We’re taking a very brief gander at some of the main soft fruits and the pruning techniques that will help you get the most from them. Not strawberries, not in this piece, but summer and autumn fruiting raspberries, red currants, white currants and black currants, blackberries and hybrid berries and gooseberries.
Thank you to the RHS Pruning books for the diagrams (both the little ‘pocket’ book and the larger bible, and to Alan Titchmarsh’s choices for particular varieties in his Kitchen Garden book.
There are links to articles in the last post covering soft fruit, and photographs taken at RHS Wisley. Once again I would recommend Mary Spiller’s book on Growing Fruit as well as Dr DG Hessayon’s New Fruit Expert. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has a fine writing style and a wit and passion that helps bring the subject alive. This too – and it is one of an excellent series – I recommend.
Summer fruiting raspberries
Summer fruiting raspberries flower and fruit on stems (canes) that grew during the previous season, so a crop will not be produced until the second year after planting. They do best in a sheltered spot in cool areas and annual pruning will keep them productive.
Summer-fruiting varieties often produce taller stems than autumn types, so need support. Grow them against a ‘ladder’ of horizontal wires that are attached every 10cm up sturdy upright posts. Space the plants 45cm apart. As the new stems grow, attach them loosely to the wires. If stems grow beyond the top of the wires, bend them over and tie them to avoid wind damage. After the first crop, cut back to the ground all the older stems that have borne fruit. Space out and reattach the remaining stems to the support, shortening them in winter to 15cm above the wire.
Formative pruning (the first season of planting) – shorten all canes immediately after planting to 45cm.
Summer fruiting raspberry varieties
All Gold – unusual yellow fruited raspberry with a flavour that is often considered superior to the red varieties
Glen Ample – a mid-season berry, ripening from late June to early August. Spine free.
Malling Admiral – late season with exceptional disease resistance, ideal for organic growing. Spine free, Ripens just after main season raspberries are over, late July to mid August.
Malling Jewel – berries ripen in July and remain firm for a week, even when ripe. It’s flavour is one of the best, though not the heaviest cropper. Slow to succumb to virus.
Autumn fruiting raspberries fruit for a longer period than summer types, often producing berries until the first frosts. They can be grown without support in a very sheltered garden, but are best planted against a system of horizontal wires. Because of their fruiting habit, the plants may crop in their first season.
At the end of their first winter after planting, cut all stems back down to ground level. New shoots will appear from below the soil in early spring. If the growth is very soft before it reaches the lowest wire, tie the stems loosely together with string to keep them upright. Attach them to the wires as they grow upwards. In the year following years after harvest, the stems can be left unpruned over the winter. All growth should be cut to the ground in late winter/early spring. At this time, dig out unwanted suckers from around the base of the plants, these can be used to replace older plants.
Autumn fruiting raspberry varieties
Joan J – spine free with an exceptionally long fruiting season, from late July or early August until the first frost – given a mild autumn you could still be picking at Christmas.
Autumn Bliss – significantly outyields many other varieties and fruits start to ripen in August.Texture is firm with good flavour. Sturdy – support should not be necessary. The site must be sheltered and sunny
Blackberries and hybrid berrries
Blackberries are succulent fruits that are commonly found growing wild in our hedgerows. Many hybrids have been produced to give plants larger fruits, often these are blackberry/raspberry crosses. They extend the berry season into autumn and cope well in cool, damp climates where summer rains are common.
Plants are best trained on horizontal wires. Shorten the canes on planting. The shoots that develop the first year will not fruit until the following year. As they grow, weave them into the wires, pulling them as close to the horizontal as possible. The following year allow new canes to grow upright, typing them loosely to the upper wires (or an adjacent post put in for the purpose). After fruiting, cut back the older horizontally trained fruited stems to the base, untie the newer upright canes, then weave these onto the wires for fruiting the following year.
Black Butte – a reasonably compact plant with stems 1.8-2.4m long, producing heavy crops of enormous, rather tubular-shaped fruits 5cm long and of very good quality, which ripen from the end of July onwards.
Helen – a spineless 1.8-2.4m blackberry with large, good quality fruits which ripen several weeks earlier than most blackberries, from mid July onwards. See also Oregon Thornless.
Lock Tay – probably the best for a really small garden; a very compact blackberry with short thornless canes. Instead of training along a fence of wire system, insert a 1.8m stake alongside each plant and tie stems to it in a bundle. Crops well with fair sized conical fruits ripening from mid August onwards
Veronique – as ornamental a blackberry as you will find, with pink flowers, no thorns and a compact, semi-upright habit suitable for tying up a post or fanning out over a 1.8m fence panel, yet also produces good crops of large fruits in late summer.
Himalaya Giant – for a vandal proof screen, wind break or impenetrable barrier – very vigorous and spiny, yields up to 25llbs per plant are not uncommon.
Boysenberries – a hybrid between the blackberry and an unknown parent,with heavy crop of large, blackberry like fruits that have the flavour of wild bramble and which ripen in July and August. It is fairly drought tolerant and often does better in light soils and drier conditions than true blackberries.
Loganberry – a hybrid of the raspberry and dewberry, this is a wild, raspberry-like fruit. It has large red rather sharp-tasting fruit and is best cooked. Allow 2.4-3m.
LY654 – a thornless variety of the loganberry with large almost 5cm fruit ripening from mid-July to early September. LY59 is sometimes available and though some people prefer the flavour, the stems are very thorny.
Tayberry – a hybrid between the blackberry and raspberry with rich, red aromatic fruit, used raw as fresh fruit or cooked. Generally considered to be the best of all of the hybrid fruit. Alow 2.4-3m.
Buckingham – a new thornless tayberry with large good quality fruit, ripening in July and August.
Tummerlberry – a cross between two varieties of tayberry – a much hardier plant and ideal for ore exposed situations.
An excellent source of vitamin C, blackcurrants are round, dullish black fruit with a tart flavour. The plants are neat-growing, twiggy, deciduous shrubs that benefit from annual pruning. They like a fertile soil but are tough plants and will tolerate a range of conditions.
Plant new plants slightly deeper than they were in the pot to encourage a multi-stemmed habit, and cut all stems down to within 10cm of the base. Growth produced in the first year will not fruit. The following winter, remove straggly stems and others as necessary to create an open centred bush – the unpruned stems will flower and fruit the following year. From then on, in mid-to late- winter, remove up to one third of the fruited stems. Old bushes can be renovated by hard pruning but this will be at the expense of next year’s fruit.
Ben Connan – a very compact variety that is ideal for small gardens yet has unusually large fruits. Some pest and disease resistance
Ben Hope – a pest and disease resistant variety that also withstands the gall mites that cause ‘big bud’ and reversion disease – once both serious problems when blackcurrants were more widely grown. It produces a large crop of medium-sized, good quality fruit, ideal for organic grower. Ripens in July.
Ben Lomond – a popular variety with commercial growers which is fairly compact, rather upright in shape and needs very little pruning. It bears heavy crops of large fruit which ripens at the end of July. Ben Nevis is very similar but with bigger and taller bushes.
Ben Sarek – a heavy cropping and very compact variety only 90cm high, with fairly frost resistant flowers that are rarely affected by late frosts, and very large berries that ripen from mid July to mid August. Can be planted at closer spacings than other blackcurrants at 90cm apart (1.5m apart for those growing 1.2-1.5m tall.
Jostaberry – is a cross between blackcurrant and a gooseberry and looks like a blackcurrant but are as big as a gooseberry, so they are quick to pick. The bush is fairly compact, with gooseberry like foliage but no prickles. Best grown on a short trunk 15cm high and pruned by thinning out a third of the branches in winter.
Redcurrants and whitecurrants
Treated more like gooseberries than blackcurrants.
There is no clear botanical distinction between redcurrants and whitecurrants, which are twiggy, deciduous shrubs that fruit well in cool summers. Careful pruning greatly enhances productivity.
A young plant should have three or four young stems on a short trunk. The first winter after planting, shorten these by half. Allow shoots to develop without pruning in spring and summer, initially they will not flower or fruit. The following winter, reduce these to 8-10 main branches, aiming to produce a balanced open-centred bush. These stems form the main framework; shoots that emerge from these will carry the fruit. Each winter, cut back all the shoots that grow from out of the main framework to one bud from the base to develop a system of spurs. Remove older framework branches that are not fruiting well, cut back to suitably placed shoots.
And for a cordon –
Red and white currant Varieties
Jonkheer van Tets – an oldish variety that’s stood the test of time, with long trusses of large berries (which means they are less fiddly to pick), ripening early July.
Red Lake – a good old faithfull variety with large crops of juicy berries on long trusses, ripening in early July.
Rovada – a heavy cropping, very late variety with large berries, ripening throughout late-July and August. The flowers open late, so are not affected by late frost.
White Versailles – the first Whitecurrant in both popularity and picking time, The trusses are long and heavy – the fruits are pale yellow and pleasantly sweet. It is thoroughly reliable, giving good crops year after year.
Gooseberries produce translucent oval fruits that are mostly too tart to eat raw. The fruits are most commonly bright green, though there are red and yellow varieties. The plants are often very thorny and fruit well in areas with cool summers.
In late winter, shorten all growth on new plants to create a bush on a short stem about 10cm high, with two or three strong side branches. Cut out the lowest branches which will make collecting the fruit difficult amongst the prickles and avoid fruit-laden branches dragging in the mud. Of the shoots that develop from these during the following growing season, select eight to ten to create a balanced framework and an open centre. These shoots will fruit the following year. Once established, each winter older branches should be removed entirely. For smaller crops of larger fruit, thin the developing crop by up to half in late spring to early summer. This also helps control the spread of gooseberry mildew.
Can be grown as a standard which helps both with pruning and harvest, and as a fan.
Hinomaki Yellow – a relatively new dessert gooseberry with very large, aromatic fruit that ripen to pale gold. It has a rich flavour with a hint of apricot and ripens in July. Mildew resistant.
Invicta – a heavy cropping, traditional, green, thorny variety with well-flavoured fruit which is ready in July. Mildew resistant.
Pax – a thornless dessert gooseberry which is heavy cropping, tasty and mildew resistant. It has largely taken over from the traditional old favourite.
Whinham’s Industry – a thorny, red dessert variety – that copes well in shade and a heavy soil
Blueberries are valued not only for their delicious blue berries, which are high in vitamins and can be eaten raw and cooked, but also for their overall appearance – with bell-like flowers in spring and glowing red leaves in autumn. They need acid soil but can be grown successfully in large containers filled with ericaceous compost, with added grit or sharp sand. Water with rainwater and use an acid feed – and acid mulch like pine needles or pine bark to maintain soil acidity.
Blueberries flower on the previous season’s wood, so any strong shoots that emerge between spring and summer can be left unpruned to fruit the following year. In late winter to early spring, shorten fruited stems to allow for new growth, cutting back to strong, outward facing buds. Remove any twiggy shoots. Cut older, unproductive shoots right to the base. Thin stems in the middle of the plant to allow room for ny strong new shoots, and to create an open centred bush,
Bluecrop – 1.2m high and roughly 75cm across, with large fruits ripening in late July to mid August. Good for containers.
Chandler – very large fruits on a 1.5m plant,ripening August to mid-September
Earliblue – one of the earliest of the popular varieties, ready early to late July. Grows 1.8m high by a little over 90cm wide.
Herbert – very large and exceptionally well-flavoured fruits, ripening in late August
Sunshine Blue – 90cm plants with unusual pink flowers and heavy crops of superb fruits in August. Good for containers.
Top Hat – compact bushes, 60cm high and as wide, ideal for containers. Medium sized fruits but good flavour.
These varieties were on sale recently at the Wisley Plant Centre.