Growing Berries February – Februberry ‘18

Soft berries are the mainstay of the allotment outline, either a few bushes dotted around the corners, or a long row used as a dividing hedge made up of various berry bearing bushes. Fresh soft berries do not keep well in transit and they are  time consuming to pick leaving little profit for the commercial gardener. Supermarkets have a small selection usually with a heavy price tag. Nowadays it is becoming more common to buy blue berries and strawberries from the freezer department – but how can you compare their taste to the real thing!?

Most berries grow on small bushes unlike large apple and pear trees so even if you are tight for space there is always room for at least a couple of berry bushes.

Berry Bush Buying Tips

Before planting any berry bush, first decide how you are going to utilise your home grown berries.  If you are likely to eat them fresh, you are quite limited to the ones that are sweet enough for this purpose, and those that have enough time to ripen fully in our climate. If however you intend to use them in the kitchen for jam, jellies, smoothies, or for cooking and baking in tarts; then many more varieties are available for your to select from.

If you have more space than money, you can buy various types of berry bushes in local supermarkets, and discount supermarkets where they are usually sold bare rooted in tall thin boxes at this time of the year at really low prices. However if space is limited I would advise you to spend that little bit extra and buy from a garden centre or a mail order company where you can read the label  and ensure that you are getting the one or two plants that are most suitable for your purpose.

Buying Black Berry Bushes

For example – lets take black berries – every variety will give a decent crop – you could even get your supply from its humble brother – the bramble – that grows wild in the hedgegrows. But if you are serious on growing blackberries try the variety  ‘Black Butte’ or Fantasia which have fruits twice the length of any other, or those prefixed with ‘Loch’ or suffixed with ‘Thornless’ which as their  name suggests have  nearly thorn free stems, which saves on plasters when it comes to pruning and picking the fruits!

This year I am going to plant a new variety called ‘Reuben’. The catalogues allege it to be a new American variety so it comes with a Trump card! –  Instead  of arching and rambling stems it is said to  grow upright  with large and sweet fruits. It is also different from the other varieties being  a primocane meaning that it will bear fruits on this years growth unlike other varieties that bear fruit on last years wood – let’s see if it will live up to all that the catalogues claim about it!

Buying Black Currant Bushes

Looking for black currant bushes – if you can find it – keep to the variety Big Ben – it is a  heavy cropper with  large sweet berries –you couldn’t ask for anything better- no wonder it bears the seal of an AGM.

Buying Gooseberry Bushes

With gooseberries look out for those that have mildew resistance and American mildew resistance as it is a very common disease in our wet climate.  White currants are generally sweeter than red currants but I think their translucent berries lack the visual appeal of their red sister.

Berry Bush Pruning Tips

An important factor of berry growing is the pruning technique which is made to sound so complicated in some text books that it is enough to put anyone off from growing them.

I would divide all berries into two simple  pruning categories.  I call them the bush varieties and the cane varieties (and one in between!).

The bush varieties have a single stem and a constant framework,  it can be compared to  a miniature  tree – this group includes gooseberries, red currants and white currants. They will mainly crop on the wood that is produced the year before. After planting cut it back with the intent of  forming a firm framework like a small tree. Once established, pruning just involves cutting away the growth beyond the fruit throughout the summer, and during winter reducing all new growth  by about 10cm. whilst cutting out  old non-productive wood.

The other group are the berries that grow on canes – their roots will throw up a cluster of canes one year which will fruit during the following year; after fruiting these shoots are cut back to ground level allowing the plant continues to produce new canes which will fruit the following year. This group includes, blackberries, hybrid berries, and  raspberries (with the exception of autumn fruiting raspberries where all canes are cut down after the late fruiting as they will grow and fruit in one season).

Now for the one in between! – the blackcurrant – although it has a solid framework like the first group – it will also keep throwing up new shoots from its base  which will produce fruit on ripened wood. So it leaves you with the choice of pruning partly the bush way and every so often the cane way and letting nature do the rest!

Propagating Your Own Berry Bushes

Once you have found the berry of your choice there is no need to buy in new plants as they are so easy to propagate. The classic way is to take cuttings in autumn and leave them in a sandy soil. It usually works well but for a guaranteed new plant use the layering technique. Fill a small pot with quality compost and bury an arching shoot into the compost just below the surface, then peg it down – for this purpose I use metal tent pegs – they are strong, have a curve on the top , and will fit deep down through the drainage hole of the pot to keep it well anchored. After six months you will see new growth sprouting vertically from the pot and you can be rest assured that you have a new plant ready to fly its nest. Severe it  from the parent plant and plant it up elsewhere.

pegging an arching shoot
anchored in
After a few months a new shoot (light brown) has been formed and here you can see the root system that it has gained ready to be severed and planted elsewhere

Its all very berry easy – enjoy 🙂

 

Boris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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