Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Small Fruits & Berries

Small Fruits & Berries 101 (page 3 of 4)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Black Raspberries

Although closely related to the reds, blackcaps have a distinctive flavor, ripen a little later, and require slightly different training. Black raspberries spread by bending the tips of their canes to the ground where they root, leapfrogging along at two to three feet a year. New shoots arise only from the original crowns, not willy-nilly from the roots as with reds. In most other respects, they're very similar to the reds. There are no fall-fruiting black raspberries. In an attempt to bend to the ground and root, the canes elongate and become thin and weak at the tips. Unless you want to start new plants, cut these raspberries back to 3 or 4 feet. They'll be self-supporting, with no loss of fruiting potential. Cut the old canes out after harvest. Since black raspberries don't throw root suckers, they take much less thinning than reds.

Currants: Black, White, and Red

Judging by flavor alone, most people would regard currants as two totally different fruits: the fresh, tart, and crystalline reds and whites versus the strangely pungent and heavy blacks. But they're close botanical relatives, and because they ripen about the same time and their culture is almost identical, it's best to consider them together.

Red currants are one of the most beautiful fruits. When the berries are ripe, the plant literally drips with long clusters of gleaming scarlet beads. Each red berry (white currants are just different varieties of the red currant) has a transparent skin, so sunlight makes it glow from within. Currants are very juicy and quite tart. When fully ripe, they are enjoyable out of hand the way you would eat any other berry. Traditionally, currants are used for jelly, jam, and cooked desserts. Ripe currants will hold on the bush for much longer than most other fruits without dropping or losing quality.

Black currant bushes are slightly larger than red currants, and the fruits are not so conspicuous. Black currants are meatier, less juicy, and eaten fresh they're definitely an acquired taste. Cooked, however, they lose their musky overtones and make one of the finest flavored jams of all.


Blackberry culture began in North America, although there are fine-flavored species native to Europe and Asia. Today's improved varieties have mixed heritage, part American natives and part Eurasian species. Blackberries are far and away the heaviest bearing of the bramble fruits, producing about twice as much as red raspberries. They ripen in mid-summer after the raspberries are finished, and are more heat tolerant than raspberries.

Blackberries are robust plants that need to be restrained or they can become weeds. They grow and can be trained very much like red raspberries. However, since they throw root suckers so vigorously, you may want to confine their roots with metal or fiberglass barriers sunk a foot or more below ground level. Blackberries are much more thorny than reds or blackcaps. Where space is restricted, or if you don't have the patience to pick a prickly plant, choose the new thornless varieties. Many of these are limber-stemmed and trailing in habit, so you'll need to rig a wire trellis to train them up.

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