The Q&A Archives: New house and plants

Question: My husband and I just bought a house that has 2 peach trees and different types of raspberry bushes. We have no idea how to care for these, when they will produce fruit, how to tell when the fruit is ready to be picked, etc.

Answer: Raspberries need annual pruning, or "thinning out" to encourage new growth, fruit formation, and minimize disease problems. Summer-bearing varieties grow canes the first year, produce fruit the second year, and die after fruiting. Following are pruning guidelines for each variety:

Summer. Remove old canes after harvest.
Early Spring. Remove weak canes. Narrow and thin the rows to about one-foot widths. Shorten canes to heights of about 4 1/2 feet.

Ever-bearing. These varieties set fruit during the summer and again in the fall. There are two "systems" for pruning this type of berry. One is to mow the canes within two inches of the ground after the fall harvest. Plants must then be mulched for protection during the winter. This system, however, eliminates the summer crop but allows a more consistent crop level in the fall. The second system is to remove the canes that bore fruit in the fall after the fall harvest and then follow the procedure for summer-bearing reds.

Black and Purple. Remove the top two inches of canes in early June to encourage lateral branching. This process is called "topping" and should be practiced in addition to the steps for pruning early spring raspberries. Shorten side branches to six inches (black) or ten inches (purple). Leave only three to four canes per hill.

Pruning is one of the most important parts of raspberry culture and it is often neglected or improperly done. Proper pruning of raspberries makes fruit picking easier with the individual fruits growing larger. Also, the shortened canes are less likely to break under a load of fruit.

In the hedge row system, spring pruning should consist of thinning the canes to 6 inches apart of 8 to 10 canes per two feet of row. Keep in mind that row should be only 18 inches wide. The remaining canes should be tip pruned or headed back to 3 to 3 feet tall. This spring pruning should be done in early spring before any growth takes place.

In midsummer, after the raspberries have finished fruiting, all canes that bore fruit should be removed. These old canes will die the following winter since the canes of raspberries live only two years. The first year the canes grow from a shoot starting from the root. The second year these canes fruit and die. Canes that have fruited compete with the young canes for moisture and nutrients. They also harbor insects and diseases.

Here's how to tell if the peaches are ripe. Peaches are best picked when the fruit separates easily from the twigs. If it is hard to pull off the tree, it isn't ripe. Peaches will not ripen further once removed from the tree (they only "soften").

Color: Green is definitely unripe, but you can't use red color as an indicator of how ripe a peach is. Different peach varieties have differing amounts of red blush in their natural coloring. Pick them when the ground color changes from green to yellow, orange, red (or a combination). The skin of yellow-fleshed varieties ripens to an orange tint, while the skin of white-fleshed varieties changes from greenish- to yellow-white.

Softness: unless you like your peaches very firm, pick your peaches with just a little "give" when gently pressed. Peaches at this stage are great for eating, freezing, and baking. Peaches won't ripen very much after picking.
Odor: It should smell sweet and ripe.

Best wishes with your edible landscape!

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