Phytophthora root rot fungus has been creeping through my poor raspberry patch for the past few years, wreaking its slow motion havoc on first one cane, then another.
High soil moisture, something we have no shortage of around here, creates an ideal habitat for Phytophthora. It prefers heavy soil and slow drainage and its spores can swim from plant to plant through the soggy ground. In my patch, affected canes grow, set fruit, then wither away, their roots rotten. It really sucks.
I have two means of control, removing infected canes and improving drainage. This helps, but the patch is slowly declining. So this year, I decided to start fresh, and put in a new raspberry patch in a higher spot. I had to buy new canes, since mine are probably all infected, so I chose Phytophthora-resistant varieties, some summer fruiting and some everbearing, ordering them in January to be sure of supply.
I’m planting them without disturbing the soil underneath, a regenerative gardening technique that we have good success with here. I lay down feed bags, pile RG’s precious compost high on top, and plant straight into it. The feed bags will rot, smothering the weeds and grass I laid them on top of first, and the raspberry roots will grow down into the earth, and all through the delicious compost. I will seed grass on the pathway bare spots, and as the grass grows between my bermed rows, I will mow it and use it as mulch. (I’m imagining broad emerald green pathways between fruit-laden hedges…can’t you just see it!?!)
It’s nice starting from scratch, having the opportunity to change what I don’t like about my old raspberry patch. I made the pathways between the rows good and wide so I can get a lawnmower around easily. This will provide plenty of elbow room for picking at harvest time too, my old patch is crowded and it’s hard to get down the rows and spot all the berries.
Deer and rabbits are plentiful here, so an effective barrier is a must have. I used metal posts that won’t rot in a few years like my old pencil posts did; some recycled from an old rain shelter and some good old t-bars that were lying around. DH kindly chopped the ends off some rusty bed frame rails for me, so I’m using those too.
Metal hardware cloth or chicken wire works well to deter the bunnies. I went with the cloth this time, folding it so that half lies on the ground, skirting the entire border, and half climbs up the fence. I top this skirt with several feet of deer netting, zip tie it all together, and secure it to the ground with six inch landscape staples. That’ll keep the little buggers out.
The gate is half recycled 2×2 and chicken wire panel and half bent green willow, with zip tie hinges. No need for it to swing freely, it won’t see a lot of traffic. I still need to hang netting or something in the archway.
I planted my new raspberry canes the other day, and picked up two more today to fill the last two spots. If these do well, I shall put in two more rows next year or the year after, planting them up with suckers from whichever of my resistant varieties (Prelude, Nova, Killarney, Joan J and Honey Queen) do best.
I have a few marionberries and a couple thornless blackberries well established in my old raspberry patch along with my ailing raspberries, so if the new patch does well, I will let the marions and blacks take over the old one. Phytophthora doesn’t affect them.
One of the gardening hacks I’ve learned over the years is to flow with the realities rather than struggle to make something thrive where it doesn’t really want to. If my old raspberry patch doesn’t want to grow raspberries any more, I won’t compel it to. In the garden as in life, persuasion is better than force.