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2020 Herb of the Year


International Herb of the Year 2020

Blackberries and Raspberries (Brambles)

Rubus spp.


In 1991, the International Herb Association established National Herb Week to be celebrated every year during the week prior to Mother’s Day. The purpose of National Herb Week is to develop and coordinate national attention on herbs and herbal uses.


Every year since 1995, the International Herb Association has chosen an Herb of the Year to highlight the Herb of the Year. The members of the genus Rubus, collectively, are the Herb of the Year for 2020. Rubus includes raspberry and blackberry and other less well-known berries. We can easily grow blackberries and raspberries in North Texas.


Most brambles fruit on two-year-old canes. The first year, the canes that emerge are called primocanes. The second year, the same canes are called floricanes because they flower and fruit. Recently, growers have developed blackberries and raspberries that bear on primocanes (the current year’s growth).


Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus)


Blackberries are the easiest of the small fruits to grow and have productive, upright canes. The most important thing to know is that most cultivars produce on the previous year’s canes. Purchase one gallon fully-rooted container plants and you will get crops sooner than if you start with bare root plants. Purchase only certified disease-free plants. Some varieties need cross-pollination. Plants can be upright or trailing, with and without thorns (thornless). Most varieties have hardy roots, but in a cold winter the canes may die to the ground.


Blackberries are classified into two fruiting types:


Floricane-bearing, or summer-bearing, which means they produce berries only on the second-year growth, the floricanes. The fruit appears in early- to mid-summer.


Primocane-bearing, or ever-bearing, produce fruit on floricanes in the summer, but they also produce fruit on the primocanes in fall in the first year. They will then produce fruit lower on the primocanes the following year in early summer.


When/Where/How to Plant


Blackberries need to be planted where they will receive full sun (at least 8 hours a day). The best time to plant is in the fall, next best is winter, to give plants a chance to get established before the heat of summer. Space plants 3’ apart in well-drained soil amended with compost. Set each plant at the same depth as it grew originally in the container. Place a 1-2” layer of mulch (compost, pine bark, straw) around the plant to conserve moisture and prevent weeds. Soak the soil well with water to which has been added a weak solution (1/4 strength) of liquid fertilizer.


A common mistake is to plant too deeply; make sure the green or white buds near the base are above ground.


Care and Maintenance


Water young plants every 2-3 days for three weeks until established. Provide 1” of water weekly if not supplied by rain. Fertilize with a cup of complete fertilizer per plant in late winter before growth begins and again after harvest.


The area around plants should be kept free of weeds as they compete for nutrients and water. Weeds will be kept to a minimum if the area is mulched heavily and maintained on a regular basis.


If you choose the traditional method of tying and training canes, faithfully remove floricanes once they finish bearing or the plantings will deteriorate quickly. To keep your patch productive, cut each floricane to ground level in the fall. Because insects and diseases overwinter in canes, do not put them in the compost pile.


Some growers have begun to use a procedure called “tipping” to delay bloom time and produce more bloom tips for heavier crops. This involves cutting back the canes by 1-2” when the new canes reach about 18” high and then again when the cut canes produce laterals that reach 18” long. Watch plants carefully for timing of tipping; do the second tipping as soon as you see the first bloom bud. It is best to make the plants wait until the hottest part of the summer has passed so that you will have fully formed drupes and juicy berries.


Harvesting


The time that blackberries ripen and are ready for picking depends on the variety, which can be classified as early-, mid- or late-season. You can expect fruit the second year because most varieties produce berries on second year canes. A few varieties, including ‘Prime Ark 45’ are called primocane-fruiting. This means they will produce a small crop on first-year canes (in the spring/summer) as well as a main crop on second-year canes (in the fall).


Once you see small red fruits begin to form, you can expect to harvest in 2-3 weeks. They are ready when fruits are completely black but still firm. Pick berries early in the day when they are at their coolest. Place them in a single layer in a container and place in the refrigerator. Be prepared to use fruits as soon as possible after harvest.


Raspberries (Rubus idaeus)


Raspberries are expensive and perishable to purchase in the grocery store, so it is worth growing them. The most important part of growing raspberries is to faithfully remove canes once they’ve finished bearing. Purchase one gallon fully-rooted container plants and you will get a crop sooner than if planting bare root plants. Purchase only certified disease-free plants. Raspberries are self-fruitful and don’t require another plant for pollination.


There are two types of raspberries:


Summer fruiting are more common, developing their fruit on the previous year’s growth. They produce one crop per season, in summertime (often June or July).


Ever-bearing raspberries (also called fall-bearing) produce berries on the current year’s growth. They produce both a fall crop and also produce fruit the following summer. The fall crop is the largest and produced on the upper portion of the cane, while the smaller summer crop is produced on the lower portion of the cane. Fall-bearing raspberries are often managed for a fall crop only. With this method, all canes are cut at the ground and removed in late winter. The new canes that emerge during the spring will fruit that fall. This is the only type of bramble that will produce fruit the year the canes emerge.


Raspberries come in different colors. Red raspberries are the most familiar. Yellow raspberries vary in color from yellow to pink; they are so fragile they are seldom seen in grocery stores. Black raspberries tend to have more seeds than the red and the plants are less hardy. Purple raspberries are more vigorous and disease resistant than the black, but less hardy than the reds.


When/Where/How to Plant


Raspberries need to be planted where they will receive morning sun and afternoon shade; plant on the east or north side of trees or a structure. The best time to plant is in the fall so that plants will be established before summer heat. Space upright varieties 2’ apart and trailing varieties 4-6’ apart. Space rows at least 6’ apart.


Soil should be well-drained and amended with compost. Set each plant at the same depth it grew originally in the container. Place a 1-2” layer of mulch (compost, pine bark, straw) around the plant to conserve water and prevent weeds. Soak the soil well with water to which has been added a weak solution (1/4 strength) of liquid fertilizer.


A common mistake is to plant too deeply; make sure the green or white buds near the base are above ground.


Raspberries can be grown in raised beds or large containers (7-to-10 gallon size). They will fruit well in containers. It is best to use a drip watering system if attempting to grow in containers as they do need regular moisture. Most potting soils are good for container culture. Just add a little perlite and mulch every year to keep the roots aerated and fed.


Care and Maintenance


Water young plants every 2-3 days for three weeks until established. Frequent watering is essential for good production. The ground must be kept moist especially in the summertime to avoid stressing the plants. Provide 1” of water weekly if not supplied by rain. During the late fall and winter, water only in dry periods.


The area around plants should be kept free of weeds as they compete for nutrients and water. Weeds will be kept to a minimum if the area is mulched heavily and maintained on a regular basis.


Fertilize with a cup of complete fertilizer per plant in late winter before growth begins and again after harvest.


If you choose the traditional method of tying and training canes, faithfully remove floricanes once they finish bearing or the plantings will deteriorate quickly. To keep your patch productive, cut each floricane to ground level in the fall. Because insects and diseases overwinter in canes, do not put them in the compost pile.


Because primocane-fruiting raspberries bloom and set fruit in late July and early August during the heat of the summer some growers are having success with a procedure called “tipping” which delays blooming. This involves removing 1-2” of the tips of the canes in early June (or when they reach a height of 3’). They should be tipped again in early July, regardless of height.


The first tipping will cause laterals to form. When tipping the second time, tip the laterals as well as the new growth on the ends of the first-cut canes. As berries form on the tips of the new canes created by the tipping operation, you will have a heavier crop and, most importantly, will delay blooming until at least mid-August. The berries should start forming in late August and early September, and continue blooming and fruiting until frost. What will happen if you do not tip your raspberries? They will bloom in July, form fruit in the middle of our summer heat, and leave you with crumbly, dried-up berries.


Harvesting

All varieties will produce fruit in their second season. In early summer, when small fruits appear, you can expect to harvest in two weeks. A ripe raspberry will leave the vine willingly. Pick on a sunny day when the fruits are dry, and early in the day when coolest. Place them in a single layer in a container and place in the refrigerator. Be prepared to use fruits as soon as possible after harvest.


Recommended Varieties


‘Bristol’ Black Summer

‘Fall Gold’ Yellow Everbearing Fall

‘Sodus Purple Summer ‘Heritage’* Red Everbearing Fall


*‘Heritage’ is the world’s leading primocane-fruiting raspberry variety, with productive, hardy canes that ripen late. It is fairly disease resistant.


Tying and Training Bramble Canes


Providing support for canes increases yields, keeps fruit cleaner and makes picking easier.

The traditional way to grow berries is to train them on a fence. Set posts 12’ apart and plant two plants between them. Run 3-4 wires down from the posts, to which you can tie the canes grown the previous season which will bear the fruit. The current season’s growth is kept separate by leaving them untied and allowing canes to arch toward the ground. Always keep the new growth separate from the bearing canes. Immediately after harvest, the bearing canes may be removed, at which time the current season’s growth is tied to the fence.


Some growers tie canes to stakes/posts placed every 3’ along the row. Trailing types of blackberries can be tied to a single wire between two posts (use fabric strips to tie canes to the wire).


Black raspberry varieties that grow from a central crown are often tied to a central stake.


Pruning must be done on a regular basis. Remove spent canes, weak canes and any canes closer than 6” apart.


To avoid the work of cutting, removing and tying that is a standard operation for berry production, you can mow the berry beds after they fruit. This necessitates the installation of temporary twine lines on both sides of the beds to keep them from trying to bend to the ground. A simple tall stake, T-bar or post at the ends of the bed is all that is needed for attaching the twine lines, and they can be removed for mowing and easily replaced. Mowing of canes is usually done in November just after the first hard freeze. Cut 2-3” above the soil line.


Rotating Crop Production


Richard Ashton wrote an article in Texas Gardener Magazine entitled Fall Berries: A Revolution in the Fruit Garden in which he describes rotating crop production for maximum yield. If you have at least two beds of blackberries this system can create two good crops of blackberries a year (although from different beds).


Year one: plant half the beds, do the tipping and grow the first primocane crop. Do not mow the canes the first year.


Year two: plant the other half of the beds. Let the first planting bear its first floricane crop. After the floricanes have finished fruiting, let them produce a small primocane crop (you will not have to tip the new primocanes because the floricane crop will delay the fruiting of the primocanes). Mow the first beds (year one) down.


Year three: You will have a floricane crop on the second planting and a primocane crop on the first planting.


Note: no bed should should go more than two years without being mowed.


This rotation system does not work for raspberries because they are less vigorous and susceptible to diseases. However, by mowing every year, you greatly decrease disease and stimulate new growth.


Diseases and Insects


Anthracnose, aphids, cane borers, mosaic virus, powdery mildew, rabbits, red spider mites, rush. Keep a close eye on brambles so that problems can be identified early and steps taken.


Medical Value of Brambles


Blackberry leaves and roots have been used to treat dysentery, diarrhea, hemorrhoids and cystitis. A gargle made by boiling the leaves, makes a good mouthwash and is effective for sore throat, mouth ulcers, gum inflammation and thrush. A poultice of the leaves can also be applied to skin for ulcers, fungal infections and abscesses.


Raspberry leaves have astringent properties, useful for painful menstruation and diarrhea. The Cherokee and Cree Indians used a tea of the leaves to prepare the uterus for childbirth and to help recover after birth. The tea controls contractions while minimizing blood loss.


Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have.

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