Why Not Grow Your Own Raspberries at Home?
There aren’t many fruits that trigger precious childhood memories quite the same way that raspberries do. A lot of people, especially those from Northern states, try raspberries for the first time in their wild form, during a romp in the woods with family, rather than from a package in their fridge.
You might have memories of relatives growing them, of picking them fresh off the bush and eating them as nature intended. Even if you don’t, though, and have always had to make a trip to the grocery store to get your supply, there’s something classic and unforgettable about the tart flavor of these little berries.
Luckily, if you’re feeling nostalgic, or just ready to try some hand-grown raspberries in your own home for the first time, growing raspberries yourself is quite simple as long as you’re willing to stick to a plan.
The Antioxidant-Filled Raspberry
Raspberries are not just tasty, they are an extremely healthy food. In fact, they are among the short lists of edibles that are known as “super foods,” or foods that contain cancer-preventing chemical agents.
Scientist Dr. David Geffen once remarked that raspberries have the distinct ability to reduce the toll that “oxidative stress and inflammation” have on the body.
In addition to being a powerful antioxidant, raspberries are also extremely nutritious. They are full of calcium, magnesium, folate, and of course vitamin C.
Raspberries: What Exactly Are They?
Raspberries are actually part of the rose family, and just like a rose, their stems and branches have a prickly assortment of thorns. Being a perennial plant, they typically give fruit once a year, and can be found growing in a wide variety of zones and climates.
Raspberries can be categorized by how they fruit as well as their color. They can be found in their familiar red color, but also in black, purple, pink and even off-white. In addition, raspberries can fall into one of these two categories:
Fruiting in Summer (Summerbearing) and Fruiting Twice a Year (Everbearing)
The types of raspberries that are “summerbearing” only produce fruit towards the latter part of summer or the beginnings of autumn. The most common type of these are red raspberries, like the Prelude or Latham.
The “everbearing” raspberries fruit two times per year, once during spring, and once in autumn. The Golden, Summit, and Polana varieties are some examples that fall under this type. Experienced enough gardeners can sometimes coax fruit out of these types for several weeks at a time.
From the time it is first planted to the time it bears its first fruit, a gardener will be waiting about two years for a raspberry plant to reach maturity. Once it reaches fruiting age, however, it can produce fruit for many years if it is kept well.
Choosing Where to Plant Raspberry Bushes
Raspberries grow best when exposed to full sun, and when their soil is sandy, fertile, and drains water well. When kept in too moist of an environment, where the soil retains too much water, the plant could become more easily diseased or even suffer from root rot, leading to a weak yield of fruit. Keep the pH between 5.6 and 6.2 ideally.
If you really want to learn very detailed information about your soil quality and how acidic it might be, arrange to send a sample of the soil to your local CSREES office. The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) is a department of the USDA that concerns itself with environmental research. To find your local extension offices check out this map of Cooperative Extension System Offices
Getting Your Raspberry Plants Started
When you plant your first raspberries, be sure that you plant them after any danger of frost has petered out, early in the spring. You can plant red raspberries in rows so that they might grow into a decorative hedge for your garden. Make sure to keep every plant about two or three feet from each other, and that every row of plants is no less than ten feet apart.
Now, the purple and black varieties simply don’t grow large enough to form a hedge, and are best planted with a buffer of four feet between them, and no less than eight feet between rows. To maximize available space, you may consider using the hill system for these types of raspberries.
It’s important to give the plants enough space between them, as this will not only help you to tend them (adding fertilizer, weeding, etc), but it will also allow each plant to receive enough sun and air. When planting them in your garden, the root depth should be kept about the same as they were in their original pot when you bought them.
Keep your plants away from their wild raspberry and blackberry cousins if you can, since these plants can transfer disease to yours; shoot for a clearance of at least 100 yards. Also, be mindful not to plant raspberries in soil that has been occupied recently (in the past 4 years or so) by strawberries, or any plants from the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant), since these can transfer fungal infections to raspberry plants.
If you so choose, you can add fertilizer when you first plant your raspberries, though you shouldn’t need to add more than about 1 lb for every stretch of 100 feet. Use a tiller for best results. Another two to three weeks after the initial fertilization, add another batch to the soil.
If you’re not into commercial fertilizer, you can also use compost or manure of some kind. Don’t worry about adding any extra treatments until you’ve had the pH of your soil conclusively tested. If you decide to add mulch, keep it to a depth of approximately three or four inches. Don’t go overboard with too much mulch, as this can trap moisture and promote the growth of harmful fungus.
If your plant is a little older—about a year—cut it down to around six inches in height when you put it in the ground.
Supports and Trellises for Raspberries
Using a trellis or support system is recommended for red raspberries. Black and purple raspberries grow in clumps and do not need trellising, but can benefit from individual support systems. Trellising provides the following benefits:
-Aids in keeping the fruit healthy by increasing air circulation, keeping the fruit off the ground, and allowing access to full sun. This will increase your crop.
-Makes pruning and weeding easier to manage.
-Makes harvesting easier.
-Helps prevent certain diseases and pests.
Trellises do not have to be overly complex. You can build your own or buy one partially assembled. Iowa State University has great information related to Training and Trellising Raspberries.
Pruning Raspberry Plants
Pruning plays a vital part in the health and crop production of raspberries. In order to properly prune your raspberries you will need to understand their two types of canes. The roots and crowns of raspberries are perennial, but their canes live only two years. Raspberry canes come in two varieties: primocanes and floricanes.
Primocanes are first-year canes and floricanes are second-year canes that produce fruit.
In the spring raspberries grow new canes from the buds on the crown of the shrub and underground. In the first season, these canes grow vegetatively only (floricanes). The first-year canes will overwinter and then produce fruit in their second year (as primocanes), and then the cycle begins again.
The second-year canes die soon after producing fruit; this is a recommended time to prune them. Everbearing raspberries will produce fruit on the tips of the new canes and well as a later crop on lower branches.
Summer red raspberries should be pruned two times a year: once in late winter/early spring and again right after they have produced fruit (that you have harvested).
Spring pruning will include removing all dead, diseased, overgrown or weak canes. Keep only the strong and healthy canes to ensure a good shape and quality fruit production.
The second pruning includes removing the canes that just bore fruit.
Pruning should also be done whenever new shoots become overgrown, diseased or damaged. After you are done pruning, be sure to dispose of the waste properly so disease is not transmitted.
Raspberry Plant Diseases and Pests
Raspberries can be susceptible to certain diseases and pests. These can vary depending on what part of the country you live. Some of the more common pests include:
- raspberry cane borer
- red-neck cane borer
- raspberry aphid
- raspberry cane maggot
- clay-colored weevil
Diseases that raspberries are susceptible to are usually fungal or viral diseases such as anthracnose and cane blight. One of the best ways to prevent diseases is to purchase certified plants and use disease-resistant varieties. Good cultural practices will also help prevent many diseases. Dispose of any canes or part of the raspberry plant that has disease or extensive pest damage.
You will know your raspberries are mature and ready to harvest when they are easily separated from the core; if you have to pull hard to separate them they are not ready for picking. Raspberries will keep only for a few days to a week after harvesting.
Place them on a paper towel no more than 3 berries deep and put them in the refrigerator as soon as possible. Do not rinse with water until you are ready to eat, as this will cause them to quickly mold.
Raspberries are wonderful in jams and jellies and can be frozen and enjoyed all winter long. And, of course, for all your hard work, there’s nothing better than enjoying a handful of freshly picked raspberries!
Want to learn more about raspberries and growing raspberries?
Raspberries.us has an exhaustive list of raspberry varieties.
Check out Raspberry Recipes for many delicious recipes for dishes that can be made with raspberries.
Here’s a great resource for Integrated Pest Management for Raspberries.
The University of Minnesota has a lot of info related to Raspberry Insect Pests of The Home Garden.
A lot of information about raspberry diseases can also be found on the University of Minnesota extension.