Originally created 04/02/04

Pruning small fruits is necessary

Pruning grape and berry plants is an annual affair necessary to keep them manageable, healthy, and bearing oodles of fruit. Although the objectives for pruning these plants are the same, details differ. So sharpen your pruning shears and loppers, and lets prune.

Prune grapes when their buds swell. They'll bleed sap but this does them no harm. Grapes are commonly trained to the Four-Arm Kniffin system, consisting of a trunk from which grow four horizontal "canes," two in either direction along a high and a low wire. A "cane" is a branch that grew the previous season, and is the only type of wood that bears fruit.

For this year's fruit, select four canes originating near the trunk, two growing in opposite directions at each wire. Next, create renewal spurs, which are short stubs from which grow shoots that will be next year's fruiting canes. Make the four spurs by selecting four branches originating near the trunk, two near each wire, then shortening each to three buds. Now grit your teeth and cut away everything else, finally shortening each cane to about 5 feet.

Also prune blueberries with a progression of larger to smaller cuts. First cut away, either to its base or to a vigorous side branch, any stem more than six years old. Next, cut away or to an upright branch any drooping or crowding stems.

Pruning bramble fruits, except "everbearers," begins with cutting away all canes that have borne fruit, either immediately after harvest or sometime before growth begins in spring.

During the growing season, pinch out the tips of any blackberry or purple or black raspberry shoots when they are 3 feet tall.

Do all subsequent pruning of brambles - no matter what kind - in spring. If you grow brambles in a row, cut to the ground enough canes so those remaining are 6 inches apart and the row is a foot wide. If you grow brambles as individual plants, remove all but six canes per plant.

In either case, save the thickest and healthiest canes. Finally, shorten growth that remains. Cut back red and yellow raspberry canes enough to keep them from flopping around. Shorten side branches of black and purple raspberries, and blackberries, to 18 inches.

"Everbearing" red and yellow raspberries are the easiest fruits to prune - if you are willing to sacrifice the early crop each year. Merely lop all growth down to the ground after harvest each autumn.


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