Each July, even before all the berries have matured, canes start growing so tall that gravity pulls them back down to earth in a graceful arc. Once the “heads” orient toward the ground, roots form. New fruiting shoots then sprout along the arc and by fall, the area is impenetrable.
To keep our plot in check, my husband, Kevin, and I prune the canes twice a year — in late summer to ensure easy access, and then again in March to the recommended 3 1/2-foot height with 6-inch branches that encourages heavy production.
Twice a year, I don long sleeves and cheerfully wade into the thicket ready to snip away, while poor Kevin gets stuck hauling my mess with nasty, hooky thorns to the brush pile. He says he doesn’t want the responsibility of pruning, but I think he knows how satisfying it is for me!
Last September, because my arm was still in a cast, he finally got to experience the full monty for himself. But, he didn’t seem nearly as tickled by the task — probably because he was still stuck hauling away the prickly discards.
Most years, it’s a system that works. The wild canes we inherited from the property’s previous owners and tenderly husbanded provide us with more than enough berries for delectable tarts and pies as well as antioxidant-rich juice able to fortify our immune systems to stave off colds and flu.
But, last year’s wetter than average conditions exacerbated by my failure to properly weed fueled an outbreak of cane blight. As a precaution, when Kevin pruned, we removed about a third of the plants to check the virus’ progression.
In the coming weeks, once the winter weather breaks, we’ll need to rake away detritus and give the remaining canes some extra TLC.
The upside to all that prolific growth is that it’ll be easy to restore our stock. Through judicious pruning and fostering of cuttings, we’ll soon be back to a full complement of black raspberries.
That’s good, because now that the gooseberries have fully settled in, we need to turn our surgical techniques on them. I fear that if we don’t, they’ll try to overtake the nearby grapevines — or the sidewalk.