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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jan 09

It's the Berries

Posted on January 9, 2015 at 8:25 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Pruning time always sends me running back to the books to double check techniques for various types of fruit. Let's start with one of the easier fruits to prune: berries.

Actually, to say berries are “easier” is misleading. They are easier in that your pruning tools are limited to either pruning shears or lopping shears. What complicates the process is knowing which berry and variety you have growing in your garden. Let's look at how to handle different varieties.

 Unpruned blueberry
 Unpruned blueberry
Blueberries: As with all fruit and shrub pruning, the best approach to pruning blueberries is to remove all dead, diseased, and crossing branches. This is the only pruning required for young bushes. But to stimulate growth on young plants, you may also want to remove the fruiting buds. The fruiting buds are easier to identify in mid spring by looking for short, round buds as opposed to leaf buds that are longer and thinner.

Older bushes bear their crops of berries at the tips of mid-sized canes at least a year old. With that knowledge, remove old wood over an inch thick that isn’t bearing as much fruit as in past years. Pruning will stimulate a healthy cycle of new growth.

Raspberries and blackberries: Rubus is the genus of blackberries, raspberries (red and black), boysenberries, loganberries, and other hybrids. These plants are biennial, meaning the canes will fruit and die after two years. To complicate matters, however, some hybrids don't follow this rule and fruit on the first year’s growth.

There are three types of Rubus that require different pruning methods. The first grows more bush-like with all the canes coming from one central point. Brandywine and Mac Black are in this group. Canes growing straight upright must be pruned to 2.5 feet tall in winter to encourage side growth for next year's fruit production. Older canes that show signs of where past fruit or flowers grew should be removed.

Fall-bearing varieties of berries can be treated in one of two ways. To encourage a heavy crop of berries in the fall, mow or cut all canes to the ground now. However, if some canes fruited only along the top foot of the cane this past season, you can leave them in place and they will bear an early summer crop of berries. Just clip off the tips of those canes where the berries appeared last year. After the early summer crop is finished, remove these canes. These types of berry plants are known as primocanes as they will bear fruit on the cane that comes up the first year.

 Signs of fruit production past
Signs of fruit production past
Lastly are the summer-bearing berries known as floricanes. Latham, Reveille, and Citadel are just a few of the summer- bearing varieties commonly found at the nurseries. Typically, their growth will include straight canes that do not show signs of blooming. Leave those canes alone. Other canes will show signs of side branching where past fruit grew. Cut all these canes to the ground along with all dead wood. This will leave the first-year canes, which will bear fruit in their second summer. It is best to thin out the canes to 6 inches apart to get the heaviest crop of berries. If you are undecided which canes to remove when thinning, choose those that are crooked and spindly. To make life easier next pruning season, remove the fruiting canes right after all the berries have been picked in the summer months.

Some gardeners may not know what is growing in their garden. If that is the case, cut everything to the ground this winter and watch the growth this summer. If you get berries, you know you have the primocanes that bear fruit on the first-year canes. If no sign of fruit, you will be in for a bumper crop the following year!

Whew, I hope I didn't confuse you too much.

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