Illustrated Guide to Growing Raspberries

Reader Contribution by Michael Feldmann
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The raspberry, with its botanical name Rubus idaeus, belongs to the rose family, which includes around 3,500 species. The raspberry is a hardy, deciduous climbing shrub that comes in a variety of colors, including red, yellow, purple, and black. The raspberry bush can bear fruits twice a year. The plants are self-pollinating, but wind, honeybees, and other insects also help the plant to bear plenty of fruits after flowering.

Raspberries are very easy to grow in almost all climates and soils, and actually are the ideal plant for gardeners and farmers across the United States. They are known to grow wild in many areas, and therefore can flourish and bear lots of delicious berries without much work.

Raspberries fruit year after year and can be harvested all the way from midsummer through to the first frosts. Due to its natural sweetness, the fine red raspberries are often eaten right from the bush. But can also be the main ingredient in cakes, pies, cookies, ice creams, and can be ideal for preparing Jams, jellies, and other canning goods. It is also very convenient to grow raspberries in the garden, since they take not big space, and only a couple of bushes can provide you with plenty of fresh raspberries to the table.

Choosing the Right Variety

Choosing the correct variety for your soil and climate will help you achieve a rich harvest. Illustration courtesy James Keon

Raspberry varieties are most commonly divided into categories based on the color of the fruit. There are four basic types: red raspberries, yellow raspberries, purple raspberries, and black raspberries. Of this, the red raspberries are most commonly grown. Each of the raspberry varieties is distinctive in color, size, flavor, and nutritional composition.

Ever-bearing and summer-bearing raspberries. Raspberry varieties can also be divided into two categories based on the season in which they bear fruit. Ever-bearing varieties bear fruits in summer as well as in fall, while summer-bearing varieties as the name suggest producing fruits only in the summer.

Red raspberry Varieties

  • Amity. Everbearing, deep red berries great for baking pies and preparing jams. Withstands heavier soils, aphid resistant, strong, self-supporting canes, can be grown in the USDA Zones 3-8.
  • Chilliwack. Midseason, new from British Columbia, bearing red medium sized berries, great for preparing jams. Can be grown in the wet sites, resists root rot, produce large firm berries, very sweet, productive, suited to Northwest, grows in USDA Zones 6 to 9.
  • Heritage. Everbearing, tall canes but usually sturdy enough to grow without stakes, bear medium sized red berries, excellent for fresh eating, can be grown in USDA Zones 5 to 8.
  • Killarney. Early, produce large and firm berries, disease resistant, one of the hardiest raspberries, can be grown in USDA Zones 3 to 8.
  • Latham. Midseason, produce medium to large firm berries, excellent flavor, great for fresh eating. Perfect for freezing and canning, can be grown in the USDA Zones 4 to 8.
  • Summit. Everbearing, very productive, produce bright red berries, will produce fruits first season, resistant to the soil rot, survives wetter sites, grows in USDA Zones 4 to 9.
  • Taylor. Midseason, produce large firm berries with excellent flavor, great for preserving into jams, can be grown in the USDA Zones 4 to 8.
  • Titan. Early, thornless, produce large firm berries, very sweet and juicy, excellent for making jams and baking pies. Trellis recommended, high yields, resists diseases and pests, can be grown in the USDA Zones 5 to 7.

Yellow raspberry varieties

  • FallGold. Everbearing, produce bright yellow, sweet medium-sized berries, great for fresh eating. Can be grown in the USDA Zones 4 to 8.
  • Kiwi Gold. Discovered in New Zealand, disease-resistant, great flavor, excellent for baking pies and preparing jams. Grows in USDA Zones 5 to 8.

Purple Raspberry Varieties

  • Royalty. Late midseason, produce medium to large berries, great flavor, high yields, very hardy, resists insects and immune to raspberry aphid that carries mosaic, can be propagated by tip-layering but this one is best propagated by suckers, excellent for fresh eating and preparing jams. Can be grown in USDA Zones 4 to 8.

Black raspberry varieties

  • Bristol. Very early, produce large firm berries, vigorous upright canes, no staking required, tolerant to powdery mildew, grows in USDA Zones 5 to 8.
  • Cumberland. Midseason, produce large glossy berries that have great flavor. Have a long harvesting season into fall, very hardy, can be grown in USDA Zones 5 to 8.
  • Jewel. Very early, produce large glossy berries, excellent flavor, very productive, not susceptible to any serious disease, only mildly susceptible to mildew, hardy, can be grown in the USDA Zones 5 to 8.
  • Munger. Late midseason, produce large sweet berries, excellent for preserving, freezing and fresh eating. This variety are more disease resistant then other black raspberry varieties. Can be grown in USDA Zones 4 to 8.

Planting Raspberries in the Garden

Raspberries flourish in almost all garden soils, but grow best in well drained fertile loamy soil. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson

Raspberries has a delicious sweet flavor that is perfect for enjoying out of hand, blended into a pancake, baked in a pie, or cooked down and made into jam. And however, growing raspberries is very easy, the most important in growing them is to just make them the proper growing condition, such as soil, location, and others.

Soil Considerations and Preparation

Raspberries can thrive in particularly all garden soils. But as with most berries, they grow best in well-drained, fertile loamy soil with a pH range from 5.5 to 6.5. Before planting raspberries, the soil should be well prepared.

Prepare the soil by tilling, removing weeds, take away from the garden bed all unnecessary things such as stones, branches, and others. And spread compost or some fertilizers several weeks before planting.

Choosing the Right Location

Raspberries grow and produce fruits best in a sunny, sheltered spot in the garden with well-drained soil and plenty of air movement. The aroma and the fruit size are significantly influenced by intense sunlight. Raspberries can also be grown in partial shade, but the fruits are much smaller and the yield is lower than in the sun. It is also very important that you do not plant your raspberries in an area where you have recently grown tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes, to avoid verticillium wilt.

Spacing

Raspberry plants should not be planted too close together. There should still be space between the plants, this ensures adequate ventilation of the leaves, which prevents plant diseases. It also makes it easier to pick the ripe berries at the harvest. The distance between the plants is very depending on the variety.

Red and yellow raspberries spread underground, so plant them 2-3 feet apart in rows and allow them to fill in the row. Black raspberries don’t spread underground and are planted in hills 2½-4 feet apart. Purple raspberries are somewhere between red and black raspberries in spreading ability and usually spread slowly. Plant them 1½ feet apart in a row or singly in hills as you would black raspberries. If you lay out the plants in several rows, leave about 6 to 8 feet between the rows. This will prevent you from compacting the soil directly around the plants with your feet during the harvest and other work on your raspberry plants.

Planting Bare-rooted Raspberry Plants

Early spring, late March or April, is the best time to plant your dormant, bare-rooted raspberry plants. If the roots of the raspberry plants are dry, soak them in water for several hours before planting. Dig a 1-foot-deep hole, larger than the spread of the raspberries’ root system. Set the plant in the center of the hole, spread out its roots, and cover with the soil. Firm the soil around the roots and water each plant thoroughly.

Planting

Fall and spring are considered the ideal seasons for planting raspberries. However, fall is preferred by most gardeners as it gives the plant more time to get used to the new location. Actively growing raspberry seedlings should be planted when the danger of frost is past.

Harden actively growing plants outdoors for a few days before planting them in the garden. Dig a big enough hole, set the plant in, and fill the hole with the soil. Then the plant should be well watered so that it can grow well. Mulch right after planting.

Fertilizing

Add 10 to 15 pounds of compost per 10 feet of row in late winter every year. Black raspberries are especially heavy feeders, so you may want to give them a little extra.

Mulching

After the ground freezes, and before severe cold sets in (about the 1st to the 15th of December) the garden bed with raspberries should be given its winter mulch. Leaves, lawn clippings, straw, wood chips or shavings, which may be obtained cheaply from some nearby farmer, is about the best materials for mulch.

Cover the entire garden bed, one or two inches over the plants, and two or three between the rows. In spring, but not before the raspberry plants begin to grow, over each raspberry plant the mulch is pushed aside to let it through. Besides giving winter protection, the mulch acts as a clean even support for the raspberries and keeps the roots cool and moist.

Watering

Raspberries need to be watered a lot. Since the root system is in the top two feet of soil, regular watering is better than occasional deep soaking. Raspberries need 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week, watering is also especially important from flowering to harvest.

Pruning

Raspberry shoots produce their harvest in their second year of growth. If old shoots are not removed, the crop will become litter and dense over time. Raspberries are pruned in late winter (February), when the vegetation is highly inflamed and the nutrients contained in the wilting shoots have been transferred to the root system.

Pruning can also be done in early spring before the start of growth, at the same time removing shoots damaged during the winter.

Proper pruning is important in keeping your bushes compact and bearing plenty of berries. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson

Pruning should be done with one-handed pruning shears, which will best reach the bases of the shoots to be cut. Shoots are cut approximately as shown in illustration. Drying of the wound surface is fastest if the shoots are cut so that the cutting surface is straight and small. Delicate and out-of-line shoots can also be removed.

Training Raspberry Plants

Picking berries is much easier when the raspberries are grown with a trellis. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson

Supporting your raspberries makes it easier to harvest the fruit and exposes the canes to better air circulation and sunlight, decreasing diseases. Some raspberries will grow fine without trellising, but berries are much easier to pick when the raspberry bushes are trellised. Place bottom wire at 2 feet, middle wire at 3 feet, and top wire at 4 feet for black and purple, or 5 feet for red and yellow. Fan out canes and ties with cloth strips.

Weed Control

Weeds can be a real menace to raspberries. For one thing, it is difficult to stick your hand into the thorny canes to yank out the stray grass that might have found its way there. And, besides the raspberries, the weeds can look so insignificant at first that you barely notice them.

Take warning: That single blade of grass or lonely bindweed stem can become a huge problem in years to come. Use a deep mulch all around the perimeter of the planting to keep grasses and other rhizome-spreading weeds from invading, and use whatever tool is necessary to dig out all the weeds, both annual and perennial.

Problem Prevention Tips

Take a close look at the leaf symptoms to identify leaf diseases. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson

As buds show green, spray lime-sulfur. If powdery mildew (fruit or shoot tips covered with white powder) or cane diseases (canes discolor, wilt, and die in midsummer) were a problem last year, spray lime-sulfur in the spring just as the buds are first showing green.

When flowers buds appear, spray rotenone. If raspberry fruit worm (tiny, yellow-white larvae feeding inside ripe berries) were a problem last year, spray rotenone or pyrethrins now. Repeat just before flowers open. Pick up and destroy dropped fruits. Spread beneficial nematodes to help control soil population.

As fruit first forms, spray compost tea. Compost tea sprays can help prevent gray mold. Spray in early morning on a clear day so foliage will dry fast.

As fruit begins to color, spray sulfur. If gray mold was a problem in previous years and it is humid or wet, spray sulfur. Respray after rains. Pick molded berries into a separate container and get them out of your patch. Next winter, leave fewer canes per plant or per foot of row.

In summer, watch for disease symptoms. Yellow patters on leaves or small berries could be symptoms of viral diseases. Orange pustules on black and purple raspberries indicate rust disease. Dig up and destroy all such plants immediately.

In summer, watch for wilted canes. Cane dieback is caused by borers or cane diseases. Look for a small entry hole near the base of the wilted area. Prune off and destroy infested canes or cane tips, borer and all. If canes are discolored and don’t have an insect entry hole, a disease is at work. Cut the cane off at the base and destroy it.

When harvest is done, cut out spent canes. The canes will die anyway, so get them out of the patch now and reduce disease problems.

In fall, renew mulch. When leaves start to drop, rake back loose, dry mulch. After the weather gets cold and after mice hove found winter nests elsewhere, rake mulch back into the row and add new mulch on top.

Propagation

After a large and beautiful harvest from your own raspberry bush surely everyone will want to have a new one. Gardeners do not have to buy a new one, they can also propagate it. One of the most satisfying ways of starting a new plant is by propagating. Cuttings, layering, or seeds, from any bush in your garden or backyard, can be great for starting a new raspberry bush. When starting the hobby this way, it is absolutely free and has endless possibilities.

The most common ways of propagating raspberries are cuttings and layering.

Propagation by cuttings is one of the fastest and easiest way to propagate almost any plant. Illustration courtesy Mary Peterson

Propagating by cuttings is one of the fastest and easiest ways to propagate your favorite plants. This method is also very productive, as you can grow several young plants from only one plant. Raspberry cuttings are best collected in the morning and planted as soon as possible to avoid drying out. It is very important to collect strong healthy 4- to 6-inch-long cuttings.

It is best to take lots of cuttings to ensure that some will root. Remove the leaves on the lower 1/3 of the stem. Make sure that all cutting equipment and pots are thoroughly washed and even better disinfected. Dip the stem in the rooting hormone or willow water and stick it in a readymade hole in the soil. The hole should be made earlier with a pencil or finger. Firm the soil and cover it with a transparent plastic bag with a few holes to serve as a greenhouse. An upside-down jar or plastic bottle could also be used. Here the goal is not only to keep high humidity but also adequate ventilation. Lifting or opening the cover once a day will help reduce mold and diseases.

Set the pot in indirect light and a temperature of 60-65 degrees. A heat mat with a temperature of 70 degrees will make roots appear faster. Roots should appear in several weeks. Transplant to a more nutrient-rich soil when a good root system has developed.

Propagating by Layering. Lowering individual shoots is a tried and tested method of propagating many plants and also works great with raspberries. Layering can be done in the early spring using a dormant branch, or in the late summer using a mature branch.

Layering is a tried and tested method of propagating many plants and also works excellent with raspberries. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson

Propagating by layering is mostly consists of simply bending a low-growing, flexible stem to the ground. Then cover the part of it with the soil, leaving the remaining 6 to 12 inches above the soil. You can also layer them right in a pot for easier transplanting. Bend the tip into a vertical position and stake in place, for staking you can use, some stone, hook, branch, and in general, everything that holds the stem in place can be used. Periodically check for adequate moisture and for the formation of roots. It may take one or more months before the branch is ready to be transplanted.

 Gathering the Harvest

Nothing can compare to a fresh juicy harvest of home-grown berries. Illustration courtesy Mary Peterson

Raspberries taste absolute best when left to ripen on the plant, and then picked and eaten immediately. Sweetness, aroma, and flavor determine ripeness; berries can reach their peak in a day or two once they begin to mature. Visit your raspberries every day once fruit begins to deepen in color. Taste and smell to decide when to start picking.

Raspberries on each bush will ripen over a two-week period, so you need to pick your raspberries every day. For the best flavor and texture, harvest your raspberries when it is dry – when it’s not raining, and ideally, after the heat of the midday sun has passed. Each ripe fruit should have a deep red, yellow, purple, or black color, this is depending on the variety. And also, the ripe berries, unlike unripe, are soft and come free from the plant with very little force.

Preserving Raspberries

Raspberries taste best when they are fresh. Unfortunately, however, they are not very easy to store, and they only last a few days in the fridge. For this reason, it is better to freeze or process and thus preserve them. A very popular option is to boil your raspberries into delicious jam, or use it for baking pies, cakes, cupcakes, or cookies.

Freezing

Raspberries are excellent for freezing. Before freezing, however, you should wash and presort your raspberries. Remove all berries that show signs of pests or mold. After washing and sorting, the raspberries should drain thoroughly and dabbed with a kitchen towel so that unnecessary ice crystals do not form when they freeze.

Put your raspberries on a baking sheet and place it in a freezer. After a few hours, you can put the raspberries into bags and put them back into the freezer. Raspberries can be stored in the freezer for up to 12-18 months, which means you can successfully store and enjoy them all year round!

Preserving

Probably the best way to preserve raspberries is by canning. Canning is a great way to extend the fruiting season and bring the joy of fruits into the cold winter months. Especially, for berries that yield bushels and bushels of fruit, making jam is particularly useful.

Raspberry Jam Recipe

Making jam is probably the best way of preserving raspberries. Illustration courtesy Paul Anderson

Yields one quart jar or two pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds fresh raspberries
  • 4 cups white sugar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice

Directions:

1. First of all, lightly wash your raspberries under cool running water and remove any stems or caps.

2. In a large enough bowl, crush the raspberries in portions until you have 4 cups of mashed berry.

3. In a saucepan, combine raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Stir on low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a full boil. Boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture is at 220 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. If you don’t know when the jam is ready, it is very easy to check it with a gelling test. Gelling test: Take a tablespoon of the jam and put it on a cool plate. If the mixture is firm, the jam can be filled into preserving jars. However, if the mass is not firm enough and slips off the plate, it must be cooked for a few more minutes. (If the desired consistency is not achieved, simply add a little more sugar).

5. When the raspberry jam is ready and the scent of fresh raspberries fills the kitchen. Fill into sterilized jars with lids while still very hot, and allow to cool. As the jam is cool, close tightly with lids.

You can eat this delicious freshly cooked raspberry jam any time of the day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. Or of course a piece with every meal. It all depends on how much you love freshly cooked raspberry jam.

Michael Feldmann is a farmer and writer in Oklahoma, who studies agriculture and has worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers around the country. His writing has been published in Acres USA, Rural Heritage, Farming magazine, Farmers Weekly, Permaculture magazine, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and as a column in Poultry World. Read all of Michael’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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