All About Growing Raspberries

Add flavorful, healthful color to your organic garden by growing raspberries. Learn how to plant raspberries and propagate several types and varieties — complete with instructions for properly pruning raspberries.
By Barbara Pleasant
October/November 2012
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Add nutrition and color to your garden by growing raspberries. All types of raspberry bushes, from red and golden to purple and black varieties, are easy to grow.
Illustration By Keith Ward

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(For details on growing many other vegetables and fruits, visit our Crop at a Glance collection page.)

Delicious, nutritious and easy to grow, raspberries are a valuable addition to any food garden. The most cold-tolerant varieties can survive Zone 3 winters, and fall-bearing raspberries can be grown in warm climates that have limited winter chilling. All types of raspberries — including summer reds, golden raspberries and super-nutritious black raspberries — make excellent boundary plantings in Zones 4 to 7.

Types of Raspberries to Try

Summer red raspberries bear clusters of plump berries in early to midsummer on canes that grew the season before (called “floricanes”).

Everbearing red raspberries produce berries from midsummer to fall on the new season’s growth (called “primocanes”). Bud-bearing canes that survive winter also bear light crops in late spring.

Black raspberries (also called “blackcaps”) grow wild in many areas east of the Rockies and are widely cultivated in the Pacific Northwest. Black raspberries are packed with nutrition and unique wild berry flavor.

Golden raspberries produce berries in shades of yellow to amber that often have unusually sweet flavor. Most golden raspberries produce best if encouraged to fruit on new growth, like everbearing red raspberries.

Purple raspberries combine the productivity of red raspberries with the flavor and vigorous growth habit of black raspberries. Heavy crops ripen in early summer.

For more detailed information on each type of raspberry and our list of recommended varieties, see our Raspberries at a Glance chart. 

When to Plant Raspberries

In spring, set out dormant, bare-root plants four to six weeks before your last frost. Raspberry plants grown in containers should be planted after danger of frost has passed through early summer. Set plants 1 inch deeper than they grew in their nursery containers.

How to Plant Raspberries

Raspberries need some afternoon shade if grown in hot climates, but in most regions, full sun is key to growing raspberries with rich, sweet flavor. Raspberries can produce for many years if grown in fertile, weed-free soil that drains well and has a pH of about 6.0. Before planting, dig out all perennial weeds and amend the soil with at least 2 inches of mature compost or other high-quality organic matter. Use a digging fork to loosen dense subsoil to improve drainage.

If your soil is acidic, use light applications of lime or wood ash to raise the pH. (Take care, though, as a pH above 7.0 can render raspberries unable to take up iron and manganese.)

Red and golden raspberries have a bushy growth habit and grow well on a garden fence or trellis. Black and purple raspberries need more space and are best grown as a thicket with a mowed perimeter.

Pruning Raspberries

In late summer, pinch back new cane tips at 4 to 5 feet to stimulate the growth of heavy-bearing lateral branches. This type of pruning is especially effective for pushing summer red raspberries and black and purple raspberries to develop more buds. You can tip-prune everbearing raspberries in midsummer to encourage a heavier fall crop, but doing so isn’t necessary.

When a raspberry cane finishes producing fruit, it naturally dies. To keep a clean patch with good air and sun penetration, remove old canes by clipping them off at the ground and pulling them out from the top. Frequently with everbearing raspberries, the tip end of a cane will fruit in fall, and buds farther down the stem that survive winter will bear a summer crop. Prune off the spent tip, but harvest the summer crop before removing the cane.

Harvesting and Storage

Raspberries are ripe when they show good color and come off easily when picked. Daily harvesting is best, because hot sun can scald ripe berries and prolonged rains can cause them to rot.

Harvest raspberries into shallow containers, no more than three berries deep. Refrigerate picked berries immediately. Wait until you are preparing to eat or freeze raspberries to rinse them clean with cool water. To freeze, pat the rinsed berries dry with a clean towel and arrange them in a shallow pan covered with waxed paper. Place in the freezer for an hour, then transfer the frozen berries to freezer-safe containers. You can use fresh or frozen raspberries to make jams, syrups, or batches of raspberry lemonade or homemade wine.

Propagating Raspberries

Raspberries produce new growth from shallow buds near the main crown. Black and purple raspberries also propagate themselves by “planting” the tips of their arching canes in the ground 6 feet or more from the parent plant. In early spring, you can dig divisions of rooted stem tips if you want to propagate your own raspberries. Propagate or share only healthy plants. Viruses can seriously weaken raspberries, so it’s best to start with plants from sources that offer certified virus-free stock.

Pest and Disease Prevention

You can prevent many problems by growing raspberries in a sunny site with fertile soil, and by keeping your plants constantly mulched with organic material. A mulch of straw, weathered sawdust, grass clippings or wood chips will suppress weeds and help maintain soil moisture. In late winter, top-dress established raspberries with a balanced organic fertilizer before renewing the surface mulch.

Raspberries can fall prey to root rot caused by verticillium wilt, so avoid growing raspberries where tomatoes, potatoes or other susceptible plants were recently grown.

If individual raspberry canes wilt, the problem is usually due to feeding by cane borer larvae. Cut back wilted canes to 6 inches below the damage to prevent further injury.

Black raspberries are a favorite food of many species of birds. Birds rarely bother yellow raspberries, but red raspberries sometimes require protection. Use tulle netting to protect your crop, which can also help protect plants from an invasion of Japanese beetles.

Tips for Growing Raspberries

  • A dense thicket of raspberry bushes 8 to 10 feet wide can serve as a living fence to deter deer. Prickly raspberries can also help protect young trees from deer damage.
  • If hot weather strikes just as your raspberries are ripening, cover the plants with old sheets or shade cloth during the day to prevent sunscald.

In the Kitchen

Tangy raspberries pair well with other fruits and make a marvelous match for chocolate. Fresh or frozen raspberries add moisture to cornbread and muffins, and make a delightful topping for ice cream or cakes. Home winemakers value black and purple raspberries for the complexity they bring to apple or pear wine. A handful of any type of raspberry will add color and flavor to homebrewed teas. Raspberry leaves can be included in teas, too.

One cup of fresh red raspberries contains half of an adult’s daily quota of vitamin C along with an abundance of antioxidants, including ellagic acid, which may help defend the body from cancer.

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