21 Jun 2022

A complete guide to berry growing: soil, pruning, harvesting

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This content was developed in cooperation with Battistini Nurseries. If you want to put the advice in the article into practice and grow berries, visit the new Battistini Nurseries Shop!

The cultivation of berries can be very satisfying even for those who are not too experienced. Berries are well suited to different areas; they can be planted directly in the ground in the vegetable garden or garden, or even on the balcony.

The most common are certainly raspberry, blackberry and blueberry, but other species such as currant, gooseberry, cranberry, aronia, goji and Siberian blueberry are also doing well.

WHEN TO PLANT BERRY PLANTS

Seedlings should preferably be planted in the dormant period, potentially from mid to late December until the end of March. However, it should be considered that pot plants can be planted at any time of the year, preferably avoiding the extremely hot months such as July and August.

IN-GROUND PLANTING

Usually berries are marketed in pots, so it will be sufficient to move the soil by forming a hole about twice as large as the initial pot both laterally and in depth, it being understood that larger hole sizes may allow easier exploration by the roots.

It is a good idea to place a well-draining layer of stones, pozzolan or expanded clay at the bottom of the hole to help excess water run off and, not in contact with the roots, a handful of organic fertiliser can also be placed.

For those who have more plants and want to form a row by approaching a more technical planting method, they can create a baulatura, a raising of the cultivation area by moving the soil from the side aisles onto the centre line, thus clearly separating the cultivation area from the water passage and drainage area.

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Baying scheme

Baulatura provides an optimal environment for development, with better results both in terms of restoring the substrate after irrigation or rainfall, avoiding irrigation stagnation thanks to better drainage, and in terms of preserving the ideal soil temperature, keeping it more airy and stimulating the development of the root system.

We recommend abaulking height of about 20 cm with a width of 50-60 cm.

PLANTING IN POTS

It is important to choose a suitable pot because it must be large enough for the plant to grow. As for planting in soil, a draining layer should be placed at the bottom of the pot to facilitate the drainage of excess water and at the bottom of the potting mix, not in contact with the roots, a handful of organic fertiliser.

Berries: planting in pots

USING THE RIGHT SOIL

A good potting soil not only ensures that the plant takes root better and adapts to its new environment, but also that it grows quickly and healthily. Berries, with the exception of blueberries and cranberries, appreciate a slightly acidic soil (pH 6-6.5), so it is advisable to mix good soil for green plants with a little soil for acidophilic plants.


The blueberries and cranberries, on the other hand, like a totally acidic soil (pH 4-4.5), so it is important to use a soil for acidophilic plants right from the start and to keep it acidified over time.

MULCHING

Whether in pots or in soil, it is advisable to place a layer of mulch on top of the soil.

Mulching consists of covering the soil with organic materials such as expanded clay or bark. The main effects this technique can offer are the retention of moisture in the top soil layer, improved temperature control and protection from weeds, pathogens and insects by keeping the soil around the plant cleaner.

SUPPORTS AND PLANTING LAYOUT

Raspberries and blackberries are plants that need a trellis on which to grow and develop in order to maintain an upright habit. Structures with "T-shaped" poles are usually made, consisting of a central row of poles placed at a distance of about 5-6 m and a pair of wires arranged to the right and left of the row (about 30 cm apart) and at various heights above the ground (0.50 m, 1.00 m and 1.50 m). The row can be completed with drip irrigation arranged in the lower part.

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Regarding the planting layout, the recommended plant spacing is 0.8-1 m and the distance between rows 2.5-3 m.

EXPOSURE

Theraspberry is the most sensitive plant, just think that it grows well with an amount of light that is half of what the sun radiates in the middle of summer in the Po valley; beyond this threshold, the plant closes its stomata and blocks photosynthesis, slows down development and can even get some sunburn in the most exposed fruits.

It is therefore preferable to place it in half-shade or protect it with a polyethylene shade cloth, which also has the great advantage of protecting the fruit from rain.

The blackberry is more rustic as a plant, but the fruit is sensitive to rain and sometimes even sunburn.

The blueberry can be grown in environments with temperatures of up to 32-38°C, above which the leaves dry out because the roots are unable to absorb water.

Currants and gooseberries like half-shaded spaces because they prefer cool climates.

IRRIGATION

The phases of greatest need for water are from the beginning of flowering to the end of harvesting.

Irrigation should never be lacking during the summer as berries are particularly afraid of heat and especially lack of moisture; these species have a rather shallow root system and bear a very demanding amount of fruit relative to the size of the plant, and furthermore ripening takes place in the summer season.

It is more difficult to estimate the amount of water needed, however, because it depends a lot on the type of soil and rainfall patterns.

To estimate the amount of water needed for soilless cultivation, there are instruments, hygrometers, which can be of help if they are well placed. For soilless cultivation it is much easier, because it is sufficient to collect the drainage coming out from under some pots and relate it to the amount of irrigation water given to those pots: a drainage of 5 - 10 % is ideal.

This check, which should be done at least weekly or more frequently in case of rain or drought, combined with pH and conductivity measurement, is also very useful in fertilisation regulation.

During the rest of the year, watering should be reduced in frequency and quantity and should be calibrated according to the weather.

PRUNING

Pruning is important in order to obtain healthy plants with compact growth and good productivity.

As a general rule, raspberries and blackberries let the two-year-old shoot that has produced dry out, which must be removed and go on to produce on the new shoot, which must then be selected in the right number per linear metre.

The blueberries, currants, gooseberries and other berries, on the other hand, make new shoots but the old branches never dry out, so pruning serves to thin out the branches in order to have a continuous renewal of vegetation, which is very important because it is in fact the new shoots that produce the quality fruit.

FERTILISATION

The various fertilisers, whether natural (manure or pelleted manure) or chemical (NPK), help provide the plant with all the nutrients it needs for its development.

It is necessary to always check the dosages and periods of administration of any fertilisers in order to avoid counterproductive plant burns that could cause desiccation. Organic fertilisation before winter is preferable to chemical fertilisers.

Important for blueberries is to maintain a high level of acidity in the soil, which obviously tends to change over time, whereas the other species are all sub-acid soil plants

To keep the soil acidic, it is good to use commercially available sulphur-based products: very good as a product is iron sulphate, which, in addition to its acidifying action, has a greening effect on the vegetation.

In addition to commercially available products, the acidity of the soil can be raised by using orange peels, lemon juice, vinegar, coffee grounds or pine needlesin small doses.

FRUCTIFICATION

Raspberries and blackberries go into full production in their second year.

In contrast, blueberry, currants, gooseberries and aronia start producing from the second year and the quantity increases as the plant develops, stabilising from the 4th to 5th year.

PESTS AND DISEASES

The health of trees can be temporarily damaged or compromised by numerous phenomena of physical and biological origin. It is therefore important to periodically check that the plants are developing regularly and that the leaves, as a whole, do not show any abnormalities attributable to seasonal trends.

Should you notice any abnormalities, it is advisable to seek the help of a technician who is fully familiar with the adversities of the tree species that you believe to have been affected, contacting one of the agrarian consortia in your area with a few leaves of the affected plant or a few photos to get advice on the most appropriate treatment, how to use it and which plant protection products are permitted for use.


This content has been developed with the technical support of:

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Photo by Mario Mendez on Unsplash

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