For gardeners like me, it’s a dangerous time of year to walk through a nursery. It’s bare-root cane berry season, and there is so much to choose from. I may not “need” another cane berry plant, but I’m sure there’s an empty spot in my garden that wants to produce blackberries or raspberries.
For bare-root plants, nurseries dig them up when the plants are dormant. They shake or wash any soil from the roots and then typically pack them in a material that retains moisture, such as shredded paper, sphagnum moss or wood shavings.
A bare-root cane berry plant is not a thing of beauty so nurseries provide eye-catching color posters that show the plant at its peak and what the mature berry looks like. One glance and you’re salivating, remembering how tasty fresh blackberries and raspberries are in summer. Next, you notice that one bare-root cane berry plant costs less than two pints of berries from the farmers market. The hook has been set.
As with choosing real estate, the three most important considerations when planting cane berries are location, location and location. Berries like well-draining soil, so choose a site where water does not accumulate. Berries do best in full sun. Less sun equals less fruit.
Berries require support such as a fence or trellis. Assuming you have a fence, look for a spot along the fence line that meets the other two requirements. Berries do not like to be planted where Solanaceae-family crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes) grew previously. Soil-borne diseases such as Verticillium wilt may remain in the soil and affect berries.
Check the pH of the soil at your chosen site; berries like it slightly acidic. If the pH is between 5.5 and 6.5, you’re good to go.
If you have heavy clay soil, as I do, consider planting in a raised bed. Cane berries do not like wet feet; a raised bed will improve drainage. You can create raised beds by mounding the soil 8 to 10 inches high and about 2 feet wide at the top. Raised beds can be as long as you like.
Before planting, incorporate a generous amount of organic matter. Digging in three to four inches of compost will improve aeration, drainage and water-holding capacity.
If your soil is acidic (pH less than 5.5), you can add lime to decrease the acidity. If your soil is alkaline (pH greater than 6.5), you can dig in finely ground sulfur to increase acidity. Local nurseries have these products. Make sure you read and follow package directions.
You should plant bare-root cane berries within a few days of purchase. If you are not ready, protect the roots from drying out by “heeling them in.” To do this, dig a hole about twice as deep as the roots are long and place the plant in the hole on a 45-degree angle. Next, cover the roots with sand or soil and gently tamp down to eliminate air pockets. Keep moist until you are ready to plant.
Blackberries, raspberries or both? Thorned or thornless? To me this is a no-brainer. Thornless plants won’t wound you when you’re pruning or harvesting. I have harvested thorny wild blackberries and my hands and arms were not a pretty sight.
Depending on the cultivar, blackberries ripen between June and August; raspberry cultivars ripen between June and September. Choose several different cultivars to have berries ripening all summer.
Before planting, soak the roots in water for an hour. Dig a hole large enough for the entire root system — at least three to four inches deep and approximately two feet wide. Place the plant in the hole, spreading out the roots and covering them with soil. Do not leave any roots exposed. Place a stake next to the plant and tie the canes to it. Lastly, water the plant and then cover the soil with mulch to retain moisture.
Now, finally, you can sit back and relax. In a year or two, you’ll be enjoying a summer filled with home-grown blackberries and raspberries.
Workshop: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Growing Berries” on Saturday, Jan. 20, from 9:30-11:30 a.m., at the UC Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Ave., Napa.
Imagine stepping out into the garden and returning with bowls of berries, freshly harvested and ready to eat. Now imagine that you have so many that you have to give them to friends or freeze them for later. This could easily be your garden. Learn about plant selection, soil preparation, planting, care and maintenance, and pests and disorders—everything you need to know to turn your dream into a reality. Online registration (credit card only); mail-in/walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).