By Mary Leigh Oliver
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – As blueberries and other summer fruits begin to grow out of season, gardeners may be looking for ways to extend the growing season. While there are many factors that affect the output of fruit crops, there are several things people can do to put their plants in the best situation possible for a long, bountiful growing season.
Proper Growing Conditions
Chip East, an Alabama Extension commercial horticulture regional agent, said a key component that can potentially extend the growing season is making sure the plant is subjected to the proper growing conditions.
“For the success of the plant, ensure that proper planting, weed management, disease management, insect management as well as adequate irrigation is in place,” East said.
The first step to extending the growing season happens before the season even starts. Planting blueberries and other fruits in the proper environments is crucial to overall success. While it is too late to perform this now, East said people can always plan ahead for next year’s fruit crops.
“The best way to help extend the season is by first choosing a planting location that is in full sun and where the soil is well drained,” he said.
During the growing season, management practices, such as proper irrigation and insect and disease management, comes into play. For proper irrigation, most crops require 1 to 1.5 inches of rain per week during the growing season. Drip irrigation is recommended for summer blueberries and many other crops. This method is affordable and can make a huge difference in production for the plant.
When it comes to managing insects, one of the first steps is scouting the crop. Knowing and identifying which insects are common on the particular fruiting plant helps to know how to manage the insects.
“It is much easier to manage insects earlier before they do damage to the plant or fruit,” East said. “This same concept applies to diseases and weeds as well.”
Recommended chemicals to manage these pests is in the 2020 Integrated Orchard Management Guide for Commercial Apples in the Southeast.
Know When to Harvest
Knowing when to harvest a particular fruit is also an important factor in extending the growing season. Picking a fruit too early can not only affect the taste, but will affect the timeline of the growing season. The longer the fruit hangs on the plant, the sweeter the taste. However, the shelf life of the fruit will be shortened.
Different blueberries ripen at different times, depending on the species. This is the case for peaches, apples, blackberries and other fruits as well. In order to measure the ripeness of the fruit and know when they’re ready to harvest, some farmers invest in a refractometer. This instrument measures the sugar content of the fruit. East said another way to determine if the fruit is ready to harvest is by looking at the color of the fruit as well as eating the fruit to see how it tastes.
Mix it Up
East said by planning ahead, people can make it where as one fruit is going out of season, they have another one coming in season.
“I like the idea of extending the picking season by adding different crops,” East said. “If one fruiting season is about to end, I can look forward to another fruit about to begin.”
As the blueberry season comes to an end, people can begin to transition to harvesting muscadines. Some of the other common fall fruit crops include apples, pears, figs and persimmons. Kiwi and citrus fruits are less common but can also be grown during the fall season.
There are many fruit-related resources available on the Fruit and Nut section of the Alabama Extension website. For more information on fruit crops, contact the commercial horticulture regional agent serving your area.