Short of vine-ripened tomatoes straight out of the garden, there is nothing that compares to the taste of a sun-kissed raspberry pulled off of the bramble. The taste of a homegrown berry is leaps and bounds above anything you could buy from the store – juicy, sweet, and delicious.
Growing a patch of raspberries in your garden isn’t difficult. Still, there are a couple of tips and techniques when raising them that will increase your harvest size and the taste of your harvest.
If you want to try planting them, you must understand the difference between summer-bearing and everbearing types, and you must plant a variety suited for the local climate. Plants need a full sun location, plenty of water during the growing season, watched closely for pest and disease problems, and must be appropriately pruned to encourage optimal fruiting.
Believe me, though, when I say that the time and effort put into growing your own are well worth it once you have ripe berries to pick!
Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) are interesting plants that shoot up biennial stems from a reproductive structure known as a crown. They typically prefer cooler climates but will grow for 10 to 15 years in most USDA growing zones (3 through 9) except for the hottest and coldest areas. Certain varieties are bred to be more cold-tolerant or handle warmer climates.
Understanding Raspberry Canes
The base or crown of a raspberry plant continuously develops stems that have a two-year life span. Known as primocanes or floricanes, depending upon their age, they have different growing natures and act differently in relation to the type of berry you are growing. These differences make it necessary to learn the characteristics of each cane.
- Primocanes are the first-year canes that grow every spring from the crown of the plant. These young, green shoots are fast-growing.
- Floricanes, on the other hand, are the second-year canes. Once they go dormant in the winter of their first year, they typically take on a woody appearance, turning brown. They usually have fewer leaves than primocanes since their only goal is to produce flowers and fruit.
Summer-bearing and Everbearing Types
Before we get into the raspberry varieties, it’s critical to talk about the different types. Plants are classified as either summer-bearing or everbearing, depending on when they bear fruit. Understanding the differences between the two types will help you choose the best one for your patch and gives you a better idea of how your plants grow.
- Summer-bearing types fruit on floricanes, the second-year canes. Berries usually ripen in June or July for about 4 to 5 weeks, and then they’re done for the season.
- Everbearing types bear fruit on the tips of primocanes (first year) in the late summer or early fall until a frost occurs or temperature drops below a certain point. They are commonly called fall-bearing because they fruit later in the season than summer-bearing. The following summer, they may bear fruit on the lower part of the floricanes.
There are over two hundred varieties, differing in flavor, color, and cold hardiness. Those different varieties can be divided into red, black, or purple depending upon the fruit color. Purple varieties are a hybrid cross of red and black varieties; yellow varieties are red ones with a genetic mutation that doesn’t produce red pigment.
To help narrow your selection down, the following are some of the most commonly grown cultivars. When choosing a variety to grow, always look for one suitable for your growing zone.
- Anne: Zones 4-9, everbearing, yellow fruit
- Boyne: Zones 3-8, summer-bearing
- Caroline: Zones 4-7, everbearing
- Cascade Delight: Zones 6-9, summer-bearing
- Dorman Red: Zones 5-9, everbearing
- Fall Gold: Zones 4-9, everbearing, yellow fruit
- Heritage: Zones 4-8, everbearing
- Himbo Top: Zones 4-8, everbearing
- Joan J: Zones 4-8, everbearing
- Josephine: Zones 3-8, everbearing
- Killarney: Zones 4-7, summer-bearing
- Polka: Zones 4-8, everbearing
- Raspberry Shortcake: Zones 5-8, summer-bearing, dwarf
- Cumberland: Zones 5-9, summer-bearing
- Jewel: Zones 3-8, everbearing
- New Logan: Zones 3-8, summer-bearing
- Brandywine: Zones 4-8, everbearing
- Royalty: Zones 4-7, summer-bearing
The best time to plant is in early spring, as soon as the ground is workable. Following early spring, the next best time to plant is in the fall, if plants can establish roots before they go dormant for the winter. That being said, if you are gifted canes in the summer, don’t hesitate to plant them right away.
These plants prefer well-drained loam or sandy loam with a pH slightly acidic to neutral. Before planting, check the soil pH and amend it to between 6.0 and 6.5 if it’s too acidic or too alkaline. Work to a depth of 8 to 10-inches, amending the soil with finished compost to increase the organic matter content and improve drainage.
Spacing is important when planting the patch as they reproduce prolifically via runners, filling in gaps between plants quickly. Plant a single cane in a hole one foot wide by one foot deep. Rows should be at least 4 feet apart, with plants spaced 24-inches apart within the rows to prevent overcrowding. Water thoroughly after planting.
Overall, raspberries are pretty easy-going garden plants. They don’t need much of your attention as long as their sun, water, and nutritional needs are met. Like other garden plants, it’s critical to keep weeds under control and continuously watch for pest and disease problems. The biggest maintenance concern is pruning plants according to how and when they bear fruit.
Berry plants absolutely love the sun. Look for a sunny spot in the garden where they can receive at least 8 hours of full sun every day, and maybe even a little bit of afternoon shade when the sun is blaring down intensely. Protection from strong winds is beneficial too and will keep the brambles’ leaves from being shredded.
When canes are first planted in the patch, water them well a couple of times per week, keeping the soil barely moist but avoiding waterlogging the roots. Once plants have established a good root system, aim for the plants to receive 1 to 2-inch of water a week, whether by rain or irrigation.
Apply a balanced fertilizer such as a 14-14-14 formulation in the early spring when primocanes start emerging through the soil and then again in early summer. Always follow application rates listed on the product label. Be careful and avoid over-fertilizing. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, encourages vegetative growth instead of allowing the plant to produce fruit.
To prevent competition for resources, make sure to keep weeds under control. They have very shallow root systems, so mechanical weeding must be done carefully. If weeding manually, hoe no more than 1″ below the soil surface to avoid damaging the roots. To help keep weeds down between rows, apply a layer of mulch or black plastic.
Pest & Disease Management
Unfortunately, raspberries are susceptible to problems with insects, as well as viral and fungal diseases. The best way to prevent problems is to scout often and treat infestations or infections immediately. Watch for aphids, Japanese beetles, spider mites, and cane borers, especially since they often transmit diseases like cane blight, gray mold, root rot, and Verticillium wilt.
Pruning is dependent upon which type of raspberries you are growing. Prune everbearing varieties in the late winter before new growth starts, cutting back all canes to about one inch above the soil. For summer-bearing types, prune the canes that bore fruit during the summer back to the ground, leaving the primocanes in place.
While some people leave the primocanes of summer-bearing types alone wholly, I’ve had the best luck cutting mine back to a height of 3 to 4 feet in the fall. This helps keep my patch from getting overgrown and looking untidy.
- Build raised beds for your patch if your soil is heavy clay or slow to drain. Or plant the canes in hills for better drainage.
- Space plants properly to promote air circulation between plants, preventing disease problems.
- Plant summer-bearing and everbearing in alternate rows for a more extended harvest.
- In the spring, thin to 6 plants per foot to promote larger but fewer berries.
- Encourage pollinators to the garden by planting flowering ornamentals or setting up a bee watering “station” somewhere in your yard.
- Provide structural support via a trellis or wire fence to keep canes from breaking when loaded with berries.
- Dig up any suckers that shoot up outside your planting area. You can transplant them into your patch if you want or have bare spots.
- Water early in the day to allow moisture to dry off of the foliage before nighttime.
- For even watering, install drip irrigation or soaker hose in the patch, running parallel to the rows.
- Keep the area free of plant debris to prevent disease problems.
- Use netting to keep birds from stealing berries as they ripen.
- Consider covering developing fruit with sun cloth to prevent sunburn if you have sunny, hot weather during the ripening stage.
- Only pick berries once they are ripe; they won’t ripen further after being picked.
- Always wear gloves when pruning canes. The prickles appear inconspicuous, but they are painful and irritating when embedded in the skin on your hands.
- Keep tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants away from your berry patch since they can spread blights.