Planting & Growing Cane Berries
Blackberries, Black Raspberries, Red Raspberries and Yellow Raspberries are very closely related. Botanists separate the Raspberries from Blackberries by determining if the core stays in the ripe fruit (Blackberries) or if the core is lost and resemble a thimble (Raspberries) during picking. A few berries are a cross between Blackberries and Raspberries, including Boysenberries and are called Trailing Blackberries. All bear fruit on two-year old wood, except Ever bearing Raspberries, which also fruit on first year growth. Ever bearing raspberries are not truly ever bearing; they bear a late summer or fall crop on the first year growth and a second crop the following spring on two year old wood.
When your nursery stock arrives, it is best to plant them right away. If you cannot plant immediately (within a week of delivery), remove plastic bags that cover and keep the roots moist during shipment, and store them in a cool moist place like a root cellar or basement, making sure the roots stay moist and do not freeze. Or, you can “heel in” the plants to protect them.
To heel in bare root plants outside, pick a location that is shielded from wind. Dig a trench with one side sloping and the other side vertically straight. Place the plants so that the roots are pointed toward the vertical side and the sloping side supports the trunks/stems. Cover the roots with soil and tamp it down to avoid air pockets. Heeling in should protect your plants until you are ready to plant. If you are unable to heel them in outside due to extremely cold temperatures, you can place the plants in a box with moist sawdust (do not, however, use cedar sawdust which is combustible) or dirt (by far the best and safest medium) covering the roots to hold them over. If using sawdust, be sure to carefully and regularly monitor the temperature to prevent “cooking” the roots if the sawdust starts to compost. The best preventative measure is to regularly water and aerate the pile without allowing the temperature to rise.
Remember that after flowering and fruiting, any cane that bore fruit dies back to the crown. When establishing a new planting, it is very important to cut the top back on the bare-root transplants if this has not already been done at the nursery. All the new growth that will arise from the transplant will come from primary buds just below the soil surface. If you examine the crown of the plant, you will see 2–5 small buds or shoots just above the roots at the base of the crown. All the top growth above the primary buds is the cane that grew in the nursery row the previous summer and is now two years old and programmed to flower and fruit. If you leave this 2-year-old top growth intact, it will start blooming and try to fruit at the expense of the new cane growth that you are trying to encourage from the primary buds. Without a properly established root system, the newly transplanted berry may dry out in an attempt to ripen fruit on the excess cane. By cutting the tops back, your transplants will have a much better survival rate and better growth will result. Any transplant will experience some stress. By cutting back your bare root canes, less stress will occur. It takes 4–6 weeks for new growth to show; leave 3–5 inches of the old top above the ground to “mark the plant” in the row.
Trailing Blackberries thrive in most soil types but good drainage is desirable. Soils that are naturally fertile, easily worked and retain moisture well, are the most suitable.
Blackberries prefer a loose textured, well-drained soil. Avoid sites with a high water table where water sits for long periods of time, especially during winter months. Blackberries will thrive in most soil types and are cold hardy in most areas of the United States.
Raspberries prefer a deep, well-drained, fertile soil. Raspberries are deep rooted and need good drainage. Raspberries are very versatile and hardy in the coldest climates where other cane fruits fail.
Fertility & Watering
Fertilizer and irrigation should be avoided until the primary buds force and new canes begin to grow.
Trailing Blackberries respond extremely well to balanced organic fertilizers applied at blossom time. Good soil moisture should be maintained by irrigation for the first year after planting and fruit production will increase if irrigation is continued until the fall rains in following years.
Blackberries prefer a naturally fertile soil with high organic matter. Apply a well-balanced organic fertilizer in early spring. Plants should be watered moderately during the growing season. Raspberries benefit from high organic matter soils. Organic matter provides drainage in heavy soils and increases the moisture-holding capacity of sandy soils. Work compost into the soil prior to planting and supplement with a well-balanced organic fertilizer if necessary.
Soak the roots of the bare root canes in water for an hour or so prior to planting. Plant the root system intact if possible, but if the planting hole is smaller than the root system, prune the roots to fit rather than “wad” them in the planting hole. Avoid over watering while the plant is dormant; over-watering can lead to root rot. Berries will die in mud! Normally, spring soil moisture is adequate for growth if the root system was soaked prior to planting. Planting berries an inch deeper than they grew in the nursery row is misinformation; they should be planted at the same depth that they grew in the nursery row, covering any white sprouts arising from the crown.
Trailing Blackberries: Plant in late winter to early spring. Avoid pruning the roots of thorn less varieties as this may encourage thorny suckers. Plant 6–8 feet apart and train them on a trellis.
Blackberries: Plant in late winter to early spring. The older stems or tops of the transplants can be cut back several inches. Space 3–4 feet apart in the row and 6–8 feet between rows.
Raspberries: Plant in spring or late winter. Space 2–3 feet apart with 10 feet between the rows. Cut back a few inches, as most of the growth will arise from the roots or from the base of the planted cane.
For more information on pruning and training of berries, see The Fruit Gardener’s Bible, by Lewis Hill.
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