Variety is the spice of life and that goes for growing fruits and vegetables. If you've been growing vegetables in a raised bed, plot or pot, you can easily add in some fruits to diversify your harvest. You can incorporate many fruits right into your existing vegetable beds, interplanting them with herbs and flowering plants. Many are relatively easy to grow and won't take years to bear fruit, and with careful planning, it's possible to harvest them from early summer through the fall.
Keep reading for tips on how to grow a fruit and vegetable garden.
Growing Fruits Is Much Like Growing Vegetables
Most fruits require the same growing conditions as your favorite vegetable crops — good quality soil, full sun and access to water as needed in a well-draining location. Although most thrive in a sunny spot, some fruits, such as elderberries and gooseberries, will grow successfully in partial to full shade.
Like their vegetable partners, fruits generally enjoy the same type of soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Acidic soil-loving plants such as blueberries are the exception, which prefer a soil pH in the 4.0 to 5.5 range. Plant blueberries in their own area of the garden where you can lower the pH by applying sulfur.
Choosing What Fruits to Grow
LaManda Joy, master gardener and founder of The Peterson Garden Project, says your living situation should be a key consideration when choosing what fruits to grow. Apartment dwellers might want to plant annuals like peppers and easy perennials such as strawberries in pots that they can take with them when they move. For those who plan to stay put and have a good amount of outdoor space, more permanent perennials like grapevines and berry bushes might be good choices.
To introduce fruits into the garden, start with annuals such as watermelons, cantaloupe and honeydew melons. These are some of the easier fruits to add as you can plant them during the typical vegetable growing season alongside cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.
Melons are easy to grow but will hog space if allowed to run freely. To avoid crowding other crops, plant them on the edges of the garden where they can send runners out into the lawn or surrounding area. To prevent rot and damage from pests, "cradle" developing melons with a barrier underneath to keep them from contacting wet soil.
Melons and cucumbers, both cucurbits, can attract the same pests, including cucumber beetles and aphids, so plant melons with members of other botanical families. Planting nasturtium nearby may help ward off some flying insects, as well as ants and various beetles.
Consider trellising melons to save space and maximize the growing area. Plant smaller varieties such as the 'Sugar Cube Hybrid' cantaloupe or the heirloom 'Charentais' melon in containers and train them to grow vertically. Cattle panels, sturdy wooden trellises and wire fencing all work great for training the vines upward, but melons will need support as they develop on the trellis. Use soft plant ties or even old T-shirts and pantyhose to gently tie the melons' vines to the trellis. When the melons start to develop, you can use the old pantyhose again as a sling to support them.
You can choose from three types of strawberries: Junebearing, Everbearing and Day Neutral. These types produce fruit at different times throughout the growing season in spring, summer or fall. Strawberries work well tucked into vegetable and flower beds and are perfect for containers or even as edible edging on flower and shrub borders.
Low-lying strawberry plants can help control weeds by providing ground cover under taller plants. They grow well with asparagus, lettuce, spinach, chives and onions. However, garden lore warns against planting strawberries with members of the brassica family, including broccoli and kale, as well as gladiolas, because they can impede on the other plants' growth.
Spacing Fruits in Your Garden
Spacing when growing fruits and vegetables will depend on the plant and the space you have, but knowing the plant's mature height and width is a good place to start. Many gardeners with smaller gardens seeking more growing area forgo rows in favor of small space-intensive gardening in raised beds. With rich fertile soil that's periodically replenished, good air circulation and plenty of sunlight, some plants can be tightly intercropped with taller plants underplanted with shorter ones.
Containers are a great way to easily incorporate fruits into a small garden or patio. Smaller dwarf trees work best in pots, are easy to move if needed and are visually pleasing nestled into the garden. Columnar trees also work well in smaller gardens and containers. You can try growing vertically on a trellis to include fruit in gardens or patios with a small footprint, too.
Just like most people, plants thrive in a harmonious relationship and benefit from diversity. Mixing things up by interplanting and rotating plants when growing fruits and vegetables will reduce the risk of pest infestation and disease. Planting flowers and herbs with vegetables and fruits confuses pests and also provides a welcoming habitat for beneficial insects.
When planning how to grow a fruit and vegetable garden, consider what you like to eat and explore what's appropriate for your hardiness zone. Then, choose plants that fit well in your garden. Research what's available in your area to determine what best fits your needs and space. You'll be happy with the fruits of your labor.