Growing raspberries is easier than you might think
One of the most decadent of desserts has to be homemade raspberry pie. Considering that it takes five or more cups of the luscious berries to make one, a raspberry pie is indeed a luxury and pure pleasure. And if you have ever tasted fresh raspberry jam, you know what a treat it is. Not only are they delicious and nutritious too, raspberries are one of the priciest of berries. But if you are growing raspberries you’ve got your own supply for pies or jam or raspberry tarts, raspberry sauce, raspberry bars … anything raspberry. It’s as easy as pie, and just as flavorful.
There are several varieties of raspberries. I currently grow golden, two or three varieties of red and one variety of black raspberries. Each variety is a little different; some sweeter than others; some more productive; some more flavorful; some are huge and some small, but all are wonderful. Mixed together in pies or jam (or whatever) the combo makes for a complex flavor, and I recommend growing more than one variety for this reason alone. Raspberries get established quickly, and will often spread by runners, allowing you to expand your bed of plants or share extras with friends and family.
Raspberries grow on canes, and most varieties fruit on the previous year’s canes, with many producing a second or fall crop on the current year’s canes. Plants established now should bear some fruit next summer, and most will also produce new canes for the following year’s harvest. Establishing a raspberry patch begins with choosing a site. Full sun exposure is best, but raspberries will tolerate some shade. Raspberries like plenty of moisture, but also need good drainage. When we established our raspberry bed, we side-stepped the rock-hard soil by laying down two big long mounds of compost, and planted in that without ever turning the soil. Raised beds would work well too. Whether you are cultivating new ground or filling a raised bed, add plenty of well-rotted compost. Water plants well, and water regularly until they are established.
In the spring, broadcast lime at a rate of about one quarter cup per plant, which will help plants utilize nutrients in the soil. Raspberry canes grow quickly, and can get to be six feet or longer and will need support. A good way to do that is to drive fence posts at each end of rows, and every five feet or so along the rows. Sisal twine can be strung between posts to keep canes from flopping and breaking.
Harvest berries as they ripen. Raspberries grown in full sun will ripen earlier than those grown with some shade. Look for berries to begin ripening around early to mid-July. This time of year is when the first crop has finished, and we prune the raspberries.
I know this is one area of growing these berries that seems daunting, but really isn’t. You’ll notice that some of the canes are brown and some are green. The brown ones are last year’s canes, and they are the ones that fruited this summer and will become the brown canes you will prune away next year. The brown canes should be cut away close to the ground level. The green canes grew this summer and some will produce a fall crop, but all those green canes will produce berries next next summer. Leave the green canes in place, staking them up for the winter.
If some of the green canes are too long, they can be trimmed to about six or seven feet tall, and will still produce next summer. Leaving the canes too long could result in winter breakage and damage. Apply a layer of compost to the rows in the fall. I also like to mulch the plants with a thick layer of hay for more winter protection. The mulch also serves to keep weeds down in the spring and conserves moisture.
That’s it. Seriously, that’s just how easy it is to grow raspberries. There are a couple diseases and insects like a variety of borer that can infect the plants and Japanese beetles love to eat the tender new foliage. But healthy plants that get plenty of moisture, good air circulation, good rich soil and sun rarely experience problems. Remember raspberries grow wild with no assistance and do just fine. The rewards of growing your own raspberries are almost priceless. Try ‘em and you’ll see what I mean.
Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement for 2012, National Garden Bureau's Exemplary Journalism Award and the Florida Magazine Association's Silver Award of Writing Excellence. She is a member of the Garden Writers Association, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: gardeningonthego.wordpress.com or “friend her” on Facebook.