Choosing and Growing Soft Fruit in London

Cat and Dafydd’s guide to soft fruit in our garden and yours. You can buy soft fruit cuttings here

Briar Fruits.
The great value of Briar fruits, such as Blackberries/ Loganberries/ Hybrid Berries is in their late harvesting period. All varieties are self-fertile, so it is possible to grow only one plant of each. Briar fruits canes can grow quite large so plenty of space is required. 

Blackberries and most hybrid berries, such as boysenberry, loganberry, tayberry, and wineberry, all crop on long stems or canes and produce fruit on the previous seasons’s growth, i.e. 2 year old canes. All of them are vigorous and require annual pruning and training for easy management. Thornless varieties tend to be slightly less vigorous as well as kinder on the hands when fruit picking.

Loganberries (thornless)

Plant out container grown plants in March. They are self-fertile so you only need one plant. Each flower makes one berry. Full sun is the ideal position but they can tolerate partial shade. Space plants 2 metres apart to allow for inevitable suckering. Along fences is ideal to better deal with the vigorous growth. Whenever a cane touches the ground, it will root. 

Loganberries produce best on the previous seasons canes (shoots.) Do not prune the bush in the first year after it is planted. In subsequent years, as soon as harvesting has finished, cut down the 2 year old canes to ground level and tie in the new canes which will have grown during the summer. Prune the new canes back to approximately 20cm high. Feed your loganberries in late January apply a 5cm mulch of well rotted manure or compost to the surface of the soil surrounding the bush to a radius of at least 30cm. Water when necessary, especially as the fruits begin to colour and  where possible cover with a net to protect from hungry birds.

Boysenberry 

Boysenberries are a cross of blackberry, raspberry, dewberry and loganberry but behave mostly like a blackberry without the thorns (mostly!) A vining perennial boysenberries are eaten fresh or made into juice or preserves. Boysenberries look much akin to an elongated blackberry and, like blackberries, have a dark purple colour and a sweet flavour with a hint of tartness.

When planting a boysenberry plant, select a site in full sun with well-draining, soil. Don’t select a site where tomatoes, aubergines, or potatoes have been grown as they may have left behind the soil borne verticillium wilt. Dig a hole 30cm deep and place the boysenberry in the hole with the crown of the plant 5 cm below the soil line, spreading the roots out in the hole. Fill the hole back in and pack the soil firmly around the roots. Water the plants in well.

Fruiting is on the previous years’ growth so branches which have fruited are cut out at the base in the autumn after fruiting. The growth can be chaotic with long crossing branches so bushes are best grown with support (fence, wall or trellis) in a sunny spot. Weak and drooping canes can be cut out and long canes can have their tips cut off to encourage fruiting side shoots.

Watering is needed in dry weather and a mulch of compost or well rotted manure is good in early Spring as new growth appears. If there is sufficient space, each year’s growth can be tied up separately to make pruning easier.

Raspberries

There are two main varieties – Summer and Autumn. Summer varieties have a two year growth cycle when the canes produce fruit in the second year: Autumn type canes grow and produce fruit within one year but late in the season. (Warmer and longer summers of recent years tend to encourage the Summer variety to fruit also within one year.) Whatever the variety, canes that have produced fruit should be cut off at the base once they have fruited or in any case in the Autumn.

The canes are best supported by tying to wires stretched between poles or by poles for each cane. Netting may be required to protect from birds.  Water in dry periods and mulch with compost or well rotted manure in early Spring. Raspberries are tough and spread through underground roots.

Blackcurrants

Blackcurrants are easy to grow, producing bunches of dark purple berries in mid-summer, rich in vitamin C. With their tart flavour they can be made into pies, jams, and cordials.

Short on space? Blackcurrants can be grown in containers.

Plenty of space? Plants should be spaced 1.5m apart. They will grow in full sun to partial shade and in any reasonable soil with adequate drainage. In the late winter (January) remove some of the old stems, cutting them down to the base. This will encourage new vigorous stems to sprout from the base, ensuring good harvest for the coming year. To give your Blackcurrants nourishment apply a 5cm think mulch of well-rotted organic matter in early March.

Redcurrants and Whitecurrants

Although Redcurrants and Whitecurrants are closely related to Blackcurrants, they are in fact grown more like gooseberries. The currants are some of the most easily grown fruit bushes. Redcurrants, and Whitecurrants are both cared for the same way. They produce tasty nutritious fruit and are hardy and can grow in colder locations than blackcurrants and on poorer ground. Redcurrants and whitecurrants are both completely self-fertile, so you only need one plant for a crop.

These cool-climate plants do well in northern regions and will tolerate part shade, although the fruits will ripen more quickly and taste sweeter if given some sun. Plant in a sheltered site, out of strong winds, and avoid frost pockets. Redcurrants and Whitecurrants do best in full sun, but can be grown against a shady, north-facing wall, although this will result in fruit that ripens later and is less sweet.

Short on space? Redcurrants and Whitecurrants can be grown in containers.

Plenty of space? Plants should be spaced 1.5m apart.

Prune new growth back to two buds in early summer to keep plants compact. Leaders should be pruned to outward facing buds.

To give your currant bushes nourishment apply a 5cm think mulch of well-rotted organic matter in early March.

Harvest by taking off each string; a strong pair of scissors helps. For jelly, pick them when they are still a little unripe as there is more pectin in the fruit and the jelly sets better. Leave until they are fully ripe for everything else. Red & whitecurrants freeze well.

Jostaberry  

An unusual Blackcurrant hybrid raised from a cross between a Blackcurrant and a Gooseberry. It resembles more closely a Blackcurrant but the leaves are smaller and shinier and the fruit are larger and sweeter. The bush has a faint blackcurrant odour but it is not as strong. This increasingly popular hybrid berry should be treated and grown just as you would a Blackcurrant bush. It is quite vigorous in growth so alow 1.5 metres or so for one bush. 

Gooseberry

Gooseberry bushes grow well in most soils; they’re self-pollinating so you can get away with planting just one; they’re easy to prune; and gooseberries are very generous, producing a lot of fruits every year.

Choose from either culinary or dessert varieties. Culinary gooseberries are usually cooked with sugar to temper their naturally sour taste. They’re perfect in jams, pies, and puddings.

Dessert varieties are sweet enough to eat straight from the bush – a treat you’re unlikely to experience unless you grow your own. Most plants are very thorny, but some varieties are easier on the hands with considerably fewer thorns. Grow them in a bright position in rich, well-drained soil. If you’re planting more than one gooseberry, space bushes at least 120cm apart.

Gooseberries naturally grow into bushes but may also be trained. Even if you really don’t have much space to spare or you only have a patio, this hardy fruit can successfully be grown in containers too.

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