Plant Berries, Save Money

Fruit trees and berry plants offer a lot in today's economy.

Berries galore!

Berries galore make for a delicious treat.

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Interest in backyard fruit growing is experiencing an unprecedented resurgence. "With good reason," says Stella Otto, author of The Backyard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to growing berries, brambles, and vine fruit in the home garden, "considering the current economic climate. Fruit gardening has many aspects that make it such a popular activity."

Saving on the grocery bill is a high priority today. With a small investment in plants, anyone can reap the savings for several years to come. A bundle of 25 strawberry plants, a single currant bush, or a dozen raspberry canes will yield fruit for many jars of jam each year and fresh fruit for freezing and eating. With a little more patience and time to grow, a peach or dwarf apple tree will cost about the equivalent of a single bushel of fruit but will provide 3 to 4 bushels of fruit annually for 10 or more years.

With food contamination an issue, there is a growing (pun intended) interest in eating locally produced food. What could be more local than your own garden where you know – and can control – exactly how your food is raised?

Another benefit of fruit gardening is the exercise it provides. Regular exercise is sometimes tough to fit into our busy lives. But it's easy to get your stretching and bending in over the normal course of tending the fruit garden. Twenty to 30 minutes of attention several times a week will give gardeners both a healthy fruit harvest and a healthy body.

With an eye toward adding to or maintaining a home's value, landscaping has historically been a good investment. Fruit trees and berry bushes give homeowners double the punch for their money. An attractive grape arbor provides an alternative fence or shade over a patio along with the fruit that it will yield. Artistically pruned espaliered fruit trees add a unique touch beyond the satisfaction of fruit to eat.

The economy has couples and families staying home more and looking for something they can enjoy together. "Fruit gardening can bring the generations together easily," says Otto, who also authored the award winning The Backyard Orchardist: A complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden. "Many families mark special occasions by planting a 'family' tree," she says. "Why not make it a fruit tree? While the adults share fond memories, the growing children enjoy bringing in the harvest and the stories that may come with it while they also develop healthy eating habits."

Additionally, a fruit garden offers a great learning and teaching experience. It helps us all become more attuned to the seasons and the many life processes that go into a garden. Children who grow up understanding how the "good" bugs and "not-so-good" bugs affect each other – and the developing fruit crop – grow up with a greater appreciation of the natural environment and the impact that we as humans have on our world.

So 2009 is a great time to add fruit to the garden – whether in a yard or in containers for those living in smaller quarters. And now is the perfect time to order plants and trees before the best varieties are sold out. When spring arrives, the fruit garden will be ready to take root.

Getting the Fruit Garden Off to the Right Start

Choose fruit varieties that are appropriate for your climate and soil conditions.

Select a site that receives at least six hours of sunlight daily.

Fruit trees and bushes need well drained soil. Avoid waterlogged, heavy clay soils.

Prepare the site properly: Test the soil and correct soil pH and nutrition accordingly; make sure the site is free of weed or grass competition, and till or dig so that soil is loose and roots can grow easily.

Plant early in spring, ideally on an overcast day to reduce transplant shock.

Firm soil around newly planted roots so there are no air pockets to dry roots out. Water well to help settle soil.

To order either  The BackYard Berry Book  or  The BackYard Orchardist , visit the GRIT Bookstore.