University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring/Summer News Article
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CHOOSING BRAMBLES
 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
           
           
Brambles are those members of a particular genus (Rubus) in the rose family, generally with thorns and with edible fruits.  Common examples are the raspberry and blackberry, with several types of each to choose from, and many cultivars (cultivated varieties).  Which you choose to grow will depend on your personal preference for fruit, and your site.
           
Brambles, and in particular raspberries, are a favorite fruit of many, and one of the easiest fruits to grow.  They usually produce a big crop by the third year after planting, and remain productive for 5 to 12 years, perhaps more. Brambles are usually planted in rows, with each foot of row of raspberries producing at least a pint, with one to 4 quarts per bush if planted singly.  So, a 10-foot row with 5 plants should produce enough fresh fruit for several people, and perhaps some left for making jam or freezing.  Rich in antioxidants, raspberries have health benefits.  A fact I like is that they are easy and quick to pick, without much bending over.
           
Other benefits of growing brambles are that they bloom late, so spring frosts seldom injure the flowers.  They get few insects, which are easy to control, and by choosing virus-free plants and keeping wild brambles at a distance, they are relatively disease-free in home gardens. 

The term “brambles” comes from an ancient Old English word, dating back at least 800 years.  Red raspberries (Rubus idaeus), though, were mentioned by the Greeks and Romans even earlier.  “Rubus” means red, and “idaeus” means belonging to Ida.  Legend has it that the nymph Ida pricked her finger while picking berries for Zeus while he was still a baby, staining the originally white berries red with her blood.  Another story has it that Greek gods were believed to have brought raspberries from the sacred Mt. Ida in Turkey.  In North America, red raspberries were first cultivated in the mid-1700’s.
    
The black raspberry is native, and has been cultivated only since the mid-1800s.  Purple raspberries, hybrids of the red and black, came about shortly after that.  Blackberries, although native to North America, weren’t cultivated here until that period as well, even though they had been taken back to Europe and cultivated there in the 1600s.  Early settlers had viewed them as just wild and weedy.  A main difference between raspberries and blackberries is that when picked, the center of raspberry fruit is hollow—the core or “receptacle” stays on the plant.  The central core remains inside picked blackberries.
           
Red raspberries are by far the most common bramble, with the most cultivars.  These come in two types.  The summer-bearing, or one crop, bear fruit in mid-summer on canes produced the previous year—“floricanes”.  You’ll want to pay attention to cold hardiness on all brambles, as this varies with cultivar.  Among the hardiest choices of one-crop red raspberries for zone 3 (-30 to -40 degrees F in winter) are ‘Boyne’ and ‘Latham’.  Hardy to zone 4 (-20 to -30) are the popular ‘Canby’ and ‘Taylor’.
            
The fall-bearing, or two crop red raspberries, bear fruit in summer on floricanes and then again in fall on this year’s canes—“primocanes”.  The two crop are sometimes seen as “everbearers”, although this isn’t the case.  Among the good choices are ‘Heritage’ and ‘Jaclyn’, both hardy to zone 3, and ‘Fall Red’ which is hardy to zone 4. 
           
Yellow raspberries generally are fall-bearing, and being rather delicate are seldom found in stores.  For this reason they’re a great candidate for home gardens.  There are not too many choices of these, a couple good ones hardy to at least zone 4 being ‘Anne’ and ‘Fall Gold’.
           
The black raspberries (R. occidentalis) are called “black caps” in some areas.  Not all people like the slightly musky aroma and flavor of their summer fruit.  Unlike the red raspberries, these don’t spread rampantly underground producing suckers or new shoots.  Instead, their tips fall over and root where they touch the soil.  They’re also less hardy than red raspberries, a couple of the more common and hardy ones (to zone 4) being ‘Bristol’ and ‘Jewel’.             
Similar to the blacks are the purple raspberries, with even less suckering, relatively drought tolerant once established, and resistant to most pests and diseases.  A couple of the more common and hardy selections to look for are ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Royalty’. 
           
Blackberries can be grouped into upright and trailing types, and ones with or without thorns.  Upright ones grow from roots, similar to raspberries, as well as a central crown.  The trailing ones have arching stems from a central crown.  Although trailing ones may be seen as “dewberries”, this really refers to a separate species of trailing blackberry that tends to be sweeter and grows in zones 5 to 9.
           
The original native blackberries were thorny and upright, but aren’t seen much as harvesting with such thorns can be difficult.  Roots of blackberries are generally hardy, but the hardiness of the tops varies.  Often the upright with thorns are more hardy (USDA zone 6) than the upright thornless cultivars, although ‘Darrow’ is hardy to zone 4.  Both ‘Illini’ and ‘Kiowa’  are hardy to zone 5, and have a long harvest season.  ‘Arapaho’ is less hardy (zone 6) but has no thorns. The Prime series from Arkansas fruits on first year canes (primocane), with PrimeJan listed as hardy to zone 4.
           
The trailing cultivars, particularly the thornless ones, are generally less hardy although ‘Chester’ and ‘Triple Crown’ are listed as hardy to zone 5.  Both are good selections, semi-upright, and thornless.
           
Once you’ve chosen your brambles, plant in a well-drained soil in full sun.  Space 2-feet apart in rows (farther apart for trailing blackberries).  Rows should be about 6-feet apart for raspberries, and perhaps 10-feet apart for blackberries.  Often trailing blackberries need cross pollination between cultivars in order to fruit (so buy more than one), but most brambles are self-fertile and will produce fruit just with the aid of bees (so you can have just one cultivar).
           
Water well for the first few weeks, if little rain, until plants are established.  If you have fertile soil you may only need compost at planting.  Testing the soil with kits from your local Extension office will yield results on how much fertilizer and lime, if any, to add.  Otherwise, use about 2 to 3 pounds of a low analysis, organic fertilizer such as 5-3-4 per 100 linear feet of row.  Apply this again about a month after planting.
           
More on choosing brambles and their culture, more cultivars, and lesser known ones such as the loganberry or boysenberry, can be found online (homefruitgrowing.info) or from the Fruit Gardener’s Bible by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry.    

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