These days there’s a lot of science backing claims about the health benefits of adding a variety of berries to your diet. They deliver vital vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber to your body, all while tasting luscious and being low in sugar.
The joy of growing your own berry crops is that, not only will they be super fresh, organic and readily available to harvest when in season, but they also fruit quickly and can be grown in small gardens or even pots.
A lot of fruiting trees and vines can take quite a few years to start producing good crops, but most Rubus species will start cropping within 15 months or so.
You may be surprised to find that most of the fruit we know as berries, including those in this article, don’t actually fit the botanical berry classification. It’s also surprising that fruits that are berries botanically speaking include banana, eggplant and tomato.
For our purposes here, though, we’re looking at the fruits that are popularly known as berries, such as brambleberries (cultivated blackberries) and raspberries.
These fruits, also known as cane berries, are actually made up of a small series of drupes, which contain seeds and are arranged around a single core.
BRAMBLEBERRIES, RUBUS SPP.
This is a common name given to the rather large group of rambling and semi-rambling or climbing berry-producing species of plants within the genus Rubus. Most of the brambleberries listed below have been derived from selections and crosses created from the original blackberry plant.
A lot of the selected brambleberry cultivars have quite distinctively diﬀerent flavors. Also, when it comes to the blackberry itself, the new varieties and cultivars have much larger fruit than the wild variety and may be thornless as well.
As mentioned, this is the original that most other brambleberries are derived from. ‘Thornless Chester Blackberry’ is the best type for home gardeners, not only because of its lack of thorns but because it produces infertile seed, making it far less of a concern as weed potential. For a good crop of the familiar plump black fruit, cooler climate zones are best.
LOGANBERRY, RUBUS X LOGANOBACCUS
This one’s a hybrid of blackberry and raspberry. The long cylindrical berry is a dusky reddish-purple color. The fruit is very aromatic and much sweeter if left on the plant to ripen. There is a thornless cultivar.
BOYSENBERRY, RUBUS URSINUS X HYBRIDS
Boysenberries’ dark-red to almost black fruit is tart but juicy. Boysenberries do well in subtropical areas. The plant is prickly and spreads vigorously.
YOUNGBERRY, RUBUS URSINUS
A vigorous trailing brambleberry with sweet, juicy, purple-black fruit, youngberry also comes as a thornless cultivar. It does well in the subtropics.
KERIBERRY, RUBUS RUGOSUS VAR. THWAITESII
This large, black fruit has a taste that’s somewhere between a blackberry and a raspberry. A note of warning, though: this is an extremely vigorous grower that needs a very strong support frame and has massive potential to become an invasive weed if growth is not kept in check. On the plus side, it bears nearly all year round in warmer climates.
Other brambleberries you may come across include marionberry, silvanberry, lawtonberry and tayberry.
RASPBERRIES, RUBUS IDAEUS
Interestingly, raspberries are actually cane berries and not brambleberries.
The point of diﬀerence is not only the diﬀerent growth habit of the plant, but also in the fruit itself.
Raspberries, when picked, leave the core of the fruit behind and are therefore somewhat hollow, whereas all the brambleberries’ cores remain within the fruit.
Raspberries grow on strong upright floricanes that will bear fruit biennially or in the year of growth. These canes are renewed each year from sucker growth from the root system.
Most raspberries like moisture but the soil must be free-draining, as they detest wet feet. Their root system is quite shallow and close to the surface, which means high spring/summer temperatures can aﬀect them.
Mulching thickly will protect the roots from temperature fluctuations, keep roots cool, suppress competition from weed growth and prevent soil moisture loss.
There are summer fruiting and autumn fruiting varieties.
Most fruiting berries in the Rubus genus originate from North America, Asia and Europe and prefer a cool climate, with some species and cultivars even performing moderately well in subtropical climates due to their lesser need for chilling hours.
Most Rubus genus plants are sprawling, shrubby, spreading plants, with vine-like or biennial canes that are usually quite thorny. There are a few cultivars that are thornless, though.
Plant your berries at least 40cm apart in a sunny site that’s protected from hot western sun and high winds.
Add organic matter such as compost and well-rotted animal manure to the soil before planting; after planting, add a good layer of mulch. Imagine a forest floor, their natural habitat, with lots of rotting vegetation and leaf litter.
If you have poor-draining soil, add organic matter and gypsum. Another option is to plant your berries in a mound to keep their roots above clay soil.
Cane berries prefer a slightly acidic soil pH of around 6–6.5. If your soil pH needs to be lowered, additions of sulphur powder and/or peat moss will help. Use pine needles in your mulch to naturally acidify the soil.
Your berries will need adequate water, especially during extended periods of dry weather and while in flower and fruit set. You can also mulch your berries with lucerne, sugarcane or pea straw.
Another practical feature of these fast-fruiting plants is that they’re relatively easy to net. This will ensure your precious berry crop doesn’t become treats for possums and birds, who like them as much as you do.
If you want to grow your brambleberries and raspberries in pots, use a potting mix formulated for camellias, gardenias and azaleas, as this will already have their preferred acidic pH.
The good thing about growing brambleberries and raspberries in containers is that it will help restrict their growth and suckering habit.
For productive fruiting berries, regular applications of an organic fertilizer and rock dust minerals are recommended, as well as a good application of potassium at the end of winter/early spring for good flowering and fruit production to occur in spring and summer.
Regular applications of liquid fish-based fertilizers and seaweed will not only keep the plants healthy, but will improve soil health as well.
Note: Avoid the use of wood ash for potassium and mushroom compost as a soil additive, as they will make the soil too alkaline for your berries.
Avoid feeding your berries high-nitrogen fertilizers as this will encourage soft, sappy growth, which will be susceptible to a range of pest and disease attack.
PRUNING AND TRELLISING
Brambleberries will require a regular pruning each season.
To make your seasonal pruning and harvest easier, training or espaliering your berries’ long canes along wires is advised.
These trellis set-ups should ideally be around 2m high and consist of three rungs of wire. This makes it much easier to keep the fruiting canes separated from the next season’s fruiting growth.
When the canes are tied along the wires, you can easily cut the upright growth from each cane to 10cm in height. These 10cm growth stubs will produce the following year.
The joy of this yearly pruning method is that the canes will be productive for up to three to four years before needing to be replaced.
There are many schools of thought on how and when various raspberry cultivars should be pruned.
Raspberries can be grown as a shrub, as their arching canes don’t require espaliering along wire trellises, but fruit yields will be higher if there is some form of trellis arrangement for them.
A trellis/fence set-up to a height of around 2m is ideal.
There are a few diﬀerent cultivars of raspberries and their pruning needs diﬀer.
Summer–autumn cropping cultivars are pruned to ground level in winter and the new-growth canes that appear will fruit the following season.
Varieties such as ‘Heritage’, however, can be pruned by 50 per cent; they will then produce new growth from that point that will fruit in early summer. They will still also produce new canes from below, which will fruit late summer/autumn, too.
Summer-fruiting cultivars, on the other hand, produce fruit only on the second year/previous season’s canes. Once they have fruited, these canes die and should be pruned oﬀ at ground level. New canes will then grow and produce fruit the following year.
Note: For something diﬀerent, you can weave your raspberries’ canes together to create an attractive and self-sustaining support system.