Pruning Berries for Maximum Fruit

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Pruning Berries for Maximum Fruit

Woody blueberries and cane-producing raspberry plants are some of the easiest food-producers a gardener can cultivate.

Each requires minimal care, and both yield bountiful harvests. Cleaning up these plants in winter makes for easy work, and helps insure the plants perform well. Plus, utilizing these pruning techniques will help make harvesting your fruit much easier in the months ahead. While the timing of the work is similar, techniques for pruning raspberries and blueberries differ significantly. For both plants, I suggest using your favorite pair of bypass pruners. And, for older, woody blueberries you may also need a handsaw.

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Raspberries are usually classified as ever bearing and summer bearing. The former produce fruit well into fall; the later produce only once in summer. By waiting until winter to prune, you not only insure gathering in a full harvest regardless of your variety, but it is much easier to tell living canes from the spent canes as you cut.

On a winter day when temperatures are above freezing, being working on your raspberries by removing last year’s dead canes to the ground. If you find it tricky to tell if a cane is still viable, nick the stalk. If it appears dried out or brown, it’s dead. If it comes up green or moist, it is still alive. Once you have finished removing all of the dead canes, you should be left with several tall, new canes ready to produce fruit in the coming months.

If you are growing your canes in a trellised environment, carefully tie each cane on the horizontal to your trellis, taking care not to snap the canes. Once you have tied your canes in place, trim out the first few buds at the tip of the branch, cutting to just above a strong, fat bud. This is counter-intuitive to most pruning recommendations I make, but this type of tipping will encourage more buds to open, and those buds will produce flowers, followed by luscious fruit! Raspberry canes, unlike long-lived woody trees, last for only one season, so they can withstand this kind of pruning trickery.

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Blueberries may be high or low bushing. They may be deciduous or evergreen (or even something in between). They may fruit early in the summer, smack-dab in the middle or toward the end of the season. Regardless, pruning is pretty much the same for all of them.

On a non-icy winter day when all but the evergreen blueberries reveal their bare branching structure, begin by removing any weak, spindly shoots, taking them off to the ground or to where they meet up with a stronger branch. As well, remove any dead, broken or rubbing branches. (Use the scratch test described in the raspberry section to determine if a branch is still alive.) On new, young plants this may leave you with just a couple of shoots, and you may not get much fruit that first year. But, patience will pay off. Removing these weak shoots and encouraging the strong ones will pay off in the years ahead. If you don’t do it, odds are your plant will be a scraggly, non-producer for many years.

Next, clean out a few of the oldest woody, grey branches to open up the interior of the plant. Older branches may, over time, become less productive, and congested plants are more susceptible to disease. Plus, removing them encourages the plant to throw more energy into the remaining stems. Do not trim out any tip branches of your blueberries as you did with your raspberries.

Now that you’ve pruned your plants for maximum production, don’t forget to order some bird netting. Once the bees have finished pollinating your berries and small, unripe fruit begin to appear, drape your plants carefully with bird netting. It may not be a pretty addition to the garden, but it is temporary, and it will save your berries for you. Let those pesky birds eat ornamental garden berries instead!