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Prune your berries, fruit trees to ensure season’s bounty

Thu., March 10, 2011

Looking forward to juicy raspberries and blackberries? How about apples, pears and peaches? Now is the time to get out and prepare the fruit-bearing shrubs and trees for spring.

There are two types of raspberries and blackberries; those that bear only one crop in July and those that bear into the fall. The traditional July bearers produce on canes that grew the previous summer. The fall bearing ones produce in late summer on canes that grew the same year and will bear again the following July.

To prune the July bearers, cut to the ground all the canes that bore fruit last summer. These canes will have rough stringy bark with little side branches at the top. For the fall bearing plants, prune the canes that bore last fall to about five feet. These will need to be cut to the ground after they produce their second crop in July. It is best to corral raspberries and blackberries by tying them to a wire support to allow for easy access when picking. Blackberries will usually be much more vigorous growers so they will need more support and room. Fertilize both types now with a good 10-10-10 fertilizer and/or compost.

Gooseberries, currants and blueberries need little pruning beyond the periodic removal of older wood to rejuvenate new growth on the plant and to allow good air flow. Blueberries need an application of an acid fertilizer like a rhododendron food so it is available when they bloom. Rejuvenate blueberry mulches to control weeds and retain moisture. Gooseberries and currants need an application of a 10-10-10 fertilizer now and a good raking out to remove litter under them to reduce gray mold problems later.

Pruning young fruit trees is really not needed the first three or four years other than to remove any broken branches. Maintain the leader or central branch on the tree so it will grow straight up. For older trees that have been maintained, remove any crossing or rubbing branches, those with narrow angles of attachment to the trunk and all but a few of the water sprouts or tall branches that shoot straight into the air. Leaving a few of these reduces the overall number of the vigorous growers. To make a good cut, look for the branch collar ridges near the trunk and cut just outside it.

Apple, pear and plum trees produce fruit on short spur branches along the length of a branch so don’t prune them off thinking they are useless stubs that just didn’t grow. Peach trees produce fruit on branches that are 2 to 5 years old and will need to have older wood removed to encourage the development of new wood.

Most berries do not need any kind of spraying this time of year. Fruit trees do benefit from a dormant oil application to smother overwintering insects and some diseases. Peaches will benefit from an application of a peach leaf curl control to reduce chances of the disease later in the spring.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by e-mail at

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