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How to Grow & Care for Raspberries
a step by step guide for raspberry maintenance & planning
Raspberries are a perennial crop. By now, you know that means you have to find a place for them in your landscape OUTSIDE of your annual vegetable beds. In the best case scenario, you will create a bed solely for raspberries - I think 6-8 feet llong and HOW MANY FEET WIDE is perfect. (I have some notes below about what raspberries work well tucked into a landscape.)
Here’s what you need to know; There are two types of raspberry plants that are somewhat easy to identify - ever-bearing (aka primocanes, primocane-fruiting, fall-fruiting, fall-bearing) and summer-bearing (aka floricanes, summer bearing, summer fruiting).
MOST fruiting trees and shrubs put up fruit on 2nd year wood - that goes for apples, peaches, blueberries, etc. That means if we plant a tree and it’s the first year a branch has grown from the main trunk, it will not fruit that year. It will fruit the SECOND year, on 2-year old wood. This is SUCH A GOOD THING to know and remember! (It’s often why people will say “We had a ton of apples this year, but none last year,” - this is an indication the tree is being improperly pruned and will have this 2-year cycle unless it’s remediated.)
Ok back to raspberries.
HOW TO TELL WHAT RASPBERRIES YOU HAVE
Summer-bearing varieties produce early in the season and bear fruit for about a month. They produce fruit on second year cane. These are good choices for those who can’t wait until autumn for fruit OR for gardeners with space enough for TWO beds of raspberries (about 36 square feet) - more on this need for space below.
Ever-bearing varieties don’t begin producing until mid-summer but continue fruiting until frost.
If this is your first year with your raspberry plants and you have NO idea what kind you have, you’ll have to wait and see!
“To figure out what type you have, look at your first summer berries when they appear. If they fruit all the way to the top of the canes, your berries are summer-bearing; if they are only on the lower half of the canes, you have ever-bearing raspberries.” - Tara Austen Weaver, author of Growing Berries and Fruit Trees in the Pacific Northwest (you can pick up a copy at Book Larder!)
If you cut your raspberry plants down to the ground last winter, it makes it easy to see because you will either get fruit (indicating they are ever bearing) or you will NOT get fruit (indicating that you have summer bearing raspberries that only produce on second year cane aka floricane.)
I think this is enough information for you to decide which kind of raspberry plant you have, but should you have any lingering questions or confusion, please ask in the comment section!
Summer bearing raspberries put up fruit once a year, in mid-summer, on 2nd year canes. If you’re planting new summer-bearing raspberries this year, you’ll have fruit NEXT year in 2022.
1st year cane is called the primal cane or primocane and will grow 4-7 feet tall. As they grow, every place a leaf meets the stem will form an axilary buds - these buds stay on the cane through first growing season. After winter, the green cane from last year turns to brown bark and we call the cane a floricane (floerocane)- a 2nd year cane. This cane has fruiting lateral shoots - buds will break and produce fruiting laterals where buds and flowers and then fruit form.
How to Plant
As summer bearing raspberry canes only produce fruit on 2nd year cane, it’s best to set up a system wherein you have two raspberry beds side by side. One of the beds will be first year canes, the other bed will be second year canes that fruit. At the end of the fruiting cycle on the 2nd year, you will cut those canes down the ground over winter, while in the other bed, you will leave the canes to overwinter, as they will fruit next year. In this way, at years end you will have one bed with canes that have not yet fruited, and one with canes cut to the ground.
When making a new bed, follow the same guidelines used for prepping veg beds. Add some well composted manure (I use Oly Fish which includes phosphorous) and some lime and extra phosphorous if you don’t use the fish compost. The recommendation from OSU is to add 2 to 2 1/2 ounces Nitrogen per 10 feet of row, divided into three applications: one applied upon planting (so NOW), one a month later and the final addition of fertilizer a month after that.
When to Prune
Remove dead canes after fruiting. This process not only keeps your rows organized, but also allows for airflow between plants - an important step as raspberries are prone to mildew.
Keep rows tidy and pull any primocanes that hop the bed or grow out of row. Remember, one bed will be primocanes and one will be the fruiting floricanes. You will flip flop these beds each year.
Ever bearing raspberries will fruit the same year they are planted, in late-summer through autumn. Fruiting starts at the tip of the cane and ripens from the top down. These canes can be left over winter and will fruit again in summer on the lower half of that same cane. It is said that the fruit on summer-ripening cane (the lower have of the cane) produces about 10% of the canes overall yield.
Why do you care about this? It boils down to how much you want to think about pruning and production. With 90% of the plants harvest coming in autumn, most commercial growers actually mow down their raspberry cane in winter (thereby loosing the summer ripening) and just harvest the raspberries as they ripen in autumn. In this way, after canes fruit, you cut them down to the ground and then they’ll ripen again in early autumn. It’s an easy process that doesn’t require too much thought.
Of course, if you LEAVE the (primocane) canes over winter, they WILL fruit in mid-summer, and you’ll get an early crop. In spring, you will see last years dead crop at the top of the cane & new buds on bottom that will fruit. (This is now called a floricane). Of course, new canes shoots will also come up in spring and those new plants will have fall crop.
How to Plant
As ever bearing raspberries can be cut down each fall, you don’t need to create a system of two beds. This makes ever bearing raspberries a great choice for anyone with limited space. Again, if you’re planting for the first time this year, follow the same guidelines used for prepping veg beds. Add some well composted manure (I use Oly Fish which includes phosphorous) and some lime and extra phosphorous if you don’t use the fish compost. The recommendation from OSU is to add 2 to 2 1/2 ounces Nitrogen per 10 feet of row, divided into three applications: one applied upon planting (so NOW), one a month later and the final addition of fertilizer a month after that.
When to Prune
cut off all of the canes, to the ground, after fruiting, in winter.
leave all fruiting canes to over winter, new buds and fruit will ripen in summer, and you’ll cut these to the ground after that second harvest.
So, given what you know of the vocabulary & for all of you word-nerds out there, you now know that we harvest off of the PRIMOCANE the first year, and if we let the cane overwinter, we harvest from the FLORICANE in summer. If we cut the ever bearing canes down after fruiting each year, we will only ever harvest from the PRIMOCANE.
Fertilizing & Care for Existing Raspberry Beds
If you already have raspberries growing, you should be fertilizing them annually. Use a balanced fertilizer - 10-10-10 is my go-to. (That’s a reference to the N-P-K/nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium found in the product.) OSU recommends that both summer & ever bearing canes receive 3 ounces of Nitrogen per 10 feet of row each year, across two applications - once in late-March/early-April and the second application in late-May/early-June. Add some lime to raspberry beds each autumn.
In March (so NOW), remove all dead, damaged, weak canes. Narrow beds to 12 to 18 inches, which will allow for sunlight between plants. Thin canes to one every 4 to 6 inches or so - keep the fattest canes and cut out the thin, weaker ones. For floricanes, you can “tip” the plants - cut them down to about 4 to 5 feet of height, removing the top fourth of the cane.
More Raspberry Information
This is a wonderful PDF about growing raspberries in our local growing region and is chock full of A LOT of information. If you like to read, click here. If you just want to know what to do, I have you covered with all I’ve noted above.
Here are a few considerations and tips for anyone growing raspberries that are helpful, though you may or may not put some of them into practice:
If you have ever bearing raspberries and you will overwinter them and harvest a second fruit next summer, consider a system of bending the cane
Ever bearing canes have a tendency to get tall, so don’t plant them in a tall raised bed!
The more you water, the taller the plant will get, so don’t over water
If you’re planting new canes, soak them in water first and dig them in deeply. Leave 2 feet between plants and at least 8 inches between rows unless you’ll be walking between the rows! Make sure to leave yourself some space.
You can use a straw mulch over winter and in spring for weed suppression OR undercrop with a nitrogen-fixing cover crop like clover or try buckwheat which will help moderate the pH levels of the soil. BONUS: both will bloom and add color and attract pollinators!
All other brambles produce fruit on 2nd year cane - blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries, etc.
OK y’all - you know the drill. I’m offering a one-time bonus to any free subscribers here, and I opened up comments so anyone can hit me up in the comments with questions. (That is typically a perk ONLY for paid subscribers.) Also, as an FYI any free subscribers, firstly THANK YOU and secondly, you have access to some of the links here, but not to past “paid” newsletter content. Apologies for any confusion and if you like what you see, sign up!
And finally, don’t forget for paid subscribers, we are hosting a class on HOW TO GROW A CUT FLOWER GARDEN in your backyard with urban flower farmer, Flowers Sow Urban. It’s March 14th at 10am! See ya there.
I’ll be publishing a new calendar of WHAT TO PLANT NOW real soon and in the interim, a reminder that here is some relevant info & lists on what to grow in your garden NOW, for paid subscriptions.
HAPPY LAST DAYS OF WINTER! amyp