Berries

Berries can be a lot of work, but the payoff can’t be beat.

The term “brambles” is commonly used to describe certain members of the rose family, which includes plants in the Genus Rubus that typically have thorns and produce edible fruit. Blackberries and raspberries are the “poster” berries of the brambles now re-coined “caneberries,” many of which are native and grow in the wild while others such as tayberries, loganberries and boysenberries are cultivated for taste, yield or without thorns.

Blackberry varieties are available as either thorny or thornless, while raspberries come in red, black, purple and yellow colors. Some raspberry varieties are “fall-bearing” producing fruit in the fall on what are known as primocanes (first year canes). Other raspberry varieties produce berries in the summer on floricanes (second-year canes). Blackberries and red raspberries produce many suckers and spread laterally while black raspberries and purple raspberries generally stay confined to the planted area.

If you desire to start a caneberry patch, then site selection is crucial for success. An ideal location should have well-drained soil, positioned in full sunlight with good air circulation. These aspects will encourage a dry microclimate within the planting to reduce the incidence of fungal disease and increase berry yields. If your spot is clay-ey or somewhat wet, then consider building raised beds and adding compost and/or various manures as soil amendments. To optimize plant growth, test your soil to determine your soils pH and nutrient levels. Add lime and fertilizer accordingly as caneberries enjoy a soil pH of 5.8 to 6.5. Extra tips to implement prior to a springtime planting are the removal of noxious weeds on site and wild brambles within 600 feet.

When choosing raspberry and blackberry varieties, it’s important to select those that can withstand winter temperatures common to Western North Carolina. For Jackson and Swain counties, raspberry varieties that produce as primocanes are Heritage, Carolina, Autumn Britten and Nantahala. For erect blackberries choose varieties such as Navaho, Arapaho, Shawnee, Chickasaw and Apache and for semi-erect blackberries choose Black Satin, Hull or Chester.

When planting caneberries, set plants 1 inch deeper than grown in the nursery and at least 30 inches apart in rows that are spaced 9 to 10 feet apart between rows. Plant rooted canes early in spring. Do not apply fertilizer at planting or for several weeks after planting. Caneberries are easily injured by too much fertilizer so apply about 2 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 linear feet of row the first year and 2-3 lbs. every March in subsequent years.

Trellis

Most caneberries should be grown with some type of trellis. Trellises improve fruit quality, make harvesting easier, and reduce disease problems. Trellises also make pruning simpler by encouraging new cane growth in the middle of the row, rather than just along the outside edges. For plants grown in a hedgerow, the “T” or “V” trellis systems are ideal.

Pruning

Before the buds break in the late winter or early spring, remove all of the old canes that fruited the previous year. These have gray, peeling bark and branches (they’re dead and won’t fruit again). Remove canes that have emerged outside of the desired row width (12-18 inches) and thin out until only four to five canes remain per linear foot.

For blackberries that produce fruit in the summer (floricanes), prune off the tops on 1-year canes when they reach about 42-48 inches. This encourages laterals, which will bear fruit in the following year. In March, cut the side laterals back to 12 buds (about 8-12 inches in length). For red raspberries that produce in the fall (primocanes) cut the canes down to the ground in late fall to early winter and remove all plant waste from the field.

Harvesting

While raspberries are ready to pick when they easily separate from the receptacle or core, blackberries do not separate and should be judged by their ripe color and taste. All berries are extremely perishable and should be harvested frequently. To maintain fresh quality, place fruit in shallow containers, no more than three berries deep, and cooled to 33F as quickly as possible. Fruit properly harvested and held at this temperature can maintain fresh quality for three to seven days. If the fruit is to be made into jam or jelly, process it immediately, or freeze it until ready to use.

Christine Bredenkamp is NCSU horticulture extension agent for Jackson and Swain counties. Contact her at jackson.ces.ncsu.edu or 586-4009.