February 26, 2016

Pruning the Raspberries


The weather was just perfect today for one of my most favorite gardening chores:
pruning the raspberries.
No, I'm not kidding. I have been known to ask friends if I can do theirs, once mine are finished.
Home-grown raspberries are their own reward. It's hard to beat the sun-ripened flavor, and you don't have to pay $4 per pint for them.
Last year we harvested enough to make one (yup, just one!) batch of freezer jam. 
(I was actually impressed we had that much, with all the snacking that went on.)
Last fall I added 5 more plants: 1 'Fall Gold' bush, and 4 black raspberry bushes.
I can hardly wait for all that goodness!
Maybe this year we'll make it up to 2 batches of jam!
Before all that glorious berry-picking goes on, however, you've got to do some pruning.
To understand why and what to prune, you need to understand a raspberry's growth cycle.
While the roots can live for years and years, the tops, or canes, only live for 2 years.
Year 1: They're called primocanes. Primocanes grow tall, even put on leaves usually, but do not produce any fruit. They do form fruiting buds, though.
Year 2: Now they're called floricanes. These are the money-makers! These are the canes that will flower and produce fruit. After the floricanes are finished, they die off completely.
Once you have an established patch going, you'll have some of each kind every year.
Pruning out the dead and weak canes gives this year's fruit the sunlight and air movement (for ripening and disease control) that it needs.
Late winter or early spring is a good time to do it, before the leaves unfurl.
It's approximately 10 times harder to do it after the leaves come on.
Trust me on this.
If you've never pruned a raspberry patch before, it's easy.
You can do this!
Here's what my patch looked like this afternoon, pre-pruning:

 Basically, it was a hot mess.
So what are we waiting for?!
Let's get in there and start pruning!
 How do you know which ones to chop?
There are couple of things to look for: 
1. Color
The dead canes will be whitish-gray. Often the bark will be peeling off.
The new canes will be reddish-brown, with bark intact.
2. Leaf buds
The canes that are going to keep growing this year will have leaf buds forming.
This is a cane to leave alone.
Can you see the brown color and the leaf buds?
Choose a place to start, and cut down every dead cane right to the ground.
Pull it out and put it aside.
By the way, you're going to want to have some gloves on, and maybe long sleeves--those canes are prickly!
 There is just something deeply satisfying about pruning out all those dead canes.
Can I come do yours?
Now you're left with this:
Much better, but you're not done yet!
If you want to really increase your berry production, make a second pass through and cut down to the ground any weak or spindly canes, or any that are super short.
I would also cut down any canes that are going to make it hard for you to harvest. For me, that's any that are growing right along the fence. My kids like to slip back there and pick in the "tunnel," so those outliers need to go. I had some coming up in the grass outside of the bed that got chopped as well.
Finally, cut off the tips of all the canes left.
If you can, find a bud and cut at an angle just above the bud.
(If you forget, it'll be okay--raspberries are pretty forgiving.)
Cutting off the tip redirects the plant's energy. Instead of spending all of its energy on growing taller, it will now form more sideshoots. The sideshoots are what produce the berries, so the more the merrier!
 Congratulations! You did it!
That wasn't so bad, was it?

These probably need to be thinned even more.
The patch should look drastically, way-too-sparse when you're done.
Most sources recommend only 3-5 strong, healthy canes per linear foot.
Don't worry, they will fill in!
While you're out there enjoying the sunshine, go ahead and figure out the supports you're going to use, as well, and tie the remaining canes to the supports.
If you are new to this part of it, there are many methods of staking raspberries.
Google it, choose one, and go for it!
Then rest easy, knowing that your berry patch is ready for summer.
Bring on the berries!
Yum yum yum.


  1. This was a very interesting post! We just planted raspberries last fall. So what do we do since they're brand new? Also how can we tell if they survived? Right now they just look like sticks to us. :)

    1. I would just let them grow this year and see what you get! That's what I'm doing for the ones I put in last fall, as well. Then by next spring you'll be able to tell which need pruning.
      To see if they're alive, go out and look at the canes. You should see leaf buds forming on them already--or even new leaves starting to unfurl. If you don't, just give them more time--FOR SURE there should be leaf buds or leaves by the end of next month!
      Good luck! Homegrown raspberries are the best!

  2. Thanks! That's so helpful! This is already our second attempt so maybe we're not cut out for raspberries!