Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Pruning the raspberries

For years I wanted raspberry bushes. The durn things grow like weeds, so you wouldn't think it would be too hard to get them established, right?

Wrong. If you've been following our gardening mis-adventures, you'd know why I just couldn't keep raspberries (or anything else) alive. Our tough clay soil was unyielding, hence the decision to garden in tractor tires (some photos are here).

In 2010, Don and I built four raised beds from some massive beams we'd salvaged from an old barn. We filled the beds with good soil and planted two beds of strawberries, one of blueberries, and one of raspberries. The raspberries didn't make it.

I tried again in 2011, digging up some transplants from a friend's established bed. These I planted in hopes they would survive.

The brave little transplants not only survived, they thrived. By last summer, we had a bumper crop.

I knew in the back of my mind I should be trimming the raspberry canes, but truthfully I've never had successful raspberries before this bed took off, so I wasn't quite sure how to do it. The books said to trim in the spring. Well, it's spring, so armed with nippers I headed out to the raspberry bed.

It certainly looked, well, full.

A close examination revealed many of the canes were already sprouting. How could I cut them down? It seemed sacrilegious.

In fact, I lost courage and couldn't do it. Instead, I discovered an enormous number of canes were dead. Aha! I'll just trim out the dead stuff and leave the living canes alone.

So that's what I did, slowly, over the next couple of days: I worked my way down first one side of the bed, then up the other side, trimming out the dead canes.

If you look closely at the photo below, taken end-on, the left side of the bed has the dead canes trimmed out, and the right side of the bed still has the dead canes intact. You can see the difference in density.

In fact, I didn't realize just how many dead canes there were until they were gone. Now the bed looks much healthier.

It was slow and careful work, having to trace each cane from base to tip to determine which ones were alive. Often the color of the dead canes was a giveaway, but not always, and I accidentally nipped a few living canes out.

Raspberry bed, before:

Raspberry bed, after:

I pulled out piles of the dead stuff. It felt good to get rid of it!

The living canes are beginning to sprout leaves, so this gives them a bit more elbow room. We also have an exciting new development that will boost the raspberries considerably -- stand by for news.


  1. WOW, great work! I love how you salvage things that are useful and are good stewards of what God has given ya! Blessings with your raspberries this year! :)

  2. Hi Patirce, I took this off Pinterest, saved it on my gardening board & thought it might be helpful to you. Of coure, it helps if you know what kind of berries you have. :o)

    Red raspberries come in two types:

    summer-bearing, which produce their fruit all at once in early July
    ever-bearing (also called fall-bearing), which produce fruit throughout the season from July through frost.
    Summer-bearing raspberries, like Brandywine and Willamette, bear fruit on 2-year-old canes—in other words, on canes that grew from the ground the previous season. Ever-bearing raspberries, such as Heritage, Amity and Summit, produce fruit on both old and new canes. They begin to produce a few weeks later but have a more continual harvest.

    I have found that the key to good red-raspberry production is in the pruning. For all types, in March or April, prune all canes to the ground that produced fruit the previous season (you can tell by looking at the end of the cane), and remove any spindly, weak canes to thin the patch.

    That’s the only pruning you need to do on summer-bearing raspberries, but ever-bearing raspberries require another step. Also in March or April, prune off the top foot of each cane to encourage the production of lateral branches. These canes will produce the summer crop, while new canes emerging from the soil will produce fruits well into the fall.

    An alternative pruning method for ever-bearing raspberries is to cut the entire raspberry patch down to the ground in early spring. This is certainly the easiest method, but it yields only one gigantic crop of fruits in the fall and eliminates any earlier production. Both of the varieties in my raspberry patch must be ever-bearing because I always manage to get a long season of harvest all the way until frost. Makes me hungry for summer already!

  3. Here is a helpful hint on growing raspberries (I'm a berry farmer). Late summer or early fall, prune out all the woody canes when it is easy to tell them apart from the new growth. The woody canes will die, the new growth will bear fruit the following season and die afterward. It's pretty simple.

  4. Raspberries produce fruit on year old canes. Then the canes that produced die, and the new shoots that grew over the summer are the ones that will fruit next year. Each fall I cut out all of the canes that produced that summer, leaving the new shoots for fruit the following year. You can also do it in the spring like Patrice did.

  5. We have the same clay soil up here (northern canada) and it seems the same type of raspberry. Over the 7 years we've lived here I've learned a few things.....one of them is that we don't have the type of raspberry cane you just plow over every fall and it rises again to be fruitful every season. We have the the "cut the cane if it bore fruit last season" variety. It IS tedious, but I actually did it last year (while leave were starting to grow, just like you) and the raspberries thrived. I'm pretty sure yours will be great this year. I also toss dead leaves and some fire ash at the base of the canes, too.

  6. My berries love used coffee grounds. And I too prune in spring. All the dead (last year's producing canes) and weak, curvy, or canes that cross others. It really does help to have space. I'm always amazed at how the rows fill in with leaves and new canes.

  7. I am so jealous. I too have hard clay soil. I've tried for 4 years to get raspberries to grow with no luck. Hmmm maybe I need a tire garden? Lol

  8. We, too, had a thriving raspberry patch at our old place. Easiest for me was to go out before winter and find and cut down the canes that had produced that summer. They always came roaring back in the spring. Don't know what kind they were but they would produce berries in the spring and then again in the fall. The fall berries were always bigger and sweeter. We're trying to establish a new bed here on the farm but the canes we put in (transplanted) are not growing very fast.

  9. You want to cut your old canes in the fall and burn them as that is where insects and disease overwinters. Your patch will be much healthier and live longer if you do that.--ken

  10. My DH accidentally mowed off all my raspberry plants. I was heartsick! Maybe I'll try again in a raised bed (that the mower can't get to!)

  11. I had a similar experience. Tried to grow them and nothing grew the first year. Tried a second year and now they are like weeds. They will take over if you are not careful.

  12. If you "top" the canes, removing the top inch or two at the end, it will force the laterals to grow more. The laterals are where the fruit is produced on most varieties of raspberries & blackberries. My patch has thrived on benign neglect for multiple years. In the spring, I cut off any dead canes (dead as in no leaves), tip the canes, & pull out weeds & grass. Last year I made a mix of some old horse manure in a small bucket, with a few trowel scoops of spent coffee grounds from Starbucks, & threw it on the patch by trowel-fulls. We had a great crop.

  13. Have you considered hugelkultur? Seems like a good option for your soil problems and climate. I know it's being used in western Montana with good results. Has the added bonus of all but eliminating watering, too. -Ben

  14. When it's hard to tell the living from the dead canes in early Spring, I gently scrape the base of the cane with my clippers. The live ones have a slight green tinge and are moist. I think it's too painful when I accidently prune out a good one.