Here are five basic steps for growing raspberries and establishing your own raspberry patch:
1. Select Your Berry
Most gardeners will have no problem finding a type of raspberry appropriate for the growing conditions in their area. Raspberries are a hearty fruit and most varieties do well in zones 4 through 8. There are a few specially developed types that can tolerate the heat of zone 9 or the cold of zone 3.
You probably already know the unique sweet flavor of red raspberries, but make sure you check out black and golden varieties as well, both of which have slightly different, and to some, more interesting taste profiles.
If you’re planning on growing raspberries, you’ll also have to decide whether you would like your raspberries to come in all at once in a single big harvest during the summer (“summer bearing” or “floricane bearing”) or whether you prefer a bush that will produce two or more harvests from spring through fall (“everbearing” or “primocane bearing”).
2. Plant Your Raspberries
Raspberries like full sun and a rich soil that drains well. Fall is the best time to plant your bushes, and they’re readily available online and at garden centers during that season, though early spring is also an option. Build a simple support for them– a fence, trellis, or even tomato cages – to keep the canes off the ground when they grow heavy with fruit. Plant bushes with about a foot of spacing between them.
3. Pruning Tips for Growing Raspberries
Raspberries are a hearty fruit, and it’s rare that you will have to contend with disease or pests (though you may have to get creative to keep birds, squirrels and other critters away from your ripe berries). Your bushes will appreciate a balanced fertilizer applied in early spring, preferably an organic compost.
Pruning is probably the most challenging, and important, maintenance project you will need to keep your raspberries healthy. Raspberries are vigorous growers, and if not kept in control with regular pruning, they can quickly overrun your garden.
You need to prune all types of raspberries every year in early spring except for fall planted berries in their first year. For black raspberry varieties, which are treated slightly differently than the red and yellow types, when lateral shoots reach three feet of fresh growth, cut the tips off to keep them to about 10 inches long. For the rest of the varieties, cut young canes back to about four feet tall and completely cut away any diseased, damaged or dead canes in early spring.
Pruning throughout the rest of the year depends on the type of raspberry you grow. Summer-bearing raspberries produce their fruit on the bottom half of two-year-old canes. Once the crop is done and harvested, these canes will die back and should then be cut down to the ground.
Everbearing raspberries also produce their summer crop on the bottom of two-year-old canes, which can be pruned as above. But they will produce a second crop in all but the coldest zones, and these berries will appear at the top of the one-year-old canes. If you cut these to the ground after harvest, you will forgo the next year’s summer crop (but end up with a larger fall haul).
4. Pick Your Raspberries
Once your fruit has started to change color, you can test whether it’s ready to harvest by tugging gently on the berry. If it slips off the bush, leaving behind the core, it’s time to pick! Wait for a dry day after the heat of the midday sun has somewhat diminished. If you are picking a lot of berries at once, try not to stack them too high, lest you crush the delicate fruit.
5. Preserve Your Raspberry Harvest
Raspberries are best eaten fresh, but they are also easy to preserve and that’s one of the reasons growing raspberries is so popular. If a giant harvest makes it impossible to process into preserves or eat all your berries, they are also easy to freeze. Spread your freshly picked, washed and air-dried berries on a cookie sheet, making sure they don’t touch. Place overnight in a freezer, then scrape the frozen berries into a container or vacuum-sealed bag and refreeze for use in recipes and canning later.
No room in the freezer for your bountiful raspberry harvest? Use your extras in this all-purpose berry jam recipe, and enjoy the taste of summer all year round!