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Planting Fruit and Vegetable Crops In Nebraska
By Vaughn Hammond, UNL Extension Educator—Specialty Crops
There are many considerations to make when preparing to plant fruit and vegetable crops. One of the most important tasks lies in the planning. Tree and small fruits are long-term endeavors and it’s important to fully understand their growing requirements for them to produce at their fullest. Vegetable crops are generally considered annual with a few exceptions, such as asparagus, and require the same attention to detail as fruit crops.
Start the planning process with a site analysis. Factors to take into consideration include soil characteristics, the amount of sunlight the area receives, soil and air drainage, competition from other plants and available space.
Most fruit and vegetable crops require full sun for optimum production. Full sun is classified as at least six hours of direct sunlight, preferably during the midday for most food crops. Both soil drainage and air drainage are important factors to take into consideration. Heavy clay soils that retain to much water can lead to reduced vigor and death. Reduced air flow can lead to a buildup of cold air which can result in bud loss and in extreme cases, even plant death.
Performing a soil test is critical step that needs to take place early in the planning process. A soil test will determine the pH, fertility levels and amount of organic matter present in the soil. Guidelines for taking a soil sample to be used for testing can be found in the UNL NebGuide G1740 "Guidelines for Soil Sampling". Fruit crops are deeper rooted than many agronomic crops, the sample should be taken to the depth of 24 inches rather than the more commonly recommended 8 inches as in the case of vegetables. It’s important to do this early in the planning process to accommodate any amendments that may be needed.
Once it has been determined that the site is suitable for production, it’s time to begin the fun part, which is choosing what to plant. The options are almost too many because of all the different fruit and vegetables and the varieties found within each type that can be grown in Nebraska.
Several factors must be taken into account when choosing what to plant.
- Is the variety adapted to our growing zones? Nebraska falls into zones 4 and 5.
- Will the mature crop fit into the site?
- Are plants self pollinating or will a pollinator be required?
- What disease resistance is available?
Mature size in the cases of fruit trees may be the most important factor to consider. Mature fruit tree size is classified as standard or full sized, semi-dwarf or dwarf. Tree size can be dictated by either genetics or by grafting. Grafting is essentially splicing two types of trees together—two types of apple, for example. The rootstock is the portion of the tree that contains the roots and the scion wood is the portion that is “spliced” on to the rootstock and becomes the upper portion of the tree. The scion takes on certain characteristics of the rootstock. The rootstock can dictate the mature size of the tree.
Both fruits and vegetable can be classified as either self-fruitful, which means pollen from flowers on the same plant or variety and will pollinate each other, or self unfruitful, which means a pollinating variety will be required.
Resistance is another characteristic to consider when choosing what to plant. All fruit trees, small fruits and vegetables are susceptible to a variety disease and insect pests. Some types are more susceptible to these pests than others. Choosing resistant varieties will reduce management inputs, such as disease and insect control.