Harvesting fresh raspberries, grapes, apples or other fruits from a home garden is a goal for many gardeners. But unfortunately, growing beautiful fruits poses many challenges, including the need to master good plant management practices, work with Nebraska's challenging growing environment and control the large number of potential insect and disease problems.
Select Disease-Resistant Cultivars
Fruits, both tree fruits and small fruits like raspberries, strawberries and grapes, are susceptible to a large number of disease problems. If you are planning to add fruit plantings to your garden this spring, be sure to buy disease-resistant cultivars. A little research will help you become familiar with the common disease problems of the fruits you plan to grow.
One great resource for information on growing fruits in the home garden is University of Illinois Extension's "Small Fruit Crops for the Backyard," http://urbanext.illinois.edu/fruit/. Check out the cultivar recommendations for northern Illinois, which falls into USDA hardiness zones 5a & 5b, which is the same as most of southeast Nebraska. If you garden in Zone 4 or colder, be sure to doublecheck the hardiness of fruit cultivars before purchasing. The University of Minnesota Extension also has good recommendations for cold climate fruit cultivar selections on the website "Garden Information: Fruits" at www.extension.umn.edu/gardeninfo/components/info_fruit.html.
Consider replacing plants in your garden that have a history of severe infections with more resistant cultivars.
Eliminate Existing Infections in Early Spring
As soon as weather permits, examine your fruit trees for infections of the bark that can be pruned out in March. Fireblight is a common problem on apple, crabapple, pear, quince and raspberry; black knot galls are found frequently on plum and cherry. Fireblight is a bacterial infection of stems that quickly kills them. Black knot galls are a fungal infection of the bark that results in hard, black, abnormal growths on branches or the main trunk. Branches may live for several years with a black knot infection but eventually will be girdled and killed by the growth of the galls.
Prune out diseased branches in March. Cut each branch back, going several inches into healthy tissue to make sure all the infected growth is removed.
Also cut out any raspberry canes that show symptoms of cane blight, such as those with black, gray or brown lesions on the stems. Tiny black pimple-like fungal structures may be seen in the lesions. Removing these canes will lower the amount of disease pathogens within the planting as new growth emerges in spring.