Bush Fruit Pruning Pointers

Growing bush fruits in your backyard brings a double pleasure.

When you pick them fresh from the garden in the early morning and serve them for breakfast covered with sugar and cream, and taste the raspberry jam, gooseberry tarts, currant jelly, or blueberry muffins, you not only have the well-being that comes with eating good food but also the gladness that comes from having assisted in making it.

Bush FruitPin

To do the job well and produce fruit of fine appearance and flavor means cultivating, fertilizing, spraying, and pruning.

Pruning is not the least important by any means. Properly done, it helps keep the plant healthy by removing dead, weak, and diseased parts. 

It also directs growth into the stronger parts of the plant and helps maintain its vigor. And, by removing excess fruit buds, overbearing with its consequent loss of fruit size and flavor is prevented.

Proper Pruning Tools

First, one must have proper tools, sharp and in good working condition. The three tools necessary in pruning bush fruits are a long-handled lopping shear, a bramble hook, and a pruning shear. 

Lopping shears are used to cut off raspberry and blackberry canes at the base of the plant and remove any large branches, too big to be cut with shears, of currants, gooseberries, or blueberries. The bramble hook is used to cut off canes of raspberries and blackberries at the base. 

It must be very sharp and free from rust or the roots may pull up the plants. Pruning shears are needed for lighter work: heading back red raspberries, shortening laterals of purple and black raspberries as well as blackberries, and thinning out currants, gooseberries and blueberries.

Controlling Insects And Diseases

Canes grow and form fruit buds one year, fruit and die the next. To help control insects and diseases, removing and bum these old canes as soon as they have finished fruiting in summer is best. 

If this is not done then it may be done in spring with regular pruning. Since wide varieties of brambles are subject to winter injury, it is well to delay pruning until buds start. At that time, injured parts can be recognized more easily and cut off. 

Topping Black And Purple Raspberries

To encourage the development of stocky canes and vigorous fruiting laterals, 2″ or 3″ inches of the end of each cane should be broken off during the summer. This is called topping. Black raspberries are topped at about 2′ feet. 

The more vigorous purples are at 2 ½’ to 3′ feet. Bushes should be gone over at least twice during the summer so that all canes are topped at about the right height. 

If not done the previous summer, dead canes are cut away in the spring when the dormant pruning is done. Then, the rows are thinned by the removal of canes under ½’ inch in diameter. 

Larger canes may be left, as the roots will support as many vigorous ones as can be induced to grow. Next, broken or injured canes and dead laterals or branches are cut away. 

Finally, the remaining laterals are shortened or headed back. Laterals of black varieties are usually cut to 6″ to 8″ inches. Those of the purples may be left 12″ to 14″ inches long.

Removing Excess Canes

Old, dead canes not removed during the previous summer should be cut out in the spring. Next, the row is thinned and narrowed by removing all excess canes and those growing too far in the rows. 

Since the size of crops is closely connected with the diameter of canes, eliminate the thinner, weaker ones.

Twenty-five canes per 10 linear feet of the row are enough. If the row is kept narrow, a foot to 18″ inches wide, picking will be easier. 

Finally, the canes are topped. If the bushes are grown without support, 4′ to 4 ½’ feet is sufficient height,

With support, canes can be left somewhat longer. Red raspberries should never be topped during the summer.

Topping Blackberries

Erect blackberries like purple raspberries are topped at 2 ½’ to 3′ feet during the summer. Before growth starts in spring, remove dead or weak canes.

Narrow the row and thin the remaining canes so that they will be about 8″ inches apart in fertile, moist soil and a foot apart if the soil is not so good. 

Finally, laterals are cut back. Because varieties differ in the position of their fruit buds, the length of laterals varies. A length of 12” inches is about right for varieties most commonly grown.

Evergreen, Brainard, and Himalaya

Semi-trailing varieties like Evergreen, Brainard, and Himalaya have long, limber canes tending to run like a grapevine. These can be trained to a wire trellis. 

Set posts in the ground and string two wires across them, one 5′ feet and the other 3′ feet from the ground. Bring the canes up and tie them to these wires.

Logan, Young, and Boysenberries

New shoots of trailing varieties such as Logan, Young, and Boysenberries may be allowed to run along the ground the first year.

As fruiting canes during the second year they need support to keep berries off the ground and clean. Several systems supporting the canes have been developed.

Use Trellis

Most systems use a trellis of one to four wires strung between posts. The strongest canes are lifted and tied to these wires. The simplest way, where only a few hills are involved, is to use stakes 5′ to 6 ½’ feet long. 

Wind the canes around the stakes two or three times and tie them securely with soft twine. Then, cut the canes off just above the stakes or nail a cross piece to the stake, loop the canes over it, tie them securely, and cut off their ends. 

This helps to keep canes from slipping down the post. Another simple method is to divide the canes into two, three, or four bundles, depending on the number of vigorous ones, and tie them securely to a single wire about 5′ feet from the ground. Or, the canes may be tied in either or both directions along a wire 2 ½’ to 3′ feet from the ground.

Pruning Currants And Gooseberries

Both these fruits naturally form bushes, and their pruning is essentially alike. It is done during the dormant season, usually in spring, before growth starts.

Red and white currants and gooseberries produce fruit buds on one-year-old wood and spurs on older wood, but they bear best on 2- and 3-year-old wood with inferior fruit on wood older than that.

Weaker shoots should be removed from one-year bushes, leaving 6 to 6 of the strongest. At the end of the second year, four or five two-year-old and three or four one-year-old shoots may be left. 

After the third year, three of each: one-, two, and three-year-old shoots are left, and all wood over three years old is removed. Low branches, which would allow the fruit to drag on the ground and make it dirty, are also removed. 

On the other hand, black currants bear the most and best fruit on the previous season’s growth. Therefore, pruning should encourage a plentiful supply of new wood.

Gooseberry shoots are usually fruited only for two years and then removed. On the Pacific coast, where they are said to bear the heaviest crop in the third year, shoots are fruited for 3 years and then cut off.

Pruning Blueberries 

Because blueberries produce plump fruit buds on the tips of the previous season’s shoots, pruning should be done to encourage the growth of many new shoots. Little pruning is necessary for the first two or three years after planting. 

Only dead or weak branches need to be removed. But each year after that, a few of the older branches producing short, weak growth should be cut off at the bush’s base.

The weakest of the new shoots growing from the base should also be removed, leaving only three or four of the strongest. 

Then, the top of the bush should be thinned out by removing broken or weak branches.

If especially large fruit is desired, the bush should be trimmed to leave only 4 or 5 of the larger, fatter fruit buds on the tip of each shoot. 

44659 by J. S. Bailey