Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fungus May Be the Berry Culprit

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fungus May Be the Berry Culprit

Article excerpt

Q: We have four blackberry plants on the north side of our shed. There is a runoff from the roof which keeps the plants watered when we have a rainy year. The second year we had the plants we had a bountiful harvest.

Since then, the plants that remain bloom and bear huge amounts of berries, but when they are getting close to ripening, the plant and the berries dry up. This year, one plant is just covered with berries, but I won't be able to pick any. It is very distressing as we don't know what to do.

A: From your description, your plants may be infected with a fungus, perhaps gray mold, which can attack shoots as well as fruits. You don't mention any specific symptoms that appear before the plants dry up, but gray mold looks just like its name.

Anthracnose is another possibility. It will cause ashy-gray colored spots that usually begin at the base of the canes before infecting the leaves and fruits. Sprays can be used to prevent fungus diseases, but these will not save the fruits once infection occurs.

Ongoing sanitation is the best option available to home gardeners for the control of blackberry and other bramble diseases. Canes that have borne fruit should be removed promptly after harvest. Treat your diseased canes with their spoiled fruit the same way. Prune them out at the soil line, taking care not to leave stubs. Be sure to pick up and destroy any leaves or fruits that fall off.

Each spring, thin out any excess shoots, leaving only three or four canes per foot of row. This will promote good air circulation, lessening the chance of disease. A liquid lime sulfur spray applied when new growth just begins in the spring will also be helpful.

Your description of the runoff from the roof leaves some questions in my mind. Moisture stress may be a factor in the loss of some of your plants. Blackberries need a well-drained soil to thrive. In a wet year, you have to consider the possibility of too much moisture injuring the roots.

On the other hand, don't relay solely on runoff during dry years. For best quality, blackberries need regular watering as the fruit ripens. To maintain the vigor of the plants, water is also needed when the new canes are growing from early summer until early fall. …

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