How to grow bare root soft fruit
In general and for the purposes of this article, soft fruit refers to soft skinned, juicy fruit borne on bushes or canes. Other types of soft fruit include strawberries, grapes and melons but this article refers to woody bush types including raspberries, boysenberries, blueberries, tayberries, currants and gooseberries.
Growing soft fruit has become more and more popular as shop prices increase and demand for fresh fruit grows. Berries in particular are seen as healthy choice but I’m always rather dismayed when I see how far many of them have traveled to reach the supermarket shelf. A little bird also told me berries can have very high rates of pesticides on them, it stands to reason if you think about it, the smaller the fruit the more sprayable surface area there is per pound of produce.
The beauty of soft fruit canes and bushes is once planted they will produce abundant crops for 10 years or more before the bush starts to decline; all you need to do is add a good layer of manure around the bush in Spring, learn some basic pruning and protect ripening fruits from birds. Soft fruit is also easily frozen and can be used to make your own delicious jams and preserves so you’ll never have too much produce that you don’t know what to do with.
The most cost effective way to grow your own fruit garden is to buy bare root soft fruit varieties in Winter when the plant is dormant and has lost its leaves. Raspberry canes and currant bushes can look no more than a pile of twigs but you will be surprised how quickly they will take off in the Spring.
I can’t pretend to be an expert on soft fruit, I only properly planted up my own garden in the last few years but I do have access to plenty of people who do know what they are doing and have helped me along the way. If you’re looking for a good book on the subject you can’t go wrong with D.G.Hessayon’s ‘Expert’ series with the ‘Fruit Expert’ being no exception, it’s the one I use and the one I have open on the desk as I write this.
Site and Soil
All fruit will do best in full sun but most varieties will still do well in partial shade, when planting fruit to get the most from available sunlight a North – South orientation is best so plants don’t shade each other.
Most soil types will produce a good crop but avoid poorly drained or gravelly soils or sites under or close to trees. Add plenty of organic matter prior to planting, remember other than a top dressing of manure this is the last time you’ll turn this ground for 10 years so a well fed soil is essential. If your site is wet in Winter it is best to build raised beds as fruit (especially raspberries) will die if roots are made to stand in wet, airless soil for too long.
A generous mulch of manure is best applied in Spring after weeding around the plants. Manure should be well rotted (no smell) and added in a thick weed suppressing layer spreading about a metre around the stem. It can also be helpful to cover the manure with a layer of ‘mypex’ stapled to the ground as weeds and grasses growing through small fruit bushes (especially prickly gooseberries) can be a nuisance.
How to Grow Raspberries
Raspberries will need support as canes grow tall and can fall over when heavy with fruit. If you are growing in a small space a single post for every 2 plants will be more practical but if you have the room you are better growing a number of canes along a post and wire support fence.
Single post system
Plant 2 raspberry canes at the base of a single 6 foot post buried approx 2 feet deep in the ground, canes are secured to the post with loops of soft twine. This method is only really suited to very small gardens and can make fruit difficult to harvest, if space allows a post and wire system is recommended.
Post and wire system
A post and wire system is a simple fence of approx 6 ft high with galvanized wire fixed between the posts. A nice neat job here will pay dividends, make sure the end posts are secure enough to take the strain of the wire by bracing with an angled strut. Straining bolts are also very handy for keeping the wire taut; they consist of an eye bolt with a threaded bar which is drilled through the post and attached and tensioned with a bolt and washer. The support wires should be fixed at 5ft, 3 1/2ft and 2 1/2ft heights for Summer fruiting raspberries, you can omit the top wire for Autumn varieties. Raspberry canes are fixed to the wires with soft ties.
The System is the same as the post and wire method above but uses cross sections fixed to the posts to allow 2 wires to run parallel. The advantages are you can grow a deeper bush with more canes per root and you don’t have to tie the canes to the wires. You can also run twine or wire between the main support wires in a zig zag fashion which provides more lateral support and prevents tall canes from toppling sideways.
As with most soft fruit but very important for raspberries soil must not become waterlogged in Winter or the plans are unlikely to survive. I have a heavy clay subsoil which doesn’t drain well so have built raised beds and filled with a free draining topsoil.
Make a trench approx 45cm wide by 20 cm deep and line with well rotted manure and/or garden compost. If you can’t get hold of well rotted manure I have used a mix Envirogrind compost mixed with a small handful of seaweed poultry manure pellets per bucket and found it excellent. Raspberries like a slightly acidic soil so if your garden is chalky and alkaline you may want to re-consider or add sulphur to lower the ph.
Place the raspberry cane in the trench and and fill leaving the old soil mark as the same level as the new soil. Tread gently around the stem to firm the roots in and water well. Raspberry canes should be planted 50cm apart, if you want to grow 2 separate rows space each row 1.8m apart.
Most raspberry canes will come as a single stem or whip; you will need to prune the whip down to about 30 cm above the soil level. In the Spring you will notice new growth beginning to appear around the stem, at this stage cut the main stem down to ground level.
Raspberries fruit on last years wood so remember if you prune all the canes you will have no fruit for a year. I did this by mistake in my second year (duh) and missed a season but you want to see the raspberries the following year! Pruning is done after the berries plants have fruited as if you leave it till the leaves have fallen off in Autumn it’s more difficult to see which ones to prune (again, I learned this the hard way).
It is easy to see which canes to prune after fruiting as the new growth is vibrant and green while the old fruiting canes will look woody with yellowing leaves. Cut the old wood right back to soil level while leaving 8 -10 new green whips for fruit the following year.
Autumn fruiting varieties are treated differently as they fruit on the current years wood. Cut all the canes to ground level in February, you can thin the canes a little in Summer if they begin to look overcrowded.
Feed raspberries in Spring by adding a generous mulch of well rotted manure around the plants, don’t manure right up to the stems but leave about 10cm of uncovered soil around the plant. If growth is slow as Summer approaches add seaweed and poultry manure pellets at a rate of 100g per square meter.
The first summer raspberries are ready for harvesting in early summer, whereas autumn raspberries won’t mature until late summer. Pick on a dry day. Eat them fresh, freeze them, or make into preserves.
Where to buy?
We carry a selection of bare root raspberry varieties in the Autumn/Winter. Bare root bushes are best planted in November and December providing the ground is not difficult to work from either hard frost, snow or heavy rain.
Raspberry – All Gold
Raspberry – Autumn Bliss
Raspberry – Glen Ample
Raspberry – Malling Jewel