Pat Duke: Train and prune blackberry canes for a bumper crop next year

Torbay Weekly

One thing about gardening is that there are always more tasks to do.

Every time you’re strolling around with a mug of tea, it's impossible not to find them, even at this time of year when growth is slowing down and the bees are lapping up every last speck of pollen while they can.

Having just returned from the allotment and picking chillies, sunflowers and borlotti beans, I was struck by how far the blackberries and tayberries have been sending their shoots to create next year's canes on which the hopefully fat and sweet fruits will grow.

Naively, I had left the bushes to explore the area around them, hoping for more fruit in the process.

What I’m left with is an octopus like structure in the middle of the plot piercing through nearby raised beds.

What I need to do, preferably this week, is to train and prune the shoots, or canes, along some kind of wires suspended between posts.

Blackberries and hybrid fruits like tayberries and loganberries grow fruit on last year's canes, so the stalks that have grown this summer will need training along wires ready for next year.

It’s important to create some division between last year's growth and this year's.

In the past I have trained last year's growth one way and new growth in the other direction.

Once the fruit has finished in autumn those canes can be cut away at soil level to keep things tidy.

I plan to construct two sets of posts with maybe three lines of wire between each post.

I’m then going to train next year's growth - the fruiting ones - along them.

If I tie them in with string they won’t suffer in the gales and heavy winds we’re accustomed to in winter.

I’ll tie the new growth on the lower wires and next summer I can train the rapidly-expanding tentacles along the higher wires so it's easy to see which needs pruning and which needs keeping ready for the subsequent year.

It's ironic that brambles grow fruit without any cultivation whatsoever, but my fancy tayberries and thornless varieties need a gentle touch.

In previous years I had taken this approach with predictably little success.

I made schoolboy errors like cutting everything away to ground level and then getting no fruit for two years!

I've also tried the wild approach and just left them to do their own thing.

This hadn’t worked either as the plant was using up too much energy and nutrients to hastily create everything else except an abundance of fruit.

Last year, I had a bumper crop, but then all fruit bushes seemed to do well in the alternating wet and sunny conditions.

It is no coincidence that Covid allowed me to spend time pruning and training them in the right way either.

The moral of the story is that if you want productive fruit bushes you really do have to follow convention, not something I’m always good at I have to admit.

With soft fruit it always pays - in fruit - to do a bit of reading around the specific conditions they need.

The great thing about blackberries and hybrid varieties is that not only do they taste superb, but they can be kept frozen with no preparation whatsoever.

Just place them in a container, and takeaway ones are perfect, then get them out when you start making apple crumble from November onwards.

These bejewelled fruits turn an everyday dish into something quite special.

If you are really serious about growing berries then you will, of course, need some kind of cage to keep out the blackbirds, in particular.

They seem to have a particular taste for them and find increasingly ingenious ways to penetrate soft berry security operations.

The last thing you want to find in your fruit cage is an overweight blackbird with an expression denoting stomach ache.