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The Raspberry Patch

By Heide Ludwig,  R.G.E. MNLA Certified Nursery & Landscape Professional

My first experience with raspberries came when a neighbor offered me five sticks of Yellow Fall-bearing raspberries to plant.  Those five scrawny sticks soon spread to become a twenty foot long patch of sweet, plump berries. It was a late variety, and I was lucky to get berries before the frost hit. I had started raising chickens about that same time and in the years that followed, those little hens would literally stand on tiptoe trying to reach the berries. They loved sheltering under those bramble bushes during the heat of the day. The nice earth around the bushes made for some good scratching and at the same time they fertilized those brambles. That patch is long gone now. I am thinking of planting a new row inside my now fenced-in chicken yard. 

There are several factors to consider when planting raspberries. There are many new varieties and colors to choose from. Not all choices are hardy for our area. I found that the yellow were better for fresh eating than making into jelly or jam. I would love to have a variety that was better suited to making jelly.

Your choices for raspberries start with color: red, purple, black or yellow. Within the color choices are plants, which produce a flush of fruit or varieties that produce smaller berries but produce over an extended period of time.

Floricanes produce fruit in mid-summer and then that cane (stem) dies. You can tell which canes are new by their green color, which will darken to brown over the winter, and then produce fruit the following growing season. Old stems turn black and are the ones that need to be pruned out.

All raspberries are perennials, but there is a difference how the new canes or branches are formed. Red and yellow raspberry plants produce new or primocanes from the crown, and they quickly spread by runners underground.  Once the floricane produces fruit, it will die, and new primocanes take over for the next year’s harvest.

Black and purple raspberries produce those primocanes from buds at the base of the plant. Black and purple varieties are easy to stake since they do not produce those runners that pop up everywhere.

All varieties of raspberries require full sun to produce the best crop. Since raspberries are self-fertile, you do not need more than one raspberry plant in order to insure good pollination.

Prepare your soil well, as these plants are there for a long time. Choose a location that has good air circulation to prevent leaf diseases. Raspberries like a spot that has very good drainage to prevent crown rot. Use a thick 2” layer of mulch to keep weeds down to a minimum. The mulch will break down over time and add nutrients to the soil around your raspberries. A thick mulch will also help keep down any runners that will form from the mother plant. Leaves that are not diseased make an excellent mulch.

Spring is the best time to plant raspberries. Plant red and yellow varieties about 2 to 3 feet apart. Plant the crown of the plant just above ground level or 1 to 2 inches.  The hole should accommodate the whole root system, and you need to gently loosen that root ball on containerized plants to prevent encircling roots.

Black and purple varieties need to be planted 4’ apart. Since they do not spread, they need enough space around them so you can properly maintain them. You can put in sturdy stakes at the time of planting to tie up the long canes to make maintenance easier. Use ties made from old nylon stockings to prevent damage to the primocanes. Although purple and black varieties do not form runners, the canes are very long and if they touch the ground, they may form new root systems, and those new plants will send up new primocanes.

Wild raspberries can be either red or black. They should not be planted anywhere close to your cultivated varieties.  They carry a dormant gene that can spread a deadly virus to your carefully planted raspberries.

There are many excellent varieties of red raspberries for our area. Boyne is an old favorite that produces fruit on the new wood.  Heritage is the most commonly grown variety and is a household favorite. It produces large bright red fruit on second-year canes. It is used for fresh eating, freezing, pies, jam and jelly. Caroline is the newest addition to the northern fruit garden. It has nice, large, red fruit and is good for fresh eating, jam jelly and pies, as well as for freezing. It produces earlier than Heritage. Latham is another old-time favorite that is hardy to Zone 3 and produces a big crop of large, sweet, red berries that are very firm. Latham is also disease-resistant. Fallgold produces large, sweet, golden berries and is excellent for Zone 4.

Royalty is a purple variety and is the best choice for heavy crops of berries. When picked while the fruits are still red, you will get a rich raspberry flavor. When picked at the purple stage, the berries are very sweet. The berries also freeze well.  Royalty produces fruit on primocanes. Royalty will need a spot that will protect it in Zone 4 since it is marginally hardy.

Bristol is also a marginally hardy black raspberry, but should grow well in a protected area. The fruit is produced on floricanes. The plants are vigorous, grow upright, and produce clusters of large, firm black berries that are good for freezing.

When you buy new raspberry plants from a garden center, be sure to cut them back to about 6 to 8 inches before planting. This will encourage the red or yellow varieties to produce more primocanes and take the stress off the mother plant. If you are purchasing black or purple raspberries, cut back  to 6 to 8 inches, but be certain you have at least two or three buds at the lower part to form new primocanes. Your new raspberry starts may have some dark wood above the newer growth. You can safely prune that off to 6 to 8 inches at the time of planting, leaving the new primocane to grow.

If you are making jam from raspberries, cook the fruit down and strain to remove most of the seeds. Return a few of the seeds to produce a nice tasty jam. 

To prevent picnic beetles from ruining your berries, be sure to pick all fruit as soon as they ripen. Those pesky bugs are attracted to the smell of overripe fruit.

Rabbits love raspberry stems! I worked very hard one hot summer’s day to dig out some of the runners from my yellow raspberries to give to a friend.  I lovingly planted them in pots, and placed them in a lightly shaded area, so the hot sun wouldn’t dry them out. Each plant was about 8 to 10 inches high. I watered them carefully each day so they wouldn’t wilt. A rabbit ate the plants down to nubs. I was upset, and put the pots up high and almost forgot about them. Much to my surprise and delight, they sent up new primocanes that were even better and stronger!

Raspberries are pollinated by many insects. Honeybees, bumblebees and wild bees are the best pollinators and should be encouraged in your raspberry patch.

For more detailed information on raising raspberries in the home garden, there is an excellent publication written by Dr. Emily Hoover and Emily Tepe.  Go to www.extension.umn.edu to download a copy.


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