Many of us dream of growing luscious soft fruits in our gardens, and the health-promoting raspberries, blueberries, goji berries and other vitamin-rich berries are way up on our ‘must try some day’ list.
These popular berries, however, generally require certain conditions for cultivation, which make them difficult to grow in our increasingly fickle climate but, whilst most of them are difficult, it doesn’t mean they are impossible.
Take raspberries for instance: known as a cool-climate species they have been successfully cultivated around Malir (although I have no precise information as to exactly where and by whom). If this is true, then they can, with care, be grown elsewhere in Karachi, too. They do grow — and produce well — around Lahore, Rawalpindi/Islamabad, Peshawar and can be found both in cultivation and growing wild in odd spots in the Murree hills and around Nathia Gali. The canes, as the plants are known, are sometimes available in Islamabad and via an internet plant business in Lahore.
Growing berries is not impossible in our climatic conditions
Raspberries (Rubus idaeas) are members of the huge and surprisingly-varied Rosaceae family to which roses also belong. The berries can be red, yellow or even black. The short-lived canes continually reproduce themselves, so it is important to cut back and remove old shoots to prevent congestion and reduce the possibility of fungal diseases such as mildew. Raspberries like their roots to be cool and moist and their heads in the sun although, having said this, they thrive underneath shade netting as long as the sides/ends are open to allow a breeze. Soil should be rich in compost/manure with an acid to neutral pH value. In hot climates such as ours, laying a thick, moisture retentive, cooling mulch is highly recommended.
Blueberries (Vaccinium spp) are successfully being grown, on a small scale only so far, around Islamabad, Abbotabad, Mardan and other locations where the soil is highly acidic or where a specialised, acidic soil which is also very high in natural humus, has been provided. Tall growing blueberry species need moist conditions more than medium and dwarf ones. Ordinary tap water kills these plants, as does brackish water or water from an area where lime is present. They should only be irrigated with rainwater or naturally acidic water and, during the growing season, they become very thirsty plants. I believe that a number of people in and around Lahore are experimenting with blueberry cultivation but do not, as yet, know how they are doing. Plants can be purchased in specialist Islamabad and Lahore nurseries over winter months.
Blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum): Like their close relatives redcurrants and white currants (Ribes sativum), these delicious berries much prefer the cool climate of the Murree Hills, the Northern Areas and the uplands of Azad Kashmir to that of the far hotter and drier plains regions of the country. Their roots need cool, moist, humus-rich soil yet the bushes themselves need sun and dislike shade/shade netting under which they are prone to mildew and a range of fungal/viral infections.
If anyone has succeeded with any of these outside the hills/mountains then please share details so that other would-be growers can follow suit.
Goji berries (Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense): This increasingly popular berry is hailed as a superfood in the world of health fanatics and with good reason too, as it is bursting with vitamins, minerals and other good ‘stuff’. Simple to grow — take a cutting, stick it in a pot and off it should shoot — it isn’t fussy about soil or water type, can begin fruiting when it is just over a year old and is indigenous in various parts of the country from the far north right down to the mouth of the Indus delta. Plants shouldn’t be hard to find but ... for some strange reason ... nurseries rarely stock them.
Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) are indigenous right across the northern regions, Murree Hills and Azad Kashmir, and have/are also successfully cultivated in private gardens around Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Peshawar. Easily propagated from tip cuttings or by pegging growing tips into the ground, blackberries relish humus-rich growing conditions and, from flowering to end of fruiting, regular irrigation. A high percentage of wild blackberries here, are small and rather ‘seedy’ unless they are growing adjacent to a water source when they will be large, juicy and luscious. Sun-lovers, they produce much higher crops when grown in full sun than when located in partial shade where they may not crop at all.
Blackberry bushes/canes can be extremely invasive so it is best to prune the thorny branches and to restrict growth by pruning back extra long shoots as soon as they appear. Blackberries fruit heaviest on growth made the previous year, therefore, when it is time for serious winter pruning, cut out all stems older than one year or older than two years depending on plant vigour. In our climate, blackberries fruit anytime from June to October depending on localised climatic conditions. These shrubs require at least two months, preferably three months, of winter cold so these are not recommended for places such as Karachi although, of course, give them a try if you like.
Please continue sending your gardening queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to include your location.
The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.
Published in Dawn, EOS, May 27th, 2018