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Do some homework before buying fruit and berry plants

While there are some fruit crops that can be successfully grown in many North Country backyards, there are plenty of others that may be more trouble than theyre worth. As with any new purchase, I encourage you to take the time to do a little homework on the needs of the plants you want to grow. If you have had success with other garden plants and youre willing to put in a little work, you might be successful with some raspberries, but I encourage you to start small! Five to ten plants is plenty for your first order. Youll need to learn the difference between summer bearing and fall bearing raspberries. The easiest type is the fall bearing, and the best fall bearing variety for our region is Autumn Bliss which ripens a couple of weeks before the old standby, Heritage. Youll need to read up on how to care for, prune and trellis raspberries, but as long as your soil has good drainage and irrigation is nearby, you could have a nice crop beginning the second year after planting. Strawberries are probably the easiest fruit crop for the beginning gardener. You plant the crowns in May and harvest your first crop a year later in late June, early July. In general, a strawberry patch is not as long-lived as a raspberry patch, but its cheaper and easier to manage. There are early, mid and late season varieties of strawberries and choosing the best one for your site can be difficult. Earliglow, Surecrop and Sparkle are 3 varieties to get you started. Strawberries are usually sold in bundles of 25 which will take up a row about 30 feet long in your garden. Blueberries are a wonderful crop to grow at home as long as youve done your homework and prepared a site to fit their needs. They must have acidic soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.0 and lots of organic matter in the soil. Their leaves turn scarlet in the fall and can be used as a hedge in your yard. But do read up on their growing requirements before buying. Good varieties for the Champlain Valley include Patriot, Blue Crop and Northland. In the colder areas and at higher elevations look for lowbush type blueberries that are more winter hardy such as Northblue and Earliblue. We have information at our office on growing these and other fruit crops at home. You might also want to check the following books out of your library or bookstore: Fruits and Berries in the Home Garden by Lewis Hill, The Backyard Berry Book by Stella Otto and The Backyard Orchardist by Stella Otto. And Cornell has an excellent Web site for home gardeners: http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/fruit/index.html

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