Japanese wineberry: planting, care & harvesting


I studied horticultural sciences at university and in my free time you can find me in my own patch of land, growing anything with roots. I am particularly passionate about self-sufficiency and seasonal food.

Favourite fruit: quince, cornelian cherry and blueberries
Favourite vegetables: peas, tomatoes and garlic

The Japanese wineberry is closely related to raspberries and blackberries. This Asian treasure is easy to grow at home and the berries are sure to delight!

Japanese wineberry fruits
The Japanese wineberry is native to East Asia and is closely related to raspberries and blackberries [Photo: Carmen Rieb/ Shutterstock.com]

Despite its Far Eastern origins, the exotic Japanese wineberry can be grown here and produces tasty fruit. Read on to learn everything about the Japanese wineberry, including which varieties to grow, how to grow and care for them and when to harvest the berries.

Japanese wineberry: Origin and characteristics

The Japanese wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae) and the genus Rubus. The species name phoenicolasius is combination of the Latin words phoenix (= crimson, fox-red) and lasios (= densely hairy, shaggy), which alludes to the hairiness of the canes. The berry is closely related to the blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) and raspberry (Rubus idaeus). According to some sources, the Japanese wineberry is a hybrid between a blackberry and raspberry, similar to loganberry or tayberry. This crossing, on the other hand, is said to have occurred naturally, i.e., without human intervention. As the name suggests, the plant is found in Japan, but is also native to Korea and China. It has been cultivated by humans since the end of the 19th century and came to Europe in the second half of the 20th century. The Japanese wineberry is also known as the Japanese climbing bramble and simply the wineberry.

It grows as a sprawling two to three metre tall and equally wide, upright, deciduous shrub with overhanging or low-lying side shoots. There are only a few thin thorns on the red-brown canes. The canes are densely covered with red bristles, giving it an exotic and extremely elegant appearance. The dark green, three to five-toothed leaves grow to about 10 centimetres long and are white on the underside. Similar to its relatives, the Japanese wineberry forms root runners and can therefore spread well. Old plants can occupy a space of 16-20 m². The shrub has delicate pink flowers in small clusters, flowering from June to July. The flower buds, like the canes, are red and covered in sticky bristly hairs. The initially apricot-coloured, hemispherical aggregate fruits ripen from July to August, turning deep wine-red and slightly sticky.

Japanese wineberry with climbing aid
The Japanese wineberry can be trained to grow upwards with a climbing aid [Photo: M. Volk/ Shutterstock.com]

Growing Japanese wineberry

The Japanese wineberry has not been subdivided into varieties on the domestic market. This is most likely due to the fact that it is a rare exotic berry that has not yet been bred. Sometimes it is marketed as a hybrid berry or as a blackberry variety, but strictly speaking the Japanese wineberry is a species of its own. The plants are not fussy about their location, as long as it is somewhat sheltered and warm. Like blackberries, they will grow in any type of soil as long as it does not become waterlogged. The ideal location for Japanese wineberries is sunny to semi-shady in moderately nutrient-rich soil with calcareous to neutral pH that stores moisture well. Either let the vigorous shrubs grow wild or train it on climbing aids or trellises along walls and fences. It can also be grown as a fruit-bearing hedge.

Plant Japanese wineberries in spring after the Ice Saints, as the young plants are still somewhat sensitive to frost in the first few years can be damaged. This allows them to form strong roots and become somewhat established by the first winter. Before planting, loosen the soil over a large area using a garden fork and mix in mature compost to enrich it. Plant individual Japanese wineberries 150 cm apart from each other so that they can develop well. When planting, dig a deep hole and place the Japanese wineberry in it so that it sits about 10 cm lower than before. This way, the cane nodes on the root neck are covered by soil and can develop well.

Ripe Japanese wineberries
The fruits of the Japanese wineberry grow in large numbers on the previous year’s canes [Photo: theapflueger/ Shutterstock.com]

When planting the wineberries in pots, use a pot that holds at least 10 to 15 litres and repot the shrub into a larger pot every year. For planting in pots, we recommend using a nutrient-rich potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. It provides young plants with a basic supply of all essential nutrients and promotes root growth and soil life thanks to its high compost content.

Tip: To prevent excessive spread of Japanese wineberries in the garden, place a root barrier in the hole to a depth of about 40 cm when planting. The shallow roots will then only spread within the barrier by means of root stolons.

Summary: Planting Japanese wineberry

  • Location: Sunny to semi-shady
  • Soil: Moisture retaining, moderately nutritious, calcareous to neutral pH
  • Planting time: After the Ice Saints
  • Plant spacing: 150 cm

The most important care measures

The Japanese wineberry plant is extremely easy to care for because once it has established itself in the garden, only a few things need to be taken care of. Young and freshly planted shrubs need to be watered in dry summers, otherwise fruiting will stop and canes may die.

In spring, the nutrients that have been extracted over the year should be replenished with mature compost or a slow-release fertiliser such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. Work the fertiliser granules into the topsoil around the berry bush and they will decompose over time, gradually releasing the nutrients they contain to the plants without the risk of leaching. Another care measure is pruning the Japanese wineberry. The wineberry bears fruit on the floricanes (the previous year’s canes). Worn out canes die after harvesting. Prune back old, harvested, and dry canes close to the ground every autumn.

Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
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  • Perfect for all your house, garden & balcony plants
  • For strong & healthy plants as well as an active soil life
  • Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition

Is the Japanese wineberry hardy?

As an adult plant, the Japanese wineberry is completely hardy. Put brushwood or fleece around the young plants growing outdoors for the first two years to protect them from severe sub-zero temperatures. Do not leave wineberries in pots unprotected outside in winter, as there is a risk that the root ball may freeze through and cause serious damage to the plant. Overwinter Japanese wineberries in pots in a brightly lit shed at a frost-free temperature of around 5 °C.

Propagating Japanese wineberry

Japanese wineberries can be propagated vegetatively via root runners or cuttings, but also generatively via their seeds. However, growing seedlings from Japanese wineberry seeds is not an easy task. First, keep the seeds wet and cold to separate them from the flesh. Place the seeds in a cold place or fridge for four to six weeks as the seeds need to be exposed to a long-term cold snap to germinate. After the 4-to-6-week cold treatment, spread the seeds on top of the growing medium and press down very lightly. This is necessary because they are also need light exposure in order to germinate. Place in a bright, humid spot at about 15 to 18 °C and the seeds will germinate after about two to four weeks. After another four weeks, repot the tender young plants for the first time.

It is much quicker and easier to propagate the Japanese wineberry via its numerous root runners. Cut off the runners from the mother plant in autumn or spring with a spade. Dig them out and transplant to a new location. Another method of propagation is via cuttings, and this is usually pretty quick too. Take 15 cm long cuttings and place them in moist soil. Generally, they take root quickly, giving you new plants in a flash. Another alternative is to use naturally formed suckers. Here, roots develop on stems resting on the ground when they come into contact with the soil. If the stem is already well rooted, simply cut it off from the mother plant with secateurs. Then dig it up and transplant it to its new home.

Japanese wineberry harvested in a bowl
The vitamin-rich fruits of the Japanese wineberry ripen in late summer, beginning in July [Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/ Shutterstock.com]

Harvesting Japanese wineberries

The deep red, slightly sticky fruits of the Japanese wineberry are harvested between July and the beginning of September. Just like raspberries, the aggregate fruits detach easily from the stalk when fully ripe and can be picked easily by hand.

Tip: Maggots and many other pests avoid the Japanese wineberry, so you can harvest and enjoy the fruits without hesitation. It is believed that the sticky bristle hairs on the canes and calyxes keep away many of the typical raspberry pests, such as the raspberry beetle (Byturus tomentosus).

Taste, ingredients, and use

The Japanese wineberry tastes sweet, aromatic and wine-like with a pleasantly refreshing tartness. They are excellent for snacking directly from the bush. However, because the fruits cannot be stored, they must be processed immediately after harvesting.

True delicacies are wineberries dipped in chocolate, homemade wineberry jam, and fruit wine. Japanese wineberries can be used in any recipe that calls for raspberries or blackberries, such as juices, chutneys, or liqueurs. Due to its high mineral content, the Japanese wineberry is very healthy and impresses with its high amount of vitamin A and C.

Among the raspberry-like fruits is also the diverse salmonberry. Find out about this lesser-known plant and which varieties are best for growing in your own garden.

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