Growing Small Fruits

By Jan Cashman • Posted on March, 23rd 2018

Many small fruits can be grown in the Bozeman area. Although a small planting area may suffice, it should be an area that receives a lot of sun. Care must be taken to select varieties of fruits which are hardy in this climate and adapted to our soil type. All fruiting plants need generous quantities of water to produce plum juicy fruit and will thrive with an application of composted manure or rich compost n late autumn or very early spring.

Raspberries

Red raspberries are easily grown in a garden or as a border plant. Black raspberries are of borderline hardiness in Montana and tend to die back in the winter.

  • Boyne is a hardy variety with a deep red fruit. A very vigorous and upright plant, bearing throughout July. Zone 3
  • Bristol Black produces large rich black fruits. Zone 4
  • Canby is a thornless, popular commercial variety; Zone 4.
  • Fall Gold has golden fruits, produces in fall and again in spring on the same canes for two harvests per year. Zone 3
  • Latham is a very heavy producer with large fruit, ripens mid-July, and tolerates heavy soils. Zone 4
  • Raspberry Shortcake is compact and thornless. Zone 4
  • Royalty produces large purple fruits, aphid resistant. Zone 4.
  • Souris is hardy, sweet, productive, disease and spider mite resistant. Zone 3

Plant raspberries two or three feet apart in rows four to five feet apart. Keep the patch weed free by cultivating in-between rows and applying corn gluten meal or a pre-emergent herbicide (like Preen) in the spring before weeds start to grow. The old raspberry canes should be removed after bearing and new canes thinned to five per foot. Trim dead canes to avoid the spread of disease.

Strawberries

Strawberries are very popular fruits for gardeners. A minimum of six hours of sunlight is required for growth and more sun will increase harvest and quality. Rejuvenate by cutting back to 1” of crown after spring harvest or replace plants every 5 years.

Everbearing strawberry varieties bear fruit over a long period of time.

  • Ogallala is hardy with frost resistant blossoms, producing small, wild-type fruit for fresh eating.
  • Ozark Beauty is hardy and vigorous, produces to first frost.
  • Quinalt is sweet and tasty; vigorous, productive, and hardy.

Junebearing strawberry varieties bear a heavy crop from early June to early July.

  • All Star is big, firm, sweet, juicy, and red; late-midseason.
  • Honeoye is sweet, hardy, and very productive; early-mid season.
  • Sparkle is a late blooming variety with tasty, soft and smooth textured fruits, making the best homemade jam.

Keep plants moist and cool until planting. The plants are extremely perishable. Plant 12-18” apart. Leave room to harvest and cultivate in between plants. Water immediately after planting and whenever dry.

A short drought can kill your new strawberry plant. The first year, it will be beneficial to pinch the blossoms as they open. The plant becomes larger and more vigorous if not allowed to bear fruit the first year.

Pre-emergent herbicides such as trifluran (Preen) or corn gluten meal may be used to control weeds. This must be applied before the plants bloom to avoid contaminating the fruit. Avoid any other herbicides as they could damage the plants.

Grapes

Grapes need full sun exposure and to dry slightly between waterings. Grapes do not like cold wind, so should be planted in a protected site and be given support on which to grow.

  • Beta is a vigorous variety of grape that does well in Northern climates. It is a blue-black grape excellent for juice or jelly. It is one of the hardiest grapes available for our area.
  • Frontenac blue/black grape is vigorous and hardy, producing good quality juice for making red wine. Mildew resistant.
  • Frontenac Gris produces grey fruit with amber juice used for white wine with peach and apricot aromas
  • Swenson’s Red is a sweet, large, round, crisp yet tender, red grape for eating fresh. Moderately hardy here, it will need to be planted in a protected site and given winter protection.
  • Valiant is a hardy, productive vine with blue berries, excellent for juice and jellies. It matures earlier and has an improved quality over Beta. It is one of the hardiest grapes available for our area.

Northern gardeners wanting fruit should follow the “Kniffin System” of grape growing.

How to make a Kniffin Trellis System for Grapes

  1. Build a fence or trellis north-to-south, or northeast-to-southwest, with posts 8 feet apart.
  2. Using 10 gauge (10 AWG) wire, run 2 lines between posts: The first line 2 feet above the ground, and the second 5 feet above the ground.
  3. Plant vines half way between posts.
  4. The 1st year, allow vines to grow uninhibited.
  5. The 2nd year, pinch buds back to four side branches, two in each direction. These will produce fruit the following year.
  6. The 3rd year, tie the 2nd year canes to the support. These are the canes that will produce fruit this growing season. Allow four – and only four – new buds to grow to replace current canes for fruit production the next season.
  7. After fruiting, remove the four 2-year-old canes which produced fruit, and tie up new season canes. Prune all late summer growth.

Repeat the pruning described in Step #7 for subsequent years. You will have 4 one-year-old canes tied to the trellis or fence, producing grapes, and 4 new canes growing freely to tie up after fruit production of the previous season’s canes.

The video above is a great visual walk-through guide of how to set up a Kniffin Trellis System for growing grapes.

Blueberries

Blueberries are long-lived, productive, and disease-resistant. Plants have three-season interest with delicate flowers in early summer, blue berries in late summer, and orange to red foliage in autumn. Blueberries are self-fertile, but may ripen earlier and produce larger fruit when two or more varieties are present.

  • Northblue has large, dark blue, good-flavored berries on short plants, 20-30” tall; turns crimson in autumn.
  • Northcountry has medium, sky blue berries o short plants, 18-24” tall; turns bright red in autumn.
  • Patriot has large, dark blue berries on tall plants, 4-6” high; turns fiery orange in autumn. Plants are hardier & more productive than half-high blueberries and tolerate wet, heavy soils.

Blueberries cannot tolerate wind and may take a few years for good productions. Plants are shallow rooted and require constant soil moisture, but not saturated soil. Plants also require a growing season of 160 days and an acid soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. Too lower the soil’s pH 1# sulfur/5 plants should lower pH from 6.5 to 4.5 and don’t water with “hard” water. Protect fruit from birds. Thin-out the bushes every few years to ensure light can get into the center, but never do severe pruning.

Other Shrub Fruits

These make attractive ornamental shrubs with edible fruits. Be prepared to share them with the birds.

  • Red Lake and Consort Black Currants are popular for both their fruit and as a small flowering shrub. They have yellow flowers in the spring and produce red or black fruits for jelly or pies.
  • Elderberries produce large clusters of blue-black fruit and are great for pies, jam and wine.
  • Gooseberries produce a tart berry for pie or jam, and have a dark purple fall color.
  • Honeyberries (also called “Haskap”) are high in antioxidants, range from sweet to tart, and require another variety to pollinate. They’re great fresh or made into jams, jellies, and sauces.

Juneberries, Chokecherries, Highbush Cranberries, Western Sand Cherries, Nanking Bush Cherries, and American Plums are all hardy easy to grow shrub fruits, excellent for jams and jellies.