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The Homeowners Column
Relish Reliable Raspberries
State Master Gardener Coordinator
I think raspberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow in a backyard. They are winter hardy, reliable and will produce a crop even when they are totally ignored. Of course the plants will become a thicket of spiny canes and you will need a map to get out, but hey, you'll be able to snack on the way out.
Raspberries come in red, black, purple, and yellow fruit types. Red and yellow raspberries also come in everbearing types. These produce fruit in early summer and then again in fall. The decision of which to grow relies mainly on personal taste preference but other factors include use and disease resistance. Also the crumble factor, if the berries hold their shape after harvest.
Most brambles, raspberries and blackberries, are pruned the same. Black and purple raspberries and blackberries need a summer pinch to encourage lateral branching. Summer pinch is just removing three to four inches of the tip once the canes have reached their desired height. Red and yellow raspberries should not be pinched, but they can be tickled if you want.
The first step in pruning brambles properly is a basic understanding of how the plants grow. Brambles grow as canes that live for two years then die. Each year new canes are produced. Bramble canes grow vigorously the first year. These are called primocanes. Then the second year these same canes flower and produce fruit. These are called floricanes.
So for most raspberries it's matter of removing the old canes after they produce and removing any weak canes in the dormant season. Everbearing varieties are a bit different. They bear fruit on their primocanes on the tips in fall then they bear fruit again farther down the same cane the next spring. So if a spring crop is desired, the canes that produced on the tips in the fall of everbearers should not be pruned out until the next year. After the second year the canes quickly wither and die with new canes being produced each year.
Some growers prefer the "fall crop only" system for everbearing raspberries. This is an easy, low maintenance method. The everbearers are mowed off close to the ground during the dormant season or in spring before growth begins. The new canes grow then bear in fall with one heavy crop rather than two crops. 'Heritage' red raspberry works well with this system and since it tends to be very erect it needs little support or trellising.
I promise this will make more sense once you go through a season with your raspberries. And if you find you just have way too many raspberries, I would be glad to take them off your hands.
Perhaps you have some spiny plant in the backyard and you have ruled out roses and blowfish. Birds love to share their bounty with you so you often end up with brambles growing where you never planted them. A couple tips to sort it out. The leaves of raspberries have a silver underside while blackberry leaves have a dull green underside. Raspberries have hollow fruit when picked and blackberries have solid fruit. For reliable fruit it is best to purchase virus indexed plants and forget the bird plantings.
For more information: University of Illinois publication Circular 1343 Small Fruits in the Home Garden PH: 1-800-345-6087 or check with your local county U of I Extension office. Also check out our website www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/raspberries