Pruning: Bushes, Brambles, and Vines

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Pruning the prolific black raspberry canes at The Village of Arts and Humanities and PhillyEarth permaculture site
Pruning the prolific black raspberry canes at The Village of Arts and Humanities and PhillyEarth permaculture site

These categories of woody perennial edibles are are often considered much lower maintenance than fruit trees. As a result, it’s come to POP’s attention that they may not be receiving the attention they deserve when interplanted in our community orchards, so we’ll be working this season to highlight what to watch out for and how to properly care for them throughout the orchard seasons.

Just as winter is time to prune your fruit trees, it’s also time to prune and tend your berries to ensure a boom harvest this season!

Tools needed: gardening gloves (especially for thorny bushes), pruning shears, loppers, pruning saw, isopropyl alcohol (for sanitizing tools before each plant)

BRAMBLES (cane-bearing shrubs)

Raspberries and blackberries are unique in the world of berry bushes in that they don’t have any permanent wood.  Each cane (branch growing from the ground) only lives for 2 years.  In old-fashioned bramble varieties, first year canes have no flowers or fruit and then bear in spring/summer of their second year.  Newer ‘ever-bearing’ varieties flower and fruit on new canes in the fall of their first year and then again in spring/summer of their second year.

Dead second-year canes are generally easy to identify by gray/brown coloration, pealing bark, and more side-branching.  Newer canes tend to have more reddish/green coloration and a more upright habit.

Blackberries (Rubus): In winter, remove all 2nd year canes and thin out to 8 or 10 strongest new canes. Shorten canes to 7’ and laterals to 15”.  In summer, pinch out tips of new canes when they reach 3’ height.

Raspberries (Rubus): In winter, remove all canes after 2nd year. Thin out weak or crowded 1st year canes. For “everbearing” varieties, shorten remaining canes to below previous fruiting.

Sometimes dead canes will easily snap off or pull out of the ground, leaving your young canes behind with more breathing room. The colors of the canes often make it very easy to see what's young and old/dead.
Sometimes dead canes will easily snap off or pull out of the ground, leaving your young canes behind with more breathing room. The colors of the canes often make it very easy to see what’s young and old/dead.

MULTI-STEMMED SHRUBS
All other berry bushes fit in this category (we’ve listed some of the ones we plant most often below).  Use thinning cuts for a less bushy effect. This increases light and air circulation to the interior of plant. Remove stems that are more than 4 to 6 years old, sometimes younger for certain species. Older stems are less productive, so their removal enables younger stems to take their place. When pruning, cut stems to l-2” above crown of plant.

IMPORTANT: avoid removing more than 30% of living wood in one growing season, or there will be a flush of vegetative growth as the plant tries to restore its former food-producing capacity. The same can be said for fruiting trees.

Blueberry (Vaccinium): Cut back stems older than 4 years.

Currant/Gooseberry/Jostaberry (Ribes): Remove shoots after their 3rd year. Remove all but 6 new stems.

Phil demonstrating currant pruning at the Teens4Good 8th & Poplar community orchard. Remove dead and diseased wood, and then move onto removing the oldest wood and any far-reaching runners.
Phil demonstrating currant pruning at the Teens4Good 8th & Poplar community orchard. Remove dead and diseased wood, and then move onto removing the oldest wood and any far-reaching runners.

Elderberry (Sambucus): Cut out wood older than 3 years and thin new suckers.

Goumi (Eleagnus): Minimal pruning needed. Cut back stems and suckers to desired height and girth.

FRUITING VINES

Structure_of_a_grape_vine

Grapes: During the First year after planting, simply cut to 2-3 buds.

During the second year, you must select a training system. If you have 2 wires, use the 4-arm kniffin method, if one wire, use single-curtain cordon method, if you have a fence, use the fan system to utilize the area of the fence. Decide on a height for the trunk and thin the plant to a single trunk. Cut back to just over the height of the highest canes you want. If no vine reaches the desired height, repeat simple first year pruning to focus energy from the weak roots into 2-3 good shoots, one of which will be chosen next year as the trunk.

During the third year select 4 vines of first year wood. Always choose thick, vigorous vines with at least 6” between nodes (places where this year’s buds will grow). Cut them to 10 buds on each, then select 4 other vines and cut them to 2 buds each.

Each subsequent year select the 4 best vines (usually from the 2-bud stubs you left last year) and cut to 10 buds (for Concord grapes 15 buds is okay) for this year’s bearing wood. Remove last year’s bearing vines, but leave four 2-bud stubs to produce next year’s bearing wood

To prune an overgrown vine, select the canes to save, choosing from the canes which received the most sun during the previous season. They are usually darker in color and larger in diameter (at least as thick as a pencil). Cut Concord grape vines to the best 60 buds, cut less vigorous varieties to 40 buds (these are the maximum numbers for a mature, healthy plant, which lead to good quality grapes).

Tom Zabadal has an extensive series of YouTube videos on maintaining grapes if you’re interested in learning more and expanding your production.

This prolific kiwi at SHARE orchard needs summer pruning to open up its fruit to air and light!
This prolific kiwi at SHARE orchard needs summer pruning to open up its fruit to air and light!

Hardy Kiwis (Actinidia): Regardless of the structure they are growing on, kiwi vines should be pruned initially to a single trunk and trained straight up by tying to a post (no twining!). At the appropriate height for the structure, the vine should then be pruned into two permanent cordons (main branches) in opposite directions. Thin out laterals growing from the cordon to 12” apart. Additional summer pruning is needed to keep these vigorous vines under control. Here’s a great video to assist and a guide with photos from Penn State Extension to read through as well.

Adapted from POP’s Pruning Guide, amended by POP Program Director, Robyn Mello and Executive Director, Phil Forsyth

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.

RECOMMENDED READING:

The Pruning Book, Lee Reich

Grow Fruit Naturally, Lee Reich

The Holistic Orchard , Michael Phillips

The Backyard Berry Book, Stella Otto