How to Grow Raspberries

Planting, planning and growing raspberries in the home garden.

| July/August 1983

  • Raspberries on Vine
    Growing raspberries means you can enjoy their sweet, straight-from-the-vine taste each summer.

  • Raspberries on Vine

Strange as it may sound, some of my most vivid and enchanting childhood memories concern days spent walking dusty country lanes under a scorching summer sun . . . because there, among the weeds and bushes of the unkempt hedgerows, I'd see thick, tangled red raspberry brambles. I can clearly recall toddling along behind my mother as she stripped the leaning canes of their red jewels. The fruit smell seemed to fill the air, sunlight bounced in a green kaleidoscope from the leaves, and I was thrilled to see an occasional garter snake hanging heat drugged among the branches of a bush. Best of all, now and then my mother would pop an especially succulent sun-warmed berry into my mouth . . . and let me relish the special sweet/tart taste that only a fresh picked raspberry offers.

Because of those magical yesterdays, I've always associated summer with that rose hued fruit. Now that I'm older, I've learned that the unique, palate-pleasing nature of the red raspberry is due to the fact that the little fruits contain an unusually high number of esters . .. volatile organic compounds that—in combination with acids and such—produce distinctive flavors and fragrances. And, while there are two esters in blackberries, three in cherries, four in apricots, and five in strawberries, the red raspberry sports a total of nine of these ephemeral tastemakers! To find that fresh, unmatched taste in your own backyard, read on to learn everything you need to know about how to grow raspberries.

How to Grow Raspberries: The Basics

Raspberries, which belong to the rose family (Rosaceae), have been cultivated in England for centuries. In fact, they were among the first fruits brought here by North America's original colonizers. The red razz most commonly grown today is a hybrid of the European species (Rubusidaeus)—which takes its name from the fact that the berries were found on Greece's Mount Ida in the days of Carolus Linnaeus—and the wild North American species (Rubusstrigosus). Over the centuries, many different raspberry varieties have been developed, including the black, purple, and yellow strains, and even some types that bear fruit twice in one season! (The off color raspberries require slightly different care than red ones do, and I won't  discuss them in this article.)

Prepping the Raspberry Plot

Naturally enough, your first job as a prospective raspberry-raiser is to select a site for your briar patch-to-be. Some experts believe that the reds produce exceptionally well in soil with a pH of 6 . . . but they don't really seem to be too fussy about soil acidity. They do, however, need earth that's moist, well drained, and rich in organic matter. An abandoned garden plot, for example, could serve as a bed, but only if it hasn't been used to grow tomatoes, potatoes, melons, or eggplant for at least three years, since all of these crops either attract or carry disease organisms that can harm the brambles. The plot should be in full sun, no closer than 500 feet to any wild brambles (raspberries or blackberries), as these might infect the less-hardy domesticated plants. Likewise, you should also keep your bushes the same distance from any "tame" black raspberries, since that variety could be killed by some diseases to which your reds can safely pIay host.

As noted above, raspberries need rich earth to thrive (if the soil doesn't contain enough humus, the fruit will be small and have more seeds than pulp). The best way to assure an adequate supply of organic material is to raise a green manure crop, such as rye, buckwheat, or clover the summer before you plan to put in your brambles and, at the end of that growing season, to work the plant material into the earth to a depth of two feet or more. In other words, July or August might be a prime time to "lay the groundwork" for next year's patch! After such preparation, my soil-building "maintenance" schedule has consisted of little more than incorporating my non meat kitchen garbage directly into the raspberry patch as it accumulates (other folks seem to accomplish as much simply by fertilizing with cow manure every four years). I also work rock phosphate into the plot at four-year intervals, and—when soil tests indicate a need—add nitrogen when the plants are in the process of fruiting.

Planting Your Raspberries

Even if you're able to find wild raspberries growing close to home, I'd advise against transplanting these plants to your prepared plot, for the native brambles could harbor afflictions that haven't yet gotten a foothold on your acreage. And besides, they won't produce the quantity or size of berries that purchased hybrids will yield. Therefore, unless domesticating the wildings is a matter of economic necessity, I'd recommend that you buy disease-free nursery stock.

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