Planting and taking care of berries and currants

Small berry and currant bushes still deserve a place in every garden. Easy to grow and with fruit packed with vitamins and antioxidants, they tolerate a wide range of soil conditions and will thrive in a partly sunny garden sheltered from the wind.

Berry and currant plants can be grown as bushes or cordons, depending on the space you have available, but will do best in a moist, well-drained soil.

 

For a good start

  • Plant bare-root berry bushes such as raspberries in autumn or as soon as you can work the ground in spring so that the plants are well-established before the summer weather arrives. Plant on a cloudy day or late in the afternoon.
  • Plant potted berry plants at any time, as long as you can work the soil. However, bushes root better when they are planted in the autumn or spring.
  • Buy varieties of blackberries and loganberries without thorns so that even children can pick their fill.
  • Beautify an arbour or trellis with thorn-free, climbing blackberry varieties.
  • Remove perennial weeds before you plant – they can rob the soil of essential water and nutrients.
  • Plant the rootball of a currant bush around 7-8cm below the surface of the ground to encourage strong growth at the base of the plant.
  • Put a little rock dust in the hole along with the compost for a red currant bush to add essential trace elements and boost pest resistance. You can buy it at good garden centres or online. The sprigs should be bare of leaves to a height of about 15cm above the surface of the ground.
  • Leave enough space between plants to assure that they will thrive without competition. This also prevents grey mould during rainy summers.
  • When planting raspberries, don't choose a location where raspberries have been grown in the preceding five years.
  • Blueberries need acid soil to thrive. If the soil is alkaline, it is better to grow them in pots using ericaceous compost. Incorporate organic matter into the soil before planting to ensure strong growth. Good options include peat moss, well-rotted manure, straw, compost or aged sawdust. If possible, use only rainwater for watering.

 

Pruning bushes

Prune berry and currant bushes before the onset of winter or right after the harvest. Early fruiting raspberry bushes bear on one-year-old shoots from the previous season; gooseberries and red currants on one to two-year-old shoots; and, blueberries after three to eight years. A good harvest requires proper pruning to provide the bush with light and air. Remove damaged canes or shoots, as well as sick shoots near the ground.

  • After planting, cut raspberry shoots back to about 5cm above the ground.
  • With blackberries, cut off brown, dead shoots right down to the soil and remove them from the bush in autumn or spring.
  • In autumn or early spring, remove dead wood from blackberries and loganberries and cut back fruited stems of early raspberries. Trim stems of autumn raspberries to ground level.
  • Cut back fruited blackcurrant stems after harvesting. New wood will then be produced from which next year's fruit will develop. Redcurrants, which fruit on the previous year's wood, should be cut back by about a third, removing any central stems that are cluttering the bush.
  • Keep gooseberry bushes from having more than five strong shoots at the base or it is difficult for them to develop new shoots. Cut shoots back by about a third, and ensure that no shoots are more than six years old.

 

Proper care

  • Since most berry bushes are shallow-rooting plants, hoe them carefully and close to the surface, if at all, to avoid damaging the roots.
  • Plant garlic, lily of the valley and yarrow next to gooseberries to help keep the bushes healthy and increase their yield.
  • Plant wild garlic, marigold and forget-me-nots near raspberries to help keep pests away.
  • Help many varieties of berry bushes with a layer of mulch consisting of dried grass cuttings, straw or leaves. It keeps weeds from growing and the soil remains fine, crumbly and damp. If the berry varieties in the garden are not mildew-resistant, a layer of bark mulch will help.

 

At harvest time

  • Gather berries in fairly small containers to prevent them being crushed. Harvest with both hands by hanging a container with a handle over your arm. Line them with paper towels to absorb any juice.
  • If the gooseberry harvest looks promising, pick some of the fruits early and preserve them. The remaining berries will grow bigger and better.
  • As soon as berries begin to ripen, protect them from birds by hanging nets above the bushes—but make sure you can walk under them easily.
  • Wait for whole sprigs to ripen then pick them off. You can then strip them easily with a fork.
  • If you have a large space devoted to fruit, consider investing in a permanent fruit cage.

 

Planting berry bushes

  1. Dig a hole for the plant about 50cm deep and as wide as the rootball. Loosen up the soil thoroughly to prevent waterlogging.
  2. Add a little rotted compost to the hole to provide nutrients for the plant, then carefully insert the well-watered bush.
  3. Fill in the hole with soil and compost, tamp it down carefully taking care not to damage the roots, and be sure to water thoroughly.