There’s nothing that says ‘summer’ quite like the first fragrant, sweet, warmed-from-the-sun bite of homegrown berries. After months of waiting and endless amounts of flavourless supermarket fruit, you finally get to pick and eat your own. If you haven’t put some fruiting bushes on your allotment, staked a few raspberry canes in your back garden, or even grown strawberries in hanging baskets or pots on your patio, then now is the time that I would strongly encourage you to invest in these perennial delights!
If you were to search quickly on google, the first thing you might notice that prices for fruiting bushes are high(er) than you might imagine. There are a number of reasons for this – fruit plants are perennials and so will last for years; the bushes you receive are usually at least one year old, necessitating a higher level of care by the grower; and, because unless you’re planning to feed a small army, you usually only need a few plants to ensure a bounteous harvest, so you don’t tend to buy these in bulk.
All of these factors aside, it is still a good idea to want to get a reasonable deal for your fruit bushes. This is where ordering bare root plants can be in your favour. They do require more work, but are definitely cheaper than getting the more expensive plants which come already established in their own pot of soil.
Recently, I ordered three blackberry bushes, three tayberry bushes (a hybrid mix between blackberries and raspberries), and fifteen raspberry bushes (as always, I am a sucker for a deal rather than a realist…). When they arrived, they looked something like this:
It can be a little alarming when your new plants arrive as bare sticks with some roots attached – but please do not be worried about this! The plants may not look it, but they’re actually fine and ready to go. Any bare root plant has been left in a cold storage, which essentially halts all growth and puts it in a dormant state. The plant is brought out of the dormant state when it’s quickly delivered to you. If your fruiting canes have been stored properly, they will probably come tied together in a sealed plastic bag. DO NOT leave these in the bag for too long. If you can’t immediately plant these in their final growing beds, then the next few steps will tell you how to care for them.
Ensuring you follow these simple steps to care for bare root canes, your plants will (hopefully) turn into delicious berry producers before you know it.
Remove the canes from the plastic bag and submerge the roots in water for 30 minutes, at least. We put them all in buckets and left them to soak while we made and ate dinner, just to give you a rough estimate of time.
Carefully separate each plant by sniping any string and unwinding the roots. I would strong recommend having someone nearby to help you with this process as you will want to be as delicate as possible.
Place each cane root down in a pot filled with good quality compost and fill until the compost is at the original soil level. This is usually an inch or two above the topmost root. Remember to label which variety is which as they will all look the same at this point!
Water these well and put in a sunny position. You can store them like this for a little as a day or for several weeks until their foliage starts to appear. This is really just to ensure that they are kept in a healthy state until you are ready to plant them out.
When you are ready to plant them out, it is important to space them appropriately, so move the pots around until you are happy with their positioning. Remember, it is always easier to move a plant when it’s in a pot than when it is in the ground.
Dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the pot currently holding your canes.
Ensure the subsoil at the bottom of the hole is loose – use a trowel or hand cultivator to help with this process.
Fill the hole with compost and/or well-rotted manure. If you are so inclined, throw in a few pellets of Growmore or another similar slow-release plant food to help get them started. Water this mixture well before you put the plant in place.
Gently remove the cane and compost from the pot and place it in the hole, roots down.
Backfill with a mixture of soil and compost, ensuring that you firm the soil around the cane to provide maximum support.
Water frequently over the next few weeks until the plant is established. After that, you only need to water regularly in hot, dry weather.
After I was finished with this, my first thought was ‘Oh great, I’ve just planted a stick garden.’ But try to keep the faith – it may not be impressive now, but just keep picturing yourself eating all those delicious berries and I promise you it will be worth it!