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With everbearing brambles, pruning is simple

December 16, 2018

When I planted my first brambles decades ago, pruning rules were straightforward. As soon as the raspberries and blackberries were harvested every summer, the canes that had just produced fruit were cut to the ground and removed. The remaining canes were left in place for the next year’s crop.

I confess I never much liked the job of sorting through the canes to do this selective pruning in the heat of summer, the thorns scratching my skin as I worked. And weeding between the remaining canes was always difficult.

But then came a new type of brambles and with them new pruning rules. Whether you call the newcomers everbearing, fall-bearing, or primocane-bearing, they produce fruit on first-year canes, not on second-year canes like the older varieties. Heritage red raspberry, the first of the new introductions, is still widely grown. Vintage is a popular red ripening earlier.

If you have only everbearers like I now do, pruning is super simple. In early spring, you just cut all the canes to the ground. While the growing area is clear, it’s easy to pull out any tree seedlings or other weeds, then fertilize and spread mulch on the bare ground. All that’s left to do is reap the reward of a heavy crop of berries beginning in August and continuing until frost.

Actually, these everbearing brambles would produce just as well if pruned to the ground in early winter instead of waiting for spring. But that would deprive mason bee cocoons and leafcutter bee larvae of a chance to overwinter in the hollow canes. And I would miss the winter beauty of the canes, especially when they’re topped with snow or encased in ice.

Some gardeners choose to prune the newer everbearing brambles the old-fashioned way, cutting out in summer all the canes that have just finished bearing fruit. They will still get a second harvest in autumn, but the results don’t justify the more difficult pruning and the smaller harvest overall.

Fall-bearing blackberries solved several problems for me. Since the new canes that sprout in spring produce fruit that same growing season, I no longer lose the crop if the canes are killed by cold or eaten by deer or rabbits over the winter.

The first fall-bearing blackberry variety I grew was Prime Jim. It was productive, winter-hardy, and tasty, but it had wicked thorns. Now I grow Prime Ark Freedom, the first thorn-less fall-bearing blackberry on the market.

Besides cutting the blackberry canes to the ground in early spring, a little “tipping” during the growing season is recommended for Prime Ark Freedom. When canes are 12 inches tall and again at 30 inches, cut off the tips. Tipping stimulates fruiting, increases yield, and keeps plant height in check.

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