This Shabbos will BE”H be the 15th day of Shevat. The primary significance of its being the Rosh HaShana for trees is Halachic. The date which determines whether produce is from a tree’s third year and is forbidden or fourth year and can become permitted occurs on this day. In this respect, Tu b’Shvat is the universal birthday for all trees, regardless of when they were planted. Additionally, there are other ramifications relating to various Halachos of Terumos and Ma’aseros.
Besides the serious Halachic ramifications of this date, which have limited application to those living in Chutz l’Aretz, it is customary and popular on Tu b’Shevat to eat an abundance of fruits, with many striving to reach the number 15. Since it is challenging to obtain so many different varieties, especially in Eretz Yisroel where most fruits are out of season in the winter and agricultural imports are limited, many people rely on dried fruits and nuts to round out the fresh ones. This presents two significant challenges.
Firstly, dried fruits tend to have a greater degree of infestation than fresh ones do. Furthermore, it is common to sample fruits generally unavailable and unfamiliar, and we may not be aware if and how they should be examined for bugs. I have attached links to a number of guides both in English as well as in Hebrew providing information and directions on this issue. Admittedly, they are all produced here in Eretz Yisroel and some of the information may not be fully applicable in other locales. Each person should consult with their personal Rav, but these are at least a good starting point.
Additionally, many have the custom to strive to recite Shehechiyanu on a fruit on Tu b’Shvat. I am not aware of a source for this Minhag, and certainly it should not come at the expense of the Halacha. The Beracha of Shehechiyanu may only be said on a “new” fruit. This does not merely mean that you personally have not eaten it this season; it must be noticeably and distinctly unique to this year.
Consequently, any variety of produce which is available year-round is not eligible for this Beracha, even if you know that this fruit is from a new crop. Similarly, dried fruits and nuts which are preserved and virtually indistinguishable whether they are fresh or from the previous season are not subject to Shehechiyanu. Additionally, one may not recite this Beracha on preserves such as canned fruit or esrog jelly either, for the same reason.
However, contrary to popular misconception, there is no limitation that only fruits which are Borei Pri HaEtz are eligible for Shehechiyanu. If you live in a place where strawberries are only available when in season, and infestation is not an issue, you could recite Shehechiyanu upon them.
Furthermore, the Beracha is intended to thanks Hashem for our joy in the return of this species to accessibility. If it is a common or plain variety that we have no interest in other than fulfilling the qualifications of enabling this Beracha, many Poskim hold that Shehechiyanu may not be recited.