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Small Fruits

By Bonnie Ennis, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agent, horticulture

If you are hankering for home-grown fruits to turn into pies and jellies, but don't want to maintain an orchard in your backyard, consider another option.

Raspberries, currants and gooseberries are easier to grow and require less work than tree fruits. These cane and bush fruits take up less space, need relatively few sprays for pest control and will produce fruit within a year or two of planting.

All three small fruits are excellent sources of vitamin C. Raspberries are delicious fresh, canned, frozen or used in pies, jellies, jams or preserves. Red currants can be used alone or mixed with other berries to make a tart and tasty jelly. White currants, available through mail-order catalogues, are good for pies and fresh use. Gooseberries are delicious in sauces or pies. Gooseberries are tart when eaten fresh.

By growing small fruits in your backyard, you also can give children a taste of the "good old days." That's when youngsters could pick and eat a bounty of fruits and berries from backyard gardens. By planting small fruits in your yard, 21st century kids can have the same great experience.

Growing conditions

Raspberries grow well if they get a half-to-full-day's worth of sun. Currants and gooseberries prefer full sun, but they will tolerate part shade.

These small fruits grow best in loamy, well-drained soils, but they also will grow in a wide range of soils from coarse sand to clay loams. Good soil drainage and a continuous supply of moisture ensure the highest yields. Raspberries, for instance, need one-half to one-inch of water per week early in the season. Increase irrigation to one-and-one-half to two-and-one-half inches of water from the time of flowering through the end of fruiting. After fruit harvest, reduce irrigation for raspberries, currants and gooseberries. This will promote hardening off for winter. The plants will benefit from a final watering in November.

Pruning

Fall-bearing red raspberries produce the most fruit in August and September on one-year-old canes. The entire raspberry bed can be mowed to the ground each fall. Or, cut only the upper portion of the canes. The lower portion will bear a smaller crop the following June.

Summer-bearing red raspberries produce fruit in July on the second year's growth. Remove the canes after they have borne fruit.

Currants and gooseberries produce fruit on one, two and three-year-old wood in June and July. The object of pruning is to remove wood over three years in age and thin out younger wood. This is done in early spring. The resulting currant or gooseberry bush should have three upright canes each of one, two, and three-year-old wood. The pruned bush will be 3 to 4 feet tall.

Varieties

Fall-bearing red raspberries that you can try for this area include August Red, Heritage, Fall Gold (yellow-fruit) and September. Summer-bearing red raspberries to try include Lathan, Boyne, Newburgh, Canby and Sentinel.

Gooseberries that are locally available include Pixwell and Welcome. The red currant most commonly available in garden centers is Red lake. Other gooseberries and currant varieties, including the white currant, can be obtained through mail order catalogues.

Yields

Raspberry plants will produce about a quart of fruit per plant. They will remain productive for 7 to 12 years.

Currants and gooseberries will produce 4 to 8 quarts of fruit from a mature plant. They are productive up to 20 years.

For more information about small fruits, contact your local office of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. Ask for fact sheets about growing raspberries, currants and gooseberries in the home garden.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010