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Currant and Gooseberry Fruiting Cycle

Ribes fruit cycle

The fruit buds of currants and gooseberries (the ribes genus) are similar enough to discuss together. The ­­fruit buds occur laterally on new shoots, and on spurs or spur like branching of older wood.  As new growth  occurs late in summer or fall, these fruit buds form. The buds have developed in the leaf axil, nearly complete by the end of the season, but still slowly advancing until about a week or so before budbreak. The following spring they open and expose the flower system. The currant develops into a raceme of multiple flowers, also known as a strig (particularly when it is bearing fruit. The gooseberry normally gives a single flower or a few emanating singly from the bud. The flowers in both are perfect, with inferior ovaries. Ribes buds are simple, that is they produce either leaves /shoots or flowers/fruit. Not both, thus the flowers emerging will not be accompanied by leaves as they are, for example, in apples.

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Bad Birds About

(image : Randen Pederson)

Rarely will you see a more beautiful bird, and rarely will you see a greater nuisance. These gluttons come en masse, sometimes a dozen, sometimes a hundred. They are the songbird equivalent of the locust, able to reduce a berry patch to nothing in no time at all. We have had luck here in Walden, I believe, because we left a good deal of wild fruit to be. They will, for instance, eat their preferred wild red elderberry instead of attacking the strawberry beds. Though we could have pulled out the elders and planted yet another domestic crop, we left well enough alone and it had some positive consequences. It is also a reminder how complicated are the dynamics of a landscape and how one should be careful when they go blundering about with their disruptions.

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Blueberry Fruiting Cycle

blueberry buds
the bell shaped flower of the blueberry

 Blueberry fruit buds occur either laterally or terminally. They develop on the new shoots later in the growing season, generally fall. The following spring these buds open to sport flowers. The infloresence (flower system) is a raceme, containing anywhere from a few to ten or more flowers arranged on a stem, individually opening from the base first, to the tip last. These are perfect flowers, containing both male and female parts. They are epigynous. Pollination by another cultivar is usually advised, despite some degree of self fruitfulness in some cases. The 4 to 10 celled ovaries will give rise to that many seeds. The bell shaped flowers eventually hang down, the opening facing the earth. The large number of blossoms often make the bush very attractive.

the blueberry flower undressed
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Planting Currants and Gooseberries

These plants of the Ribes genus should be considered similar in the particulars of planting and initial setup. Both require adequate moisture, and cooler conditions, especially as concerns the root systems. This means high organic matter (3% or greater),  a partially shaded environment if practical, and heavy mulching. More to come….

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Raspberry Cane Borer

The cane borer adult lays its eggs within the stem of a raspberry plant. upon hatching the creature will eat internally and head down the stem doing continual damage. Identification of infection, mercifully, is easy to spot. Two lines running perpendicular to the cane bracket the egglaying site. A simple clip of shears can eliminate the pest if dealt with promptly. More to come…

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Nutrition in the Bush Fruits

We have all heard sung the praises for blueberries and their status in the realm of antioxidants, but perhaps some other species need to be listed in the list of notables. Black and red currants, elderberries, aronia and others all are high in antioxidants and plenty of other healthful molecules. More to come….

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Blueberry Diseases

Witches Broom Pucciniastrum goeppertianum (fungus)

This affliction demonstrates itself through a distorted shoots and a proliferation of small and frequent leaves. The stems become glossy and often reddish brown, and the foliage often yellowish.  The ropey grown eventually becomes brittle and dies. The disease is systemic and knows no cure. The protocol upon finding an infected plant is to remove it, since no degree of pruning will help. It does not spread from blueberry to blueberry, but only from the intermediate host to the blueberry itself. The intermediate host is the Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea). The infected fir needles support the fungus which releases spores in mid summer which then affect the blueberry. This becomes perrenial in the blueberry and in turn releases spores that infect neighboring firs. Although it is recommended to avoid blueberry planting within 500 feet of firs, it is often impractical. Diligence in locating affect plants (both fir and blueberry) and roguing out those individuals is important. The distortions from which the disease gets its common name, are apparent. (see photo)

witches broom affect fir
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Blueberry Pruning

Overgrown Blueberry Bush

There are many reasons to prune a blueberry bush, but let’s begin with

Large old canes are removed at soil level
Completed bush (crossing & crowded twigs removed)

the two most important. As with nearly all fruits, as time goes on these perennials will begin to produce an overabundance of small sized fruits, called runts.  Allowed to its own devices, the plant will become clustered with smaller and smaller twigs which will yield smaller and smaller berries. By periodically removing these older systems, we allow for the production of new branches which will set better and larger fruits. The result will be less berries in number, but larger ones, often with higher overall yields.

Secondly, a fruiting bush will become overcrowded with new growth to the detriment of the plant’s overall health. Crowding, for instance reduces airflow, and airflow thwarts disease and insect pressure. Mildews and cankers are often less an issue with a more open structure, which this thinning produces. It also makes harvest, or need be spraying, easier to accomplish. Access to sunlight transmitted will also allow for quicker drying of surfaces, and additionally aid in fruit ripening. Fruit buds often develop only when a certain amount of light reaches developing buds; this phenomenon occurs within a self- shading plant as well as a plant shaded from another object.

There is also evidence that by reducing the number of fruit, and therefore seed production, there is less of a tax on the plant. This results in more nutrients going to the remaining fruit, and to the plant’s reserves. Thinning can also accomplish this task, but will not allow for the additional benefits of wood removal for circulation and would prove prohibitively laborious.

Pruning Specifics

  1. We suggest all pruning be done in the late winter/early spring. This is particularly important in area in US zone 4 or colder. It should absolutely be done only during the dormant season, which significantly reduces the incidence of pathogen spread. Pruning when the plant is in growth removes far more of the reserves (held in some proportion in the root system) since these factors are now active in the portions being removed. The only exception is when damage has occurred during the growing season. When fall pruning is done, even if dormancy (ie- leaf drop) appears to have set it, winter damage is likely to occur. Since pruning stimulates cell activity, a delay in true dormancy (hardening off) tends to be the case. Studies have shown a higher incidence of winter damage in many so called hardy species following fall pruning in cold climates. Incidence is even more prevalent in blocks of higher fertilizing rates.
  2. No pruning is necessary until several years after planting. This is dependent upon the vigor and growing conditions of the bush. In our climate of zone 3 and using half-high cultivars (high-lowbush crosses), we began pruning only after year 4 or 5.
  3. Begin the operation by removing the damaged or obviously diseased branches. Although some growers use the technique of removing dead twigs by crumpling them with gloved hands, we do not recommend this due to the wounds that occur with this practice. Always use well sharpened and clean pruning shears (secateurs).
  4. Monitoring the fruit crop for proper size, and observation of seasonal disease issues should be part of the decision making process of what and how much to cut. In general, cuts for bush fruits should be made at soil level, not in the canopy. This means removing the entire system, trunk to tip, and leaving no stump. The desire here is to keep an average of 4-6 vigorous canes in place, though the total of canes in a mature bush may reach upward of a dozen and still be fine, provided the bush isn’t overly crowded. It may seem radical to remove such a large piece of your bush, but the plant will respond with at least 1 and often more powerfully vigorous replacement shoots sometimes growing many feet in a season. Generally these canes which are removed measure an inch or greater in diameter at soil level.  Remove also any obviously weak shoots or canes, preferably at ground level. Some twig removal on remaining branches should also be done if they rub against their neighbors, which will lead to injury and disease.
  5. Whenever diseases is suspected, be sure to disinfect shears, between cuts ideally and between plants absolutely. Although there is much less chance of disease transmission in the cold dry conditions of winter, it is still possible.
  6. Dispose of all cuttings. Diseased prunings should be burned or buried. Other prunings should be composted, or cut into small enough pieces as part of the mulches surround the plants.
  7. If a purpose of the bush is in producing a hedge, the technique is a bit different. As all heading cuts (ie- giving the bush a haircut instead of removing large branches) produce more branching, they will give a fuller character indicative of the landscape hedge or bush. Keep in mind this will drastically reduce your crop since fruiting occurs on newer (end) growth. However the beauty of a hedge like blueberry may make pale in comparison the crop per se.

By pruning yearly (after establishment period) in addition to proper growing maintenance and nutrition, bush fruits can last for decades. Visit them regularly and observe them, not only when it is harvest time. You will be rewarded.