Care and How-To Articles - Fruits and Nuts

Figure 1: Strawberry bed that is beginning to become overcrowded.

From time-to-time homeowners choose to renovate their homes.  Established strawberry beds should be renovated every year! 

Benefits of Renovation

 Fungal diseases on early season strawberry leaves.
Figure 2: Fungal diseases on early season strawberry leaves.


Strawberries are one of the best fruits to grow in the home garden.  When little garden space is available or there is not enough space in full sun to grow strawberries, containers are a fun alternative.  When grown in a container, plants not only produce fruit but are also ornamental, making them an attractive addition to a patio or deck.

Growing strawberries in containers takes some special considerations.  Learn more below about getting the most from container-grown strawberries.

Rhubarb stalks

Rhubarb is a favorite for many Iowa gardeners.  The rhubarb leaf stalk (botanically called a petiole) is used in pies, tarts, sauces, jams, jellies, puddings, and punch. Although categorized as a vegetable, rhubarb is used as a fruit because its high acidity gives it a tart flavor.  Below is more information about rhubarb including cultivars, growing conditions, fertilization, harvesting, care, and disease and insect management.

Figs are incredibly versatile and often used in cooking and baking. Found in both savory and sweet dishes, they often add a delicate sweetness. However, finding fresh figs in Iowa is not as easy as using them for cooking. This does not have to be the case, as growing figs in your home garden can be simple and rewarding.

The weather can be erratic as it transitions from autumn to winter and again from winter to spring.  It is common to have below freezing temperatures in late September or early October followed by a stretch of a week or more of warmer temperatures.  When this temperature dip happens, protecting plants can be beneficial, allowing to continue harvest and enjoy them in your garden longer. 

It is also common to have a period of warmer temperatures in late March or early April that can bring plants out of dormancy followed by below freezing temperatures that can potentially damage the new growth or emerging flowers.  

Blueberries Photo by Andris Tkachenko AdobeStock

Iowa soils are very diverse and so are the chemical characteristics that make up these soils.  Soil pH is one property that can vary widely across the state both naturally and due to how we manage the field or garden.  It is also one of the most cost effective and easy to manage soil properties that can be modified to improve plant health and crop production.

Learn about how to decrease and increase your soil pH below.

pruning saw on tree

February and March is the best time to prune most trees and shrubs in Iowa.  The absence of foliage at this time of year gives you a clear view of the tree and allows the selection and removal of appropriate branches.  Also, when pruned in the late dormant season the walling-off, compartmentalization, or sealing of wounds can begin as soon as growth starts in the spring giving the tree the most time to recover from the pruning cut.

Iowa State University has many resources available to help with pruning all your woody plants.

Apple trees need to be pruned throughout their lives. The most important period for pruning and training fruit trees is the first 4 to 5 years after planting. Proper pruning and training of young apple trees should produce strong, well-structured trees that yield a large crop of high-quality fruit.

Best Training System

For home gardeners, the easiest training system for apple trees is the central leader system. The central leader system produces a vertical central leader or main stem with tiers of strong, properly spaced limbs or scaffold branches. These scaffold branches grow about 30 to 45 above horizontal. This system of training results in a "Christmas tree" shape or pyramidal-shaped tree.

Currants and gooseberries (Ribes species) are berry- producing shrubs which have been grown in the United States since colonial times. There are three types of currants typically grown in the home garden: red, white, and black. American and European are the two types of gooseberries grown.

Reasons to Grow  |  Growing Conditions  |  Varieties  |  Care  |  Pruning

Old, neglected apple trees that haven't been pruned for several years are often tall, densely branched, unproductive, and may contain a large number of dead branches. The fruit produced on neglected trees is generally small, poorly colored, and misshapen with low sugar content. (The misshapen fruit is caused by insect and disease pests.)

Though trees may be old, structurally sound trees can produce good-quality fruit if properly renovated and managed. Pruning increases fruit size, promotes better color development, increases sugar content, and decreases insect and disease problems by allowing better spray coverage and faster drying following rainfall. Pruning also makes it easier to harvest the fruit.

While raspberries and blackberries are not the same species, the growth and fruiting characteristics of blackberries are similar to raspberries. The blackberry plant's roots and crown are perennial, while its stems or canes are biennial. Blackberry canes are strictly vegetative during the first growing season. These first-year canes are referred to as primocanes. The following year, these same canes (now called floricanes) flower, produce fruit, and then die. 

Types of Blackberries for Iowa

In Iowa, the canes of most blackberry varieties suffer extensive winter injury. As a result of this damage, plants produce little or no fruit. 

Proper pruning of raspberries is essential. Pruning produces higher yields, helps control diseases, and facilitates harvesting and other maintenance chores. Pruning procedures are based on the growth and fruiting characteristics of the plants. 

Pruning is Based on How Raspberries Grow

The growth and fruiting characteristics of the raspberry plant are rather unique. The plant's roots and crown are perennial, while the stems or canes are biennial. Each spring, purple, black, and red raspberries produce new canes from buds located at the base of the previous year's growth. Red raspberries also produce new shoots from buds located on their roots. The individual canes live for 2 years and then die. 

For some home gardeners, pruning grapevines is a difficult, confusing chore. However, it's not really difficult if you understand the basic pruning principles and have the right tools. 

Grapevines produce fruit clusters on the previous season's growth. Before pruning, a grapevine may have 200 to 300 buds capable of producing fruit. If the vine is not pruned, the number of grape clusters would be excessive and the grapevine would be unable to ripen the large crop or produce adequate vegetative growth. 

The purpose of pruning is to obtain maximum yields of high-quality grapes and to allow adequate vegetative growth for the following season. 

Pruned Tree

Pruning is a common garden task and proper pruning is important.  

Many gardeners have questions regarding the pruning of trees, shrubs, fruits, vines, and other woody plants. 
Get answers to your pruning frequently asked questions (FAQs) below.

Potted plants on a cart at the garden center

In spring, many gardeners will be at nurseries, greenhouses, and garden centers looking to buy plants. Selecting the right species and cultivar of a plant for the landscape by matching sun, water, soil, winter hardiness, and other growing requirements is important. Equally important is selecting high-quality plants. Below is advice on how to purchase high-quality plants from the garden center.

In order to obtain the highest quality fruit, pears must be harvested at the proper stage of maturity.  Once harvested, proper storage is necessary to maximize storage life. 

Learn about proper techniques for harvesting and storing both European pears (like Bartlett and Summercrisp) and Asian pears (sometimes called apple pears).

harvesting apples by jpchret AdobeStock

 In order to obtain the highest quality fruit, apples must be harvested at the proper stage of maturity.  Once harvested, proper storage is necessary to maximize storage life. 

Learn about the proper time and method to harvest apples, how to know when apples are ripe, and how to store apples so you can enjoy all the tasty apples you grow in your garden.

Hail damage on young apple fruit. Picture credit: Jose Gonzales-Acuna

While there are many environmental factors that can damage apple trees as well as the apple fruit, hail damage is one that can be very frustrating. Below are answers to questions that come up quite frequently regarding hail damage on apples.

Straw being applied to strawberries

While winter is not growing season for strawberries, taking care of strawberry plants remains vitally important. Before winter arrives, mulch strawberries to protect them, so they’re ready to grow in the spring.
Strawberries should be mulched in fall to prevent winter injury. Low temperatures and repeated freezing and thawing of the soil through the winter months are the main threats to strawberry plants. Temperatures below 20°F may kill flower buds and damage the roots and crowns of unmulched plants. Repeated freezing and thawing of the soil can heave plants out of the ground, severely damaging or destroying the plants.

Picture of heuchera with frost

Some plants in the landscape need a little extra protection to make it through the winter months.  Here is what you need to know to successfully overwinter plants in Iowa.

A cluster of four pawpaw fruit from trial.

Papaw Description & Background

The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is the largest edible tree fruit native to the United States and grows wild in 25 states, including Iowa.  In Iowa, they are found in the wild in the southwest and southeast part of the state, usually as an understory tree.  On the east side of Iowa, they are found as far north as Jackson and Dubuque County.  In full sun, pawpaw trees grow to about 15' high and 8’ in width.  In shaded areas, they may be taller, but narrower in spread.  Pawpaws are relatively free of pests and deer do not eat them, although they can cause rubbing damage.

A newly planted maple tree showing signs of drought stress

When a summer heat wave arrives, it can be stressful for the plants and gardeners alike.  The plants of your landscape will require a little more TLC to make it through periods of extreme heat.  Below are a few tips to protect your lawn, garden, and landscape when temperatures soar.

Figure 6 Grapevine shoots that have been combed

Growing grapes in Iowa means pruning in late winter and harvesting in the fall.  But there are a few other tasks to do in summer to produce high-quality grapes.

This includes sucker removal, thinning, shoot positioning, and supplemental irrigation.

red apples on the apple tree

Growing high-quality apples in the home garden is possible but requires significant inputs. Apples have several serious disease and insect pests that can significantly lower the quantity and quality of the apple harvest in the fall. Managing these disease and insect pests is important, and many of the most effective management steps occur in spring, well before the apples form and ripen.

Learn about alternate bearing, premature fruit drop, and hand thinning of fruit trees to help produce the best apples and other tree fruits in your garden.

watering annuals in a container

Watering is one of the most frequent tasks performed in any garden or landscape.  Proper watering utilizes water responsibly, reducing evaporation and runoff.   There are many ways to make the process easier and better for the gardener and the plants.  Use the tips below to water the perennials, annuals, containers, hanging baskets, lawns, trees, shrubs, and vegetables in your landscape.

Suckers at the base of a crabapple tree

Suckers are vigorous upright growing stems that form at the base of a tree or from the root system causing stems to appear inches or feet from the base of the trunk.  They are problematic because they can reduce flowering and fruiting, alter the form of the tree, harbor pests and diseases, and look unsightly. 

Learn about what causes suckers to form and how they can be managed in the home landscape.