Fall is a great time to think about creating a fruit garden. Fruiting canes are a great choice for gardens large and small. No matter how little space you have, you will have the potential to add a few canes to grow soft fruit where you live. Some can even be grown in containers. If you make the right choices, position your canes in suitable locations, and care for them correctly, you could potentially be enjoying a range of soft fruit right through from summer to fall next year.
Choosing Fruiting Canes
Raspberries are one of the most common fruiting canes to choose – and one of the most delicious!
Types of Fruiting Cane To Consider
When choosing fruiting canes for your garden, there are a number of different options to choose from. Plant types that you could consider include:
- Raspberries (red, black, purple and golden varieties)
You can tell unripe blackberries from raspberries etc. by the fact that the fruits keep their white ‘rasp’ inside when picked.
It is important to understand the differences between these plants, and to realise that there are many different varieties that you could consider.
But the type and variety of fruiting cane to grow is not the only decision to make when it comes to choosing such plants for your garden.
Heritage or Hybrid?
One important thing to decide is whether you would like to go for a heritage or hybrid variety. Growing heritage varieties can be a good way to keep diversity in plant stocks and make sure that rarer varieties are preserved for the future. However, in certain circumstances, it may be better to opt for a hybrid variety. Hybrid varieties have been specifically bred to have certain characteristics – for example, they may be more, or less vigorous in their growth. They may have larger or better tasting fruits, or be more resilient to pests and diseases.
Primocane or Floricane?
Another important thing to understand about fruit canes (like raspberries) is that they come in different types with different fruiting habits. Primocane varieties (most late summer/ fall fruiting raspberries) bear berries on the current season’s growth. Floricane varieties (mid-summer fruiting raspberries) bear berries on the growth of the previous season. It is important to understand which you have, since care requirements (especially when it comes to pruning) will be different. We’ll cover pruning a little later in this article.
Choosing Fruiting Canes For Where You Live
Whichever choices you make about which fruiting canes to grow, it is of course very important to choose options that work specifically for where you live. It is important to think about:
- The general climate and weather conditions were you live.
- The micro-climate in your particular garden.
- The soil type, conditions and pH.
- Other plants you are already growing or wish to grow.
- Whether you will be growing your fruiting canes in containers or in the ground, with or without any form of cover or protection.
Considering Personal Desires and Preferences
It is also important to consider your own personal preferences and wishes, and those of the rest of your family/ household. While it is important to think about growing plants that are suitable for where you live, it is also important to keep in mind the human element of the system. It may sound obvious, but a surprisingly high number of people forget that there is no point in growing fruiting canes that you don’t enjoy the fruit from, or in growing too many. Think about how many fruits or berries you will actually harvest and eat, bearing in mind your own needs and wants throughout the year.
Considering Time as Well as Space
Of course, fruiting canes can be a useful component in many different gardens. They can definitely help you make the most of the space available to you. But when you are choosing fruiting canes, it is important to think not only about how you can make the most of the space, but also to consider time.
First of all, it is important to think about when a fruiting cane bears its bounty, and when it will need to be harvested. Your personal plans can help to determine which plants will be best for you. For example, you may have a particularly busy work schedule in summer, and so find it easier to harvest a crop that bears later in the year. It may be useful to think about when you have to harvest other crops in your garden, and to aim to choose fruiting canes which crop at a less busy time in the gardening year.
You may also wish to think about when the harvest will be most appreciated. Think about any gaps that need to be filled in your year round growing and eating plan. With some careful planning and consideration, fruiting canes can play an important role in moving you and your household closer to self sufficiency.
Thinking About Why You’re Growing Fruiting Canes
Finally, when choosing fruiting canes, bear in mind that their edible yields are not the only reasons to grow them. In addition to providing their fruits or berries, these plants can also be used to:
- Provide shelter (and some food) for wildlife in your garden.
- Provide additional forage/ food for chickens or other garden livestock.
- Create or form part of a wind break hedge to shelter part of your garden from prevailing winds.
- Create a hedge which forms a partial barrier to discourage egress into certain areas.
- Give other plants some shade during the summer months.
Be sure to think about how and why you are planting fruit canes when making your plant selections and planning your garden. Be sure to remember that the choice of which fruit canes to acquire is not just a stand alone choice. It should be considered with reference to the garden system as a whole.
When to Plant Fruiting Canes
Fruit canes are best planted as bare-root canes in the dormant season, between fall and early spring. Fall can be the best time to plant these, since they will have the chance to establish sturdy root systems before the worst of the winter weather arrives. They will have the chance to establish their roots before they burst back into green growth in the spring.
Where To Grow Fruiting Canes
Some fruit canes are most definitely tolerant of partial shade. But most will fruit better if they get plenty of sun. These plants will generally need reasonably fertile, and moist yet free draining soil. Some (blackberries, for example) are more tolerant of different conditions than others.
You can grow fruiting canes in a range of different places. For example, you could consider growing them:
- In a perennial bed or border growing area, alongside a range of other perennial plants forming a polyculture.
- On the sunny edges of forest garden systems.
- As a hedge along the edge of your property, or along the side of a driveway, for example.
- In a polytunnel/ hoop house or fruit cage.
- In containers – on a patio or balcony, for example.
Blackberries thrive in a wild thicket on the edge of the forest garden. (This is a thornless variety, so no prickles.)
Supports for Fruiting Canes
Once you have decided which fruiting canes to go for, how and where you will grow them (and why), it is a good idea to prepare your growing area, and any supports that you require before you take delivery of or go out and purchase your plants.
There are a number of different options when it comes to supports for fruiting canes. Some can simply be left to form thickets, or to trail in a natural looking system. However, tying canes into a support system can make them easier to harvest, and also make them look neater. You could consider:
- Tying fruiting canes against a wall or fence.
- Tying canes to wires strung between two or four posts.
- Creating a wigwam shaped support structure – which can work well for small spaces.
Planting Bare-Root Canes
Once you have prepared your planting area, and created any necessary supports, it is time to select and plant your bare-root canes. To do so:
- Make sure that the area is free from weeds and obstructions.
- Dig holes for the canes, large enough to comfortably accommodate the root systems.
- Place each cane on a small mound of earth at the base of each hole, spreading out the roots gently around the central cane. (Consider adding some beneficial mycorrhizal fungi into the planting hole at this stage.) Make sure that the soil level is at the same point as it was previously – you should clearly be able to see the former soil level on the canes.
- Gently fill in soil around your canes and tamp it into place.
- Water the area thoroughly.
- If you have chosen mid-summer fruiting canes that fruit on the previous season’s growth, it is important to determine whether the canes you have are primocanes (this season’s growth) or year old ready to fruit floricanes. Floricane fruiting canes should not be pruned on planting. If, however, you have primocane fruiting canes (such as late-summer/ fall raspberries) these should be pruned to within 25cm (10 inches) of the ground when planted.
- Add a good mulch of organic matter to protect the root systems, add fertility and cover and protect the surrounding soil.
Companion Plants for Fruiting Canes
Borage planted under fruiting canes attracts plenty of bees.
Companion planting is all about maximising the number of beneficial interactions between plants in your garden. At the same time as planting your fruit canes, it is also a good idea to consider choosing other plants that will serve as good companions for them (which will usually be sown or planted in the spring. Good companion plants for fruiting canes include:
- Garlic, chives and other alliums (pest repelling properties)
- Wild/ alpine strawberries (good ground cover).
- Yarrow, chervil, artemisia ( attract beneficial insects, repel certain pests).
- Borage, bee-balm, thyme (attract pollinators).
Of course, these are just some of the many companion plants that could work well with your fruiting canes.
Pruning Fruiting Canes
Fruiting canes will respond well to the right pruning regime. While fruit canes take little ongoing work, pruning is one job that is best not neglected.
Pruning Fruiting Canes That Grow Fruit on Floricanes (Last Year’s Growth)
Prune these canes (such as summer fruiting raspberries) in the late summer or fall, after the berries have been harvested. Since these canes bear berries on second year growth, the aim is to prune out only those canes which have fruited this year (floricanes). You will leave this season’s canes (primocanes) in place. These will turn into floricanes and fruit next year.
Identify the floricanes that have fruited this year. (These are brown or grayish in colour, and harder and more brittle in texture, having died off after fruiting, while the primocanes of this season’s growth will look fresh and green.) Cut off the floricanes at ground level.
Pruning Fruiting Canes That Grow Fruit on Primocanes (This Season’s Growth)
Raspberries that fruit in late summer/early fall on this season’s growth (primocanes) are best pruned in around February (late winter). There are two different options when it comes to pruning this sort of cane. The first option is simply to cut off all the canes at ground level. However, you can also consider aiming for double cropping by selecting the strongest 6-8 canes per metre and leaving these canes at around 1m in height.
Double cropping can be useful for those with smaller gardens, who do not have space to grow both summer and fall varieties. If you do decide to aim for a double crop, you can achieve a small, but valuable earlier crop in addition to the main harvest. On the other hand, plants that bear only once, in late summer/ early fall are said to produce higher quality berries. If you do decide to aim for double cropping, the canes that were left at 1m height should be cut down to ground level immediately after they have finished fruiting in the summer.
Take care of your fruit canes and they should give you delicious berries for many years to come. You can even expand your fruit growing area by removing and replanting suckers that spring up in the area around your canes.
Elizabeth Waddington is a smallholder, permaculture designer and environmental consultant. When not designing food producing systems or advising growers around the world, she is to be found in her own garden. On her 1/3 of an acre patch of land she has a walled forest garden orchard (home to rescue chickens), a polyculture vegetable plot, a polytunnel, wildlife pond, wild woodland garden and more and is working every day towards greater self-sufficiency. She is passionate about sustainability and loves to inspire others about the wonderful things home gardeners can do for people and planet.