Q. We bought a house in an urban area of town this year and I found there are raspberry and blackberry bushes in the backyard. I have no idea how to care for them — could you help? We did enjoy some berries from both so I want to make sure they continue.
A. Following are a few tips that should hopefully keep your brambles happy for years to come:
• Raspberries and blackberries are bramble fruits and can become quite overgrown and make what is called a thicket if allowed to grow wild. When being grown in a backyard or small area, it is important to keep them in bounds by careful pruning and trellising.
• In our area blackberries are the most tender of the two and if unprotected might die out if the temperature drops below -10 degrees in winter.
• Wrapping them in burlap and/or piling dried leaves or straw over the root zone when the ground freezes should help them survive.
• Prune out and throw in the trash (never in the compost pile) the raspberry and blackberry canes that had fruit on them this year. They are done and will not have fruit on them a second year — plus those canes may have insects and disease that they would pass on to the fruit next year.
• Do this immediately after fruiting all through the growing season.
• You didn’t say whether they were growing along a fence or trellised but it is always a good idea to give them support with a simple trellis.
• In late winter before new growth begins is the time to prune and thin out the plants.
• Look for canes that are growing sideways and leave them on the shrub — these are the fruit-bearing canes. Leave at least 7 on each bush.
• Continue pruning out any dead and small spindly canes.
• When the ground thaws in spring, side-dress the bushes with compost and aged manure.
• We have had plenty of rain so far this season but if August proves to be a dry month be sure to give them at least an inch and a half of water a week to keep the roots hydrated and healthy.
• It might be worth the effort to try and find out from the previous homeowners if your raspberry bushes are late summer and fall-bearing varieties. Types of this berry can bear fruit on new growth all season long.
Q. I have been battling ants this year. I hate to call the exterminator or use chemicals — do you have any other ideas I could try that are environmentally safe?
A. I have a few suggestions that are worth trying but at the same time I have not tried any of these methods myself so I can’t guarantee they will work:
• Find their hill and scatter grits all around it — yes, the cereal. The tipster says they will eat it and when they take in water they swell up and burst and in 24 hours no more ants.
• Use food grade Diatomaceous earth. It is a natural powdered rock that the ants crawl over and when they do it scrapes off the underside of their body and they dehydrate and eventually die due to the loss of body fluid. Spread this around the outside of the anthill where they have to crawl over it to forage for food. This product works for any crawling insect such a slugs and snails as well as ants.
• Spraying vinegar on the anthill is another suggestion.
Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to email@example.com. This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of The News-Sentinel.