Small fruits and berries

Credit: Carolyn Herriot


Currants and Gooseberries (above photo) belong to the genus Ribes. They are excellent for jams, jellies, and wine making. They will grow in full sun to partial shade. Avoid low-lying frost pockets. Space 5 feet apart. Mulch to retain moisture with straw, compost or manure twice a year. This feeds to boost fruit production, and helps prevent weed growth.

jostaberry worcester berry
Jostaberry (Worcester Berry) (above) is a hybrid berry resulting from a cross between a gooseberry and blackcurrant. It forms a stout gooseberry-like bush, with large purplish-blue juicy grape-like berries. A hardy plant which is a prolific cropper, it should be pruned and cultivated in the same way as the gooseberry.

Blackcurrants (above) produce fruit on 1-year old wood. In spring remove old wood and weak canes leaving 6 to 9 strong ones. Redcurrants and gooseberries produce on spurs on 2 and 3 year-old wood. Wood older than 3 years should be removed each year. Allow only 8 or 9 strong canes to remain on bush after pruning Shorten any long canes for side branching and fruit spur development

The currant fruit fly is a pest; the larvae decimate leaves on the bush and cause small white maggots in fruit. If this becomes a regular problem prevent it by spraying bushes after flowering with bacillus thuriengensis. (Bt)

Blueberries (above) need an acid soil pH 5.0. A sawdust mulch 5” thick will lower the pH. They prefer soil rich in organic matter and well drained, where they get at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Set plants 6 feet apart. It takes two years for plants to establish and start fruiting. Six blueberry bushes will provide for a family once mature, which takes several years. Choose early, mid-season and late varieties to extend the season of harvest. It’s best to have more than one variety for pollination.

Prune to encourage thick branches to develop. The best berries are produced from 2 to 3-year old wood. Bushes produce for several years then peter out. To reinvigorate your blueberry patch remove 20% of the oldest wood every year, and cut declining branches off at ground level.

Watch for birds as blueberries become ripe. Use netting to cover the bushes. Wait 2 to 3 weeks after they turn rich blue for truly ripe berries. Taste test for sweetness before harvesting. These plants provide year round interest from red leaves in fall and red stems in winter.

Hybrid Berries

Train a trailing cane fruit with a showy clematis to liven up an arbour or fence (below).

clematis berries
There are many types of delicious hybrid berries to grow in the garden, and they all make the best pies!

Boysenberry (Introduced in 1930)
These are a cross of blackberry, loganberry and raspberry.

Loganberry (1897)
A cross of blackberry and raspberry.

A cross raised in Scotland in recent times, this is a cross of loganberry and raspberry.

Rhubarb, (above) Rheum rhaponticum, is a long-lived hardy perennial, virtually pest and disease free. It’s easy to grow if you remember that it is a heavy feeder, and feed with manure in spring and fall. Leaves contain toxic levels of oxalic acid and should not be eaten, but can be added to the compost pile. Harvest stalks between one to two feet long by pulling off the crown with a twisting motion rather than cutting.

Stop harvesting by mid-summer to leave foliage to feed roots. To keep crowns producing divide every three years. Fall is the best time (but can also be done in early spring). Replant root sections (with two to three buds) three feet apart with crowns planted three inches deep. Harvest lightly the first year to help plants re-establish. Remove seed heads when they appear to direct energy back to the roots.