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Gardening: Raspberries

It's easy to imagine you need a large fruit cage and a post and wire fence to grow raspberries, but containers work perfectly well.

Choose a compact raspberry variety if you're growing it in a pot. Photograph: Shutterstock
Choose a compact raspberry variety if you're growing it in a pot. Photograph: Shutterstock

Although the usual time for planting fruit is between November and early March, you can start container-grown plants at any time of year. There's no shortage of varieties, but you must first decide whether you want a summer-fruiting or autumn-fruiting type. Summer rasps fruit in July and August; autumn ones from late August until the end of September.

There are summer varieties which produce canes at least two metres tall, so choose a more compact variety, such as Malling Jewel, for a container. This one rarely grows more than 1.5m, so it's easy to support in a pot. Low-growing autumn rasps, like Erika with its orange-red fruits, or Golden Everest, are much easier for containers. Autumn Treasure's spine-free stems might also appeal. A good, sunny autumn brings out their fine, subtle flavour. Alas, at 200m above sea level the September sun ain't strong enough for autumn rasps in my garden, but if you live at a lower altitude, they're well worth trying.

Raspberries, those most Scottish of fruits, are tough but do need free-draining soil. They have a large root system and are planted 45cm apart in the open ground, so limit yourself to one plant for a 45-litre pot. Clay pots are less likely to blow over, but a plastic one filled with loam-based compost should do well in a sheltered, sunny spot. As ever, homemade compost is a cut above the shop-bought stuff. Insert a 1m-tall bamboo cane or pole in the centre of the pot. Make a hole, water and plant. Raspberries need moist but not overly wet soil and regular watering, especially when fruits are forming.

You prune summer varieties after fruiting, cutting old canes back to base. The following year's canes grow during the summer; when removing old canes, thin out the new ones, retaining only the strongest four or five. You cut back autumn-fruiting ones completely in February so they'll throw up fresh canes.

If you have a little more space, but still not enough for a full-blown raspberry row, you could place a single raspberry at each end of a bed. This provides a feature and a sprinkling of rasps for your muesli.

A gooseberry bush makes a tasty addition, too. I'm talking about dessert gooseberries, not the tart ones my wife uses to stuff the Christmas goose. Once you've bitten into a large, sweet, golden Leveller or a bright-red, glossy Martlet, you'll be compelled to find room for it in the patio. Most gooseberries can be trained against a wall, but they form excellent bushes as well and don't need supporting. The bushes are pruned in the autumn. Aim to have four main branches growing from a central stem and keep the centre of the bush open for ventilation.

Blueberries are a must for any patio. Planted in a 60-litre pot in a sunny spot, my Blue Crop bush provides a harvest of sweet, dark-blue berries. Not only are these super fruits crammed with antioxidants, but they make a fine show while ripening over several weeks. When restricting yourself to one bush, choose a self-fertile variety such as Tophat, and avoid late-maturing ones. As with so much fruit and veg, slow-maturing varieties need a longer growing season than we get in Scotland.

My soil is neutral, with a pH slightly above 7, so I can only grow my blueberries in a container; they require acidic soil, with a pH of 5.5 or lower, or they won't grow well. I add sulphur chips to my compost to reduce the pH and ensure good growing conditions.

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