All of us have read the claims of amazing fruits and vegetables. Robert Westerfield, Georgia Extension Horticulturist, offers several rules to follow before purchasing unknown fruits to avoid disappointment and wasted money.
The first rule is, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A good example of this is the advertisement to grow tomatoes and potatoes in one single planting.
The company is selling nothing unusual, but simply a normal tomato planted very close to a normal potato. The advertisement says "one single planting" not "one single plant." Pictures are usually illustrations that indicate performance under optimal conditions.
The second rule is to find out if a particular fruit crop will survive the winter.
Although Georgia winters are not typically harsh, many species have tropical origins and will not tolerate cold temperatures. Other fruits require special care to avoid winter injury. Nurseries may claim that they have a particular variety of fruit that is quite hardy, for example, a bush cherry or hardy kiwi.
These "varieties" are actually different species which differ in fruit quality and size from their commercially-grown cousins.
The third rule is to be wary if a plant has a different growth habit than you would normally expect. A "blueberry tree" does not produce blueberries, and it is not even closely related to wild or cultivated blueberries. The fruits are edible, however, and make a delicious pie, but do not expect them to taste like blueberries.
The "tomato tree" is not in the same genus as the cultivated tomato. Although it may be billed as producing 60 pounds of "tomatoes" per plant, this would occur only under tropical conditions because the plant will be injured if summer night temperatures fall below 50 degrees F.
Fourth, question some of the terms used to describe fruit plants, especially if those words are in quotations. One example would be the use of the word "ever-bearing" to describe raspberries and strawberries that produce two crops per year.
Scientists have recently developed true ever-bearing strawberries such as "Tribute" and "Tristar" which they call "day neutral." But do not expect "ever-bearing" strawberries such as "Ozark Beauty" and "everbearing" raspberries such as "Heritage," or "Fall Gold" to fruit continuously throughout the year. Ever-bearing fruits usually produce a moderate crop in summer and again in fall.
Be suspicious of claims that say fruits can be grown from seeds. Plants from seeds will likely not resemble the parent and are usually inferior. One exception would be alpine strawberries, sometimes called "fraises des bois" which produce small, tasty strawberries and can be started from seed.
Learn about the care and culture of a plant before you purchase it. Many fruits require pollen from another variety for fruit set, and the varieties must flower at the same time. Be sure the soil pH is appropriate before you purchase plants.
Know the limitations of the rootstock of dwarf fruit trees. Some require exacting soil characteristics, and most dwarf rootstocks reduce the hardiness of the tree.
Growing exotic fruits and vegetables can be rewarding and challenging. By asking a few questions and doing a little research you can avoid the disappointment associated with unfulfilled expectations from exaggerated claims.
Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.