How to Grow Your Own Berries
Once you sample your homegrown blackberries and raspberries, you'll know they were worth the trouble.
Fresh berries are pretty expensive to buy because there's only a narrow window of time between harvest and decline. You can grow your own, however, and you'll love the fresh-off-the-vine flavor. Although they're considered a cool-season crop, berries are easy to grow in most parts of the country. Berry brambles love to ramble out of control, but with some extra care and attention, gardeners can tame even the most arduous vines.
County extension agent Chuck Ingels shares some advice:
There are two types of blackberries: the upright varieties grow vertically, and the trailing types send out horizontal runners. The trailing varieties like to set down roots and take off in the garden at the end of the growing season. In the fall, the terminal growth will grow into the soil and root to form a new plant, which may be a problem if you don't want plants all over your yard. To prevent unwanted roaming, Chuck suggests creating a plant barrier.
One such barrier is this in-ground device that reaches about a foot deep into the soil. Barriers may be made of concrete, redwood, plastic, stainless steel, or pretty much anything that blocks meandering roots. However, most home gardeners opt for easier methods of keeping berries in check, such as diligent hoeing and a thick layer of mulch.
Managing where these plants grow is one thing, but managing how they grow is another. Most varieties of blackberries bear fruit on 2-year-old shoots called floricanes.
Next year, this year's floricanes will be replaced by new shoots, primocanes. After they've fruited, the canes die back and should be cut down to make room for the new primocanes.
While that may sound complicated, it's easy to tell the difference between the old growth that requires pruning out, and the new growth that bears next year's berries. There is an exception to pruning brambleberries: for everbearing or fall-bearing types, cut those to the ground every winter.
Growing berries doesn't require a lot of space. All you need is a long, narrow section — for instance, along a house or fence. To build a berry trellis, Chuck recommends using a posthole digger. Blackberries grow taller than raspberries and need to be trained upward, so Chuck constructs a vertical trellis composed of two 8-foot-long 4x4s buried two feet in the ground and secured with a brace along the inside of the posts for stability.
Next, he evenly spaces three screw hooks between the brace and the top and along both sides of the post. Onto each hook, Chuck places a turnbuckle and strings galvanized wire from one side to the other, twisting the wire to secure it in place. The turnbuckle's screw pulls the wire taut.
For a raspberry trellis, you need less height and more depth. There are several ways to create the structure — placing one post in the middle with a cross arm or placing two posts about three feet apart.
Raspberries are semi-erect, which means that as they get taller, they need support. Ingels uses four 6-foot posts to form a 6-foot-long rectangle. Lengthwise, each post is strung together with wire through the turnbuckle so that the berries can neatly grow taller and wider. Black raspberries are another variety that's gaining popularity; their growth habit is almost identical to the blackberry types that feature long, trailing shoots.
Once your trellis structure is built, you're ready to plant. Generally, berries love organic matter mixed into the soil, but if you have only so-so soil, blackberries are your best bet. Remember to avoid planting too deep in the soil. Make sure you have a mound of soil so you're planting on a slightly raised area. This way, water can drain away from the plant. "It's really important that water doesn't sit in a hole around your plants because they'll rot," warns Ingels. When planting, space raspberries about 2-1/2 to three feet apart.
Once your plants start growing, it's important to differentiate between the old and new growth. During the first year, your plants may grow five to six feet; as it grows, tie it up along the trellis. "In fact, some years what I've done is tied a string down to the vine, and it'll then grow straight up the string to the wire," says Chuck.
With the summer-bearing types, train the flowering canes along the wires and encourage diagonal growth. Then the primal canes should have plenty of room and sunlight to grow vertically between the two wires.
Don't forget to train the new growth regularly or prune your brambles before they have a chance to ramble out of control. Water your berry plants well, add some organic mulch, and soon, tasty treats will be on their way.
These berries take some extra time and work in the garden, but the outstanding fruit will be your delectable reward.