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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

Bare root season is the time to plant!

by Carolyn Singer
January 3, 2009

Last year was the first time in 31 years that my Bartlett pear trees did not produce. The spring frost which did so much damage to local fruits left its mark on my fruit trees too. But the raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, and even blackberries were plentiful.

Raspberries grown in fertile soil with a three to four-inch mulch are productive summer and fall despite the variables of spring. The soil does not need to be prepared deeply, but I do add compost, leaves, organic phosphorus, and oyster shell to a depth of six inches. And each year I spread composted poultry manure mixed with leaves as a mulch around established plants.

Because raspberries spread by stolons, the area prepared for planting is about two feet wide and as long a row as space allows. With my appetite for raspberries, and my willingness to share with friends, I need at least twenty-five feet.

Bare root starts are planted eighteen inches apart in a single row. Prune old canes close to new shoots at the base. In good soil, within two years the row (and the adjacent paths) will fill with plants and you will be thinning out the extras.

Many gardeners shudder at the thought of planting blackberries. I, too, spend some of my gardening time attempting to eradicate the invasive Himalayan blackberry. But I would not be without the larger, luscious and more delicious berries such as Olallie and Marion blackberries.

These cane berries grow differently than the raspberry. Dig a hole for the bare root start that is eighteen inches deep and a foot wide. Fill it with the same mix of amendments that you use for raspberries, mixed with the native clay soil.

Space bare root blackberries and boysenberries at least four to six feet apart, and provide a thick mulch at the base of each plant. Canes will be long and need to be trained on wires so that they do not tip root and create the same bramble patch the wild blackberries do! I grow annual cosmos and zinnias in the open area between the berries.

Bare root rhubarb roots are a section of the parent plant and include a thick root with smaller absorbing roots and a bud. Dig a planting hole that is two feet deep and wide. Incorporate a plentiful supply of composted manure and rock powders with the native soil. Good drainage is essential, even in winter when the rhubarb is dormant. Place the bud so that it is visible above the mulch.

This is a perennial that will last for many years with little attention. Rhubarb does get large, so plan ahead for the space it will need. The rhubarb in my garden is four feet wide, and its thick tuberous root has long since outgrown the two-foot wide hole I prepared.

bare root grapeGrapes may also be planted during the bare root season. Usually available as two-year-old roots, the grapes may need to have a rhubarb-sized planting hole. The roots will reach deep into the soil for nutrients as the plant matures.

Strawberries will do well in soil that is prepared to ten inches. As for the other small fruits, the best amendments are compost, decomposing leaves, and well-composted manure mixed with organic phosphorus and oyster shell.

elderberryThese small fruits are just a few of those that grow well in the foothills. If you have more space, try blueberries (they do well in containers), elderberries, or even currants and gooseberries. Redefine your landscape as an edible garden, incorporating small fruits as an essential element of good (and delicious) design.

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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