From raspberries to gooseberries, remove old stems and branches to encourage strong, fruitful growth
Plump raspberries, fat gooseberries and cascades of black, red and white currants all start from one place: an annual chop. Pruning soft fruit is how you maintain vigour and fruit quality. Soft fruit needs sun for sweetness but dislikes humidity and stagnant air – it makes those soft, juicy berries rot quickly. Congested branches, particularly up against a fence or in a corner, will slow down air movement and help spread disease. Pruning rectifies this.
There are two main groups: cane fruits (raspberries, blackberries and hybrid berries, such as tayberries); and bush fruit (gooseberries and black, white and red currants). For both, the idea is to remove old, less-productive stems to encourage new growth.
With cane fruit it is simple. Summer raspberries, blackberries and hybrid berries all fruit on year-old wood. The old canes should be removed immediately after fruiting in late summer. If you haven’t done this, you’ll have to take a punt on telling the new canes from the old and have a go now. Anything with a buff-coloured (rather than green) stem, with old fruit peduncles (stalks) is last year’s – cut this back to the ground. Tie in the new canes so they don’t whip around in the wind. Autumn raspberries fruit from September onwards on this year’s growth and should be pruned next month, removing all the canes to ground level to make way for new ones.
Remove any branches that might become weighed down with fruit – these encourage mice and rats
Bush fruit is a little more complicated. These crop on wood that is at least a year old. But by the time it gets to three or four years old, this wood starts to be unproductive. So, you are doing two things when pruning: aiming to create a framework that allows sun and air to the middle, a sort of goblet shape; and keeping the plant in productive wood. The oldest wood will be the darkest; two-year-old wood can be silvery; and year-old wood tends to be buff-coloured.
Gooseberries and red and white currants need to be spur-pruned. The spurs are buds that will produce flowers and fruit. Take out a third of the oldest wood, cutting back to vigorous shoots lower down to maintain growth. Remove anything that is diseased, dead or dying. Then reduce the other shoots by a third, to a spur, and remove branches that might become weighed down with fruit – these encourage mice and rats.
Blackcurrants are easier. You just cut out as much dark, three-year-plus wood as possible, then remove any weak or crossing stems, as well as any less-productive two-year-old wood (grey in colour). Finally take out any low, horizontal branches by pruning to a strong, upward-growing shoot, to restrict the spread of the bush. This should be done by early February before buds begin to burst.