has anyone attempted winter-protecting tender trailing berries?

hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)November 12, 2013

Although *some* trailing berries, like thorny Boysens & a few of the newer hybrids can thrive in colder parts of zone 7 and up, many are not winter hardy even in mild winters - as several posters here have noted in Maryland and similar climates.

However, it seems that, since they are "trailing" by definition, they'd be easy to mulch over winter.

If you let the primocanes trail the first season, then, mulch them somehow, can you overwinter them, then trellis them up in spring?

Has anyone tried this with any degree of success?

My thoguht process is as follows:

Fall - new canes trail along ground. Toss some burlap or thick row cover over them, and pile on some shredded leaves about a foot deep. This should protect them from deep freezes, but still allow gradual cooling (as the ground itself cools) to a point where any required winter chilling could occur.

Spring - around the time of the last hard freeze (low 20s or colder), about late March here, uncover and trellis the canes.
Summer - enjoy your fruit.
Late summer - cut off any spent floricanes after fruiting.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

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alan haigh

I have, and it works to cover them with leaves after staking them to ground underneath- hold leaves in place with chicken wire or netting- not tarp. Bait or trap out rodents.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 3:28PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

It does puzzle me that blackberries (even the Eastern erect ones) have so many issues w/cold hardiness, when even growing up in Northeastern Ohio (z5b) we had wild ones that fruited every year, even after the winters of '85 and '94.

A - are wild eastern blackberries hardier than even the erect types?
B - is there a way to "breed in" that hardiness?

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 4:48PM
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alan haigh

When we had a test winter here and temps went below -20 there were stands of natives that were frozen to the ground- not sure how far below -20. But you are right, they do tend to be hardier than named varieties- and thornier too. They also have a slightly bitter back taste to my palate but are still tasty.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 6:23PM
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IâÂÂm trying to overwinter my trailing blackberries this year using the Argibon AG-50 (1.5oz) row covers as protection. IâÂÂll report back on how mine do this winter - I have most of the following varieties planted in the ground since last spring: Marionberry, Boysenberry, Siskiyou, Obsidian, Loganberry, Black Diamond, Newberry (potted), Silvan(potted) and Kotata. IâÂÂm keeping my fingers crossed that I can get the Marionberries to survive. IâÂÂm going to have our first low 20FâÂÂs temperature this season tonight and it snowed last night too.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 8:14PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

jtburton, I used heavy agribon double layer one year on my figs and it didn't provide much protection. At some point I put a temperature gauge under it and it was no different from ambient air.

Hair metal, I protected western blackberries both by leaves and by aluminum bubble wrap insulation. Leaves work for protection but on a 12' cane if there was even a couple inches popping out in one spot the cane would die there and then you lose all the rest of it. Hopefully your row cover will help keep all the canes down; its doesn't provide much winter protection but it physically keeps the canes down.

The covering that worked best by far was the aluminum bubble wrap. Since it was a full cover I could get all the canes to stay on it, and it provided more protection since it was a better insulator. I used ground staples to hold it down. I successfully protected my Marions with it. At some point however I got tired of putting on and taking off covers so I switched to more hardy kinds. Kotata, Black Diamond, and Siskiyou are hardy in Maryland based on my experience.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 9:21PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Yeah I'm only going to protect one this year, and if the other can't make it, I'll too will switch to more hardier cultivars.
I think part of the problem is the thawing and freezing.
I wonder if you painted the canes white, if that would help?
Mine are kind of in shade now with the low sun, so may not go through the thaws and freezes that I think is the real problem. The tissues expand in the heat, then become frozen.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 11:07PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)


Thanks for the input on aluminum bubble wrap. I will get mine covered with it. I was going to use leaves but if they aren't a good enough protection I'm glad to know. I have a roll of bubble wrap already so no sweat. This is my first year with blackberries.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 11:59PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Scott - do Kotata, Black Diamond, and Siskiyou have a flavor more like a Boysen or is it different/better?

I assume they're different than Eastern berries, which I do like a lot, but I've never tried a fresh "western" blackberry, except a Boysenberry.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 10:15AM
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I looked for the bubble wrap before buying the agribon row covers but the widest roll I could find was 4ft, which wasn't wide enough to cover most of my plants with a contiguous piece. I may firm up their coverage after finding one of the Marions half uncovered after a low 20's freeze last night. Not a good way to start the overwintering process.

My plants are on a north-facing slope and next to woods which seem to protect them from the freeze and thaw cycles somewhat. It also blocks some of the wind from hitting them.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 8:16PM
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One can get very ambitious about winter-protecting tender items when catalog shopping, but after a few years it becomes tedious, or one has an illness or absence from home for travel, family emergency, etc., and the poor plants get neglected. Better to plant something that can fend for itself. Northwoodswis

    Bookmark   November 14, 2013 at 1:40AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Hairmetal, Kotata and Siskiyou are more in the Loganberry camp: they have a large clove/raspberry component and in a blind taste you would probably not call them a blackberry. Black Diamond is strongly in the Marionberry camp. Oh, another one that I like is Newberry, its the tastiest but is even more like raspberry. I only had one winter test for it so am not sure how it will end up doing.

None of these varieties like heat or have much tolerance for drying out, and even with the more cold-tolerant plants they are a challenge (the borers are not helping either).

jburton, it sounds like you are not laying the canes on the ground? I used a 2' wide piece because I laid all the canes on the ground. If you are not putting them on the ground I doubt you will have any canes alive next spring.


    Bookmark   November 14, 2013 at 8:54AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

"Better to plant something that can fend for itself."

I agree, I'm going to protect my wyeberry just because it is rare. Not a super great tasting hybrid, but still I hate for a rare plant to be lost. It's small too this first year having only 3 canes a few feet long. it was only 2 inches high when i got it. If the other hybrids die I will replace with something else.
Other cultivars that sound interesting are Black Pearl (Same program as Black Diamond) and Loch Ness.

Some info on Lock Ness
"LOCH NESS î Thornless, SEMI-ERECT, is a patented variety from the National Seed Development Organization in Scotland. Loch Ness should become one of the very best all time thorn less blackberries for the home garden. Unlike many other types of blackberries, Loch Ness does not produce thorny canes from root system . Loch Ness is truly thorn less. It is extremely productive. Loch Ness has similar genealogy to Black Satin, Hull, but Loch Ness is a much better tasting berry and has real gourmet quality. CanadaâÂÂs top small fruit specialist has tested Loch Ness at British Columbia Abbotsford Fruit Testing Station and gives it the highest rating for a berry of this type. Zone 5-8"

Of course they always make them sound great, but it should be hardy, and is thornless, so is worth a trial run i would think?

This post was edited by Drew51 on Thu, Nov 14, 13 at 9:16

    Bookmark   November 14, 2013 at 9:12AM
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Generally, I'm laying the trailing canes on the ground but a couple of them just won't lay flat. The black diamond won't and the marionberry plants are so large that I can't get them compacted enough to lay flat. I'm thinking about buying a couple of bales of straw and covering them with a layer straw and then use the row cover to cover them and hold the straw in place.

Yeah, this overwintering effort is kind of a pain but I like the challenge.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2013 at 11:51AM
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There may be a reason not to, but could you use leaves instead of straw? In my area, fall leaves are abundant and free. I bury my pots in leaves for the winter. But that may be different than burying your canes. I think I may have read about other people complaining about rodents?

    Bookmark   November 15, 2013 at 2:13PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)


I am definitely one of those that complained about rodents. I lost more than $500.00 worth of plants, and in all honesty it was probably closer to $1000.00. I put the pots in a ditch and filled it in with leaves. The next spring I had arrows for trees; sharpened to a nice point. The only one that they didn't seem to like was the medlar, and I understand that.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 12:15AM
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I wonder what the difference is? I've only been doing this since 2010 so maybe I've just been lucky, We have pests including mice, chipmunks, squirrels, and moles. I pile leaves a couple inches deeper than the pots, but I don't bury the plants themselves. So far, I've seen no sign of rodent damage. Hope it stays that way. I'm trying to figure out if there's a difference in our approaches. Did you bury the acutal plants as well? Any other ideas?


    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 1:13AM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)


I was digging holes for my new orchard and the last row was supposed to be for my grapes but the ground froze and I couldn't finish. I put all the pots in this ditch that was deep enough for a 5 or 10 gallon pot. Between the pots I filled it up with leaves. The only plants that survived were the ones that I didn't bury as deeply and the leaves did not cover the tops of the pots. The mice had themselves a nice and cozy winter home with food available 24/7. They left the exposed trunks alone because the didn't want to go out in the cold. Of course those are the plants that I thought wouldn't make it. This qualifies for Newbie Gardener of the Year Award!

On a side note, I made a cage out of remesh and filled it up with leaves to protect a couple of my new peach trees and these were undisturbed. My reasoning is that the peach trees were secluded and the mice would have had to leave the warmth and traverse across snow. I think it was the ditch that exacerbated the problem. The ditch was about 40 feet long and filled to the brim with all my prized acquisitions.

What zone are you in?

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 2:06AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a


Thanks for sharing that, I feel much better about losing $30.00 here $20.00 there...

If you want to keep the rodents away a few things you can try. Add moth balls around the area. They are cheap too. Use the repellents they sell. Spray area with caster oil. It will get on their fur, they will lick it off, and well it's a laxative, they will excuse themselves from the area quickly.
This is used in commercial mole repellents. Mint is often used in commercial products too. They do work until they run out. Mint lasts about 2 months. So more would be needed for all of winter. Great stuff to keep rodents out of sheds. But moth balls work pretty good too.
Sometimes these things are hard to figure out. A friend had some good tires he didn't want so he put them by the curve
with a sign "free tires" no takers....
So he changed the sign to "tires for sale" and somebody stole them.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Sat, Nov 16, 13 at 7:33

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 7:22AM
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milehighgirl and drew51,

Thanks for sharing your ideas.

I'm in northern Ohio, zone 5. Now I'm concerned because it sounds like your approach matches mine. But it's likely that my plants wouldn't survive the winter if I didn't insulated the pots. So I don't think I have much choice.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 7:39PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)


No I don't think they will survive at all. Are you able to garage them or plant them?

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 8:58PM
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I collected several garbage bags full of pine needles today and used them to insulate the least hardy trailing berry plants. Some plants I'm leaving covered only by the row cover to gauge how effective it is as winter protection. Part of the process is learning what works in my specific location and climate, so I'm fine with some plants losses as long as I gain a better understanding in the process.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 9:26PM
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I can't plant them. Not enough indoor space for them.

I've been growing fruits in pots since 2010. That's only 3 winters, and none of those winters have been severe. But so far I've been able to overwinter potted mulberry, gooseberry, blueberry, cherry, and plum plants using this method. I also have 2 blackberries and 1 boysenberry, but I drag them into an unheated workshop for the winter.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 10:04PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

"I've been growing fruits in pots since 2010"

I have to move in maybe 5 years, so growing in pots is appealing to me. So I can easily take them with me. Thanks for the ideas on how to do it.

"Part of the process is learning what works in my specific location and climate:

Same here. I'm covering 2 of 3 canes to my wyeberry and leaving one exposed, just to see if it can tough it out.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 10:41PM
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My plants are still young and I'm keeping them small. I didn't like the fruit so I ditched the Mulberry and the gooseberries. Of fruiting age I have 1 Cherry, 2 blueberries, and 2 blackberries. This year I harvested nearly a gallon of sweet cherries, 1.25 gallons of blueberries, and a gallon of blackberries. I'm guessing they would be larger and produce more if planted in the ground.

Not that I'm an expert, but I've learned much on this forum. Fruitnut grows a ton of stuff in pots. gardenweb's search function seems to limit results to the previous year's posts. However, you can direct google to search a specific site. Check out fruitnut's old posts. Try google searches like this
site:gardenweb.com fruitnut blueberries.

My quick tips would be,
1) The rule of thumb is that your plants will need to be 1 or 2 zones hardier than your zip code reflects, unless you protect them in the winter.
2) Pot size matters. I think fruitnut grows everything in 5 gallon pots or smaller. I'm using 14 gallon rubber maid rough totes with drain holes drilled in the bottom. 14 gallons is pretty heavy. I can't drag anything larger.
3) Potting soil is a big deal. Most of the commercial stuff isn't up to the task. Making your own is better and cheaper. And it's easy. However that discussion is a little bit longer and the recipe varies a little for acid loving plants. If you decide to try potted plants, circle back around to the topic of potting soil.
4) Your plants will probably need water every day in the summer.
5) Fertilizer is important in pots. I'm still working on that. Check out fruitnut's posts.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 1:25AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Thanks Isoh, luckily I'm not really a newbie to pot culture. I have almost 4 decades of experience. But it is with tropical plants. Not fruit. So the advice I needed was how to overwinter fruit. Which we discussed a lot in this thread.
I figured out soil requirements before GardenWeb existed or anybody ever heard of 5-1-1.
Fruitnut and I have talked a lot online. Both of us are members of Dave Wilson Nursery forums, and he is elsewhere too, but these two forums are enough for me.

It's kinda like a 2nd baseman now wants to play at third. Most of the skills to do it are there, just some subtle nuances need to be figured out.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 9:32AM
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