Whether your plot is on a country acre or at the end of your city backyard, just a scant cup of berries picked fresh from your own garden is a special pleasure. Collect bursting blueberries for a batch of pancakes, some strawberries to flavour a smoothie or a few sun-warmed raspberries to pop into your mouth and indulge in the flavour of summer.
Both raspberries and blackberries are bramble fruit that could find a place by a back fence (where they won’t snag unsuspecting passersby). There are two things to remember about them: first, the berries grows on last year’s shoots, long arching canes that flower and fruit only once during their second year, and not again; second, left untended, brambles will run underground into a thorny thicket. In short, the plants need serious pruning. So get out the shears—and a pair of stout gloves, too. In early spring, before signs of growth, prune out at ground level all canes that have already borne fruit. Then, cut away short or broken canes, and those that have strayed beyond the allotted space. Aim for 12 to 15 of the healthiest, tallest and fattest canes spaced about a hand-span apart along every metre of a row extending roughly 45 centimetres wide; well-spaced canes are less susceptible to mildew.
The best thing you can do for a bramble patch is to mulch heavily each October with fallen leaves to suppress weeds, conserve moisture, protect roots from bitter cold and provide raspberries and blackberries with the nutrients they need to survive winter.
Although most raspberry bushes produce berries in early summer on last year’s canes, several everbearing varieties, such as ‘Heritage’, fruit on new growth and yield a second (sometimes larger) crop in August and September. Pruning everbearers is as easy as taking the lawnmower over the patch in late October, and cutting everything right to the ground.
Blackberries thrive on the West Coast but are not as winter hardy as raspberries. In colder regions, try ‘Chester Thornless’ and ‘Illini Hardy’.
Brambles are the kinds of plants gardeners like to share, but healthy stock from a nursery or mail-order source may be better than a bundle of canes from a neighbour.
- ‘Boyne’: The dark red, soft, flavourful fruit is the first to ripen on the very hardy canes; recommended for colder areas.
- ‘Festival’: Next to ripen on shorter canes, the medium to large red berries will freeze well.
- ‘Nova’: Medium-sized fruit on canes with fewer spines; an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada introduction.