Fresh raspberries and blackberries, also called cane fruits, are one of the tastiest summer and fall treats. March is an ideal time to plant them and start thinking warm summer thoughts. Berries are especially ideal for covering larger spaces, though they work well in small beds and even containers. With preparation and maintenance, this perennial will provide a delicious harvest for years.

Peggy Straube, at the Central Point Grange Co-op, says our climate is excellent for blackberries, raspberries, marionberries (double blackberry cross), tayberries (blackberry-raspberry cross) and boysenberries (blackberry-raspberry-loganberry cross). She advises against cultivating the notorious Himalayan blackberries found along creeksides and fields because they are very invasive. Named cultivars of cane fruit have all been bred to give more fruit and flavor in less space.

Cane fruit varieties differ in color, flavor, growing patterns, time of harvest and amount of thorns, so be sure to choose characteristics that match your needs. Selecting both summer and everbearing (also called fall fruiting) types will give you a long harvest and the most seasonal color. For example, Ajit Nehra of Phoenix Organic Garden & Farm Center recommends blending raspberry varieties such as 'Boyne,' an early appearing red favorite, 'Tulameen,' the longest bearing summer red, 'Autumn Bliss,' an early fall variety, 'Fall Gold,' a golden autumn bearer and 'Royalty Purple,' a purple late season fruit.

All these plants like light, loamy soil with lots of sun. If you have heavy clay or sandy soil, use raised beds or amend the bed with compost and topsoil as needed first. Plant 5-6 feet apart. Nehra says cane fruits like a pH around 6, and suggests using an acid mix fertilizer, peat moss or cottonseed meal in soils with a higher pH. Mulch well to conserve water and provide a steady source of natural nutrients.

Training fruit exposes berries to the sun, increasing sweetness. For raspberries, set posts in the ground at the ends of each row, or between 10-15 feet apart for longer rows. Between them, string wires at 3 and 5 feet high. For blackberry types, set a post next to each plant. Guide the vines gently through the wire, up the trellis or along the post as they grow. If you have limited garden space, you can fill a large container with a balanced soil blend and locate it in a sunny spot. Straube successfully uses large, wooden, whiskey-type barrels at home, with one plant per container.

You'll see your first berries the year after planting. After each harvest, prune the floricanes clear to the ground. These are the brown, woody stems that have just produced and will then die back. Do not cut the primocanes the new, green growth that will bear the next season's crop. During the dormancy period from January through March, thin out the canes. Leave the strongest four to eight stalks per plant, and remove any damaged growth. In the summer, continue to prune out canes that extend outside the edges of each row. All cane fruits will form a thicket if left untended.

The 2007 edition of Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley by Jackson County Master Gardeners, has a comprehensive section on pruning cane berries. This is helpful for more sophisticated pruning, like that done for everbearing varieties which produce two crops if properly pruned. If you opt for two crops, be sure to nourish the soil with extra compost and mulch.

Berries can be savored alone or added to deserts, salads and cereals. Freeze some of your harvest or make jam to store up a little warmth and sweetness for the winter.