cold weather is the fruit garden. All fruit plants need a variable degree of cold to make them produce fruit. Some need 30 days of temperatures below 4C, some need 60 days below 3C, this is all to do with ‘breaking dormancy’. For example Strawberry plants which are grown outside and kept outside produce sweeter fruits than those which are grown in a polytunnel all year round.
The exposure to cold benefits fruit plants by encouraging blossom production and this exposure to cold makes the plant produce better quality fruit. That’s why this part of the world is ideal for growing fruit!
In a regular back garden there are loads of fruits you can grow without the need for a protective environment, such as a Glasshouse or Polytunnel. These include Strawberries, Raspberries, Tayberry, Loganberry, Blackcurrant, Redcurrant, Whitecurrant, Grape, Apples, Pears, Plums, Damsons, Greengauge, Gooseberries, Blueberries, Cranberries, Blackberries, Fig and more….the list is quite extensive!
And they all love being grown outside, some like the Grape will grow, produce loads of growth, a lot of small grapes and you might think “them are piddly wee things”, but the flavour will be amazing for making wine with, really really good. (We don’t get enough light to make table sweet grapes outside).
Raspberries adore being grown again a North Facing fence, and Blackcurrant like a shady north facing corner in which to flourish. So its not all about sunshine with fruit, many fruits naturally come from semi-shade woodland areas – think wild Strawberries, so in turn in the garden they grow happily in semi-shade. So they can be wonderful plants for filling awkward corners in the garden.
However if you had Strawberries or Grapes in a pot, put them outside for the winter and in the Spring put them into a Polytunnel you’d get much bigger, juicier fruit as they would be exposed to more consistent summer temps in the tunnel.
Fruit Trees such as the Apples, Pears and Plums love being grown again a fence or wall in an espalier style. In this situation they ripen quicker, more even, are easier to pick and produced better quality fruit than a traditional ‘tree’. Its all about matching the fruit type to the amount of sun. South Facing walls are ideal for Pears, West facing for Apples and North facing plums will be happy. So a plum tree could be in your garden, growing 10” from the fence and producing 600 plums a year….
All Fruit benefit from soil which is rich in organic matter, so whether this is your garden compost, seaweed, well rotted manure, bought in compost they’re all idea. Simply mulch around the base of fruit trees and plants every Autumn/Spring with this material (keep it an inch or so away from the stems) and leave it alone. This will be rotted down over time by the organisms in the soil. This mulch helps to keep the soil healthy, the roots of the plants warm and retains moisture in the summer months….if you don’t have enough moisture your fruits will be smaller and not as juicy.
When the blossoms come on the fruits they’ll need to be pollinated by something, this could be you out with the feather duster or more than likely it’ll be bees, wasps, or other insects. So we need to encourage lots of insects to visit the Strawberries, Grapes, Plums and the likes to pollinate each flower.
In the case of Strawberries if you don’t get good pollination you get these mad misshapen fruits forming. Best way to encourage insects to your garden is to have flowers growing, the bigger range of flowers you have in the garden the better, so Wallflowers, Daffodils, Tulips, primula, Dandelions….you name it, its all good. The more range you have the more the insects will visit your garden and the more flowers in turn they’ll visit. And the bigger range of fruit you have in the garden the better the pollination will be, if you have 2 apples say you got 100 fruits per tree, if you had a third variety you’d get 20% more fruit.
The Garden Centres are full of quality fruit plants now, and now is an ideal time to be planting fruit in the garden and into pots for around the deck.
Next Week….Going Ornamental, Secrets to success with Hanging Baskets
Gareth Austin is resident Horticulturist with BBC Radio Foyle, a member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulturists and lectures in Horticulture with Donegal ETB. For more see www.garethaustin.com or join Gareth on Twitter @GardenerGareth