Thimbleberry - from seed to garden-worthy shrub

It was just November 21 last year when I posted about sowing seeds, of various local endemic plants I gathered locally. And December 4 when I posted about the successful germination of the seedlings.

Already, I've potted on many graduates from the seed flats to 2 inch pots and just recently, into the ground or into larger pots. I'm going to do a few posts tracking each plant's progress separately.

Today: the thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus.

I tried growing these from cuttings in 09 and failed. I just read the thimbleberry page on this very useful site - - and learned that vegetative propagation from sections of rhizomes is more successful.

But the seeds came up beautifully. I've been trying to remember if I did any cold stratification (stickin' 'em in the fridge for a while, to mimic winter). I don't think I did. The seeds had been hanging around for quite a long time in envelopes, maybe a year and a half - I think - so maybe they had gone through enough temperature changes to be ready to go. I do need to keep better records.

As I walk out in late spring and early summer, I love to see the thimbleberry bushes in flower...

and the thimbleberries ripening. They are said to be delicious but I kept all the ones I picked to put in envelopes! They are ripe when they fall off in your hand, and can ripen in a matter of hours. Wildlife relishes them and so do people.

I was thrilled when the babies started sprouting...

and quickly growing...

So I put them in small pots and they kept on growing...

Until last week - Jan 22 - when my son-in-law, Mr Squirrel from Boulder Creek, helped me pot up a bunch of the more mature seedlings and then we put them on the north-east facing deck upstairs at my home. Here they are on day one:

And then a week later...

I have others still in deep 4" pots. Today, if the rain lets up, I'm going to plant one or two in the ground, at the edge of the redwood grove, among some small oaks, toyons, Douglas fir, and madrones, where I hope they will grace the driveway to our home. In fall the leaves turn golden and then drop - it is winter deciduous. Here is one spot ready for planting:

I expect thimbleberry to grow to around four feet tall and six wide, based on the local wild population. They may grow taller as I will be fertilizing them (see below). They won't get much wider, as I'll be pruning them (also see below).

The deer will be pruning them too. Deer browse on thimbleberry but I read that the shrub survives. I'll cage mine until they get big enough to tolerate browsing.

I'm also going to plant one in a large container in the pool garden, and I'll give one to Town Mouse who also would like to try them in a large container.

I expect to give a few more to neighbors this fall, and I'm very happy to be able to spread this lovely native around in our neighborhood. The seeds came from just a mile away - but right along our road, I haven't seen any thimbleberry.

Regarding the native people's uses for thimbleberry plant parts, and the care and feeding of thimbleberry shrubs, I would refer you to this page on Paghat's Garden, a resource I treasure. There I read this useful content which I'll just reproduce as I can't say it any better myself:
Flowers & fruits are on two-year-old canes. When pruning in autumn, avoid the young green canes, & remove to the oldest canes. They are adaptable to a wide range of conditions, but the ideal is moist rich soil in dappled sunlight or partial shade. ... Though usually restrained in the garden, it may sucker to excess if ignored, spreading over an area from its rhizomes. ... [T]himbleberries are heavy nitrogen users & decline when soil nutrients decline. In the garden, then, it needs not to be crowded by too many large shrubs, & it needs at least an annual fertilizing as for other deciduous fruiting trees & shrubs.
I'll take particular care to provide nitrogen in a slow release organic fertilizer, so as not to deplete the soil where I plant thimbleberry, and I'll be pruning so they don't turn into a big thicket. In the wild, there is a natural progression of plants following fire or disturbance, and thimbleberry doesn't stay forever in one place. But this IS a garden, and gardens do require artifice, even wilderness gardens like mine. As the babies (hopefully) grow, I'll keep you posted on their progress.


luvarugula said…
Darling plants! Big congrats for growing them from seed.
We have these in the county, but only in the foothills or mountains where they'd get more moisture than on the coastal flats. Good to see that they're so easy from seed. The one-week before and after is an amazing snapshot of how quickly they can grow! Species like that are so gratifying from seed, compared to some others that can't be coaxed, not matter what you offer them.
Christine said…
Wow, what an accomplishment! They're such lady-like little (fast becoming big!)plants. I wonder if you could pair it with a nitrogen-fixing native to help with the soil composition?
Again, I'll be happy to take some of those off your hands! I LOVE thimbleberries. They are so beautiful. I learned from a nature guide that their big soft leaves make the best, ahem, toilet paper if you're in a pinch in the woods.
Karyl said…
I was not familiar with this plant as it is not native to my area (GA). Still, it is supposed to grow well here so I might try it. I've been looking for a bramble type plant that won't eat my property. Thanks for the idea!
Doreen said…
I so appreciate your explanation regarding seedlings. I've been interested in transplanting the canes as I'm moving from a property where they grow wild to another without these plants about 5 miles away. For many years I've been making a low sugar jam for family and friends and it is positively a favorite as it's basically seedless. Thank you and best of luck with your natural, wild garden!
Anonymous said…
If you burn wood spread a few inches on your dormant plants any time during winter.They love the ash,and you will not need any other fertilizer.We also have one patch of Lupins and thimbellberries(naturally occurring!)and they seem to get along very well.I have not tried planting Lupins in any of our other patches because they seem to do really well with just one helping of ash a year.
Country Mouse said…
Interesting tip, Anonymous. We used to burn our brush pile, but now have it chipped. We're getting a new wood stove though and I know where to put the ash now! My lupins haven't done so well this year (2014) maybe I'll try the ash on them next year too. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
I would not put ash on lupins.They are a nitrogen fixing plant and should not need any.If they are having issues it is most likely water related.They can thrive in very poor soil,but do not tolerate soggy areas at all.
Thimbleberries need nitrogen,and deplete it from the soil quickly.They also thrive on ash,and are one of the first plants to appear after a forest fire.Since we started adding ash a few years ago our harvest of berries has more than doubled.This year we managed roughly 6 quarts of jam(half a quart at a time lol)!

The older gentleman who told us about the ash thought it was common knowledge(he is 87 years old)."You have to add ash while the plants are covered in snow if you want very many berries the next year".Nearly lost wisdom I guess.Not sure why you can only add ash during the dormant period,but we are not questioning what works at this point.