It’s time to get the berry patch ready for a bumper crop this summer. Raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries etc. are all called “cane fruits” and apart from unusual varieties like fall-producing raspberries, they can all be treated the same.
Understand that the individual canes should be treated like biennials: cut back to soil level all the canes that fruited last summer. This will channel the plant’s growth into the canes that grew up last year and are ready to fruit this summer. The old canes can be identified a couple ways: their stems are an old brown color while the newer ones are much more green and flexible. Old canes may also have some dried berries left over from last summer and they will likely have little branches.
It’s worth mentioning there are those who feel the best harvests come from cutting ALL the canes to the ground. I agree the overall yield may be greater in volume, and the harvest comes about a month later which can be useful for staggering fruit production, but the sweetness and juiciness of the berries are clearly sacrificed, in my opinion. The exceptions are fall-fruiting varieties where you DO cut back all the canes in spring.
The last step to a quality harvest is getting the canes so they don’t flop on the ground: letting the slugs eat the berries before you do! I use chicken wire stapled onto pencil posts pounded into the ground. It is easy to thread the canes through the holes in the wire to keep them. If the canes are very long, like blackberries, they can be looped repeatedly through the fence to keep off the ground.
You are now well set up to enjoy berries all summer! I always intend to freeze freshest ones for winter, but honestly they never make it inside the house! At the end of the season, clip off the unripe fruit and freeze for a blast of summer flavour in winter cooking!
Here are a few extra tips for people who want the absolute best berries: be vigilant about keeping vine weeds like morning glory from getting established in the berries by ripping out whatever what you can. Applying mulch will help keep weeds down: I sprinkle my lawn clippings over the base of my canes all summer long to smother weeds and provide nutrients. Using a fertilizer with a high middle number (6-8-6 or 15-30-15, for example) will help provide nutrients specific to fruiting. Canes will tolerate drought, but as it gets dry you get dry fruit this summer or stunt next year’s canes, so keep soil moist at 6 inches below the soil surface for the whole growing season. You can also prune overhanging tree branches to get more light to the canes; the more light, the more fruit!
Enjoy the labour, good eating will follow!