A few years ago, I saw Japanese Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) growing in the walled garden at Beningborough Hall. It was an incredible thing: a mass of thick, red, spiny stems, arcing out in all directions from a central crown. And they had a single specimen for sale in the plant shop: mine!
It’s taken a couple of years for the plant to really get going in the fruit section on Plot #59, but with last year’s heatwave it really hit its stride, producing masses of small, raspberry-like, winegum-flavoured fruits. Thinking this might be a good one to share around, I decided to propagate a few plantlets.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Leave it Alone
Japanese Wineberry needs very little assistance to propagate. Similarly to its Rubus genus cousin, the bramble, it will happily send out its long, arcing stems over a metre or so from the parent plant.
Where the tips touch the ground they’ll take root – in a process called tip layering – and, with time, easily and happily produce another plant. (For this reason it’s considered an invasive species in some U.S. States, so, y’know, caveat emptor on that score.)
You can, if you really want to, help the tip layering along by burying the end of the stem in the ground and pegging it down with a stout wire hoop. but it’s probably not hugely necessary. Maybe encourage the stems away from rooting in the middle of your largest gooseberry bush though (!).
2. Dig Out the Plantlets
Any time during a dryish spell in winter, when the plant is still dormant, look for the ends of stems anchoring themselves in the ground. Give them a gentle tug – wearing thick gloves, these plants are viciously spiny – and if they’re firmly established, dig them out with a trowel, trim back the stem to a few inches in length, and pot them up.
There’s a lovely root system all ready to go there. (Although I admit I could have taken the snap against a better background…)
All you have to do then is wait for signs of new shoots growing from the base, and you’ll have a new Japanese Wineberry to plant out yourself, give to a friend, or sell at your allotment shop.
The last job I like to do after propagating the plantlets is to tidy up the main plant. I cut back all main stems and side-stems to the three strongest and most vertically-aligned, cut those back to around four to five feet in length – to encourage the development of side-shoots – and then tie them firmly to a triple-cane support:
[Edit 20/03/21] Yeah, turns out a triple-cane support is no match for a mature wineberry bush. Ours ripped those canes right out of the ground on a windy day and I had to replace them with a tripod arrangement of triple-canes instead. This year, I’m investing in a 2.4m tree stake, driven at least 1 metre into the ground. Let’s see how that holds up instead.
(It’s almost impossible to get my phone camera to auto-focus on the item in the foreground that you actually want a picture of, but you get the general idea…)
This helps the plant to fruit at a height that’s convenient for picking – bearing in mind that’s a potentially prickly job to do – and encourages those long, arcing stems for more propagation next year.
How about you? Have you grown Japanese Winberries yourself? Do you fancy giving them a go? Let me know, via the comments.