Raspberries and other brambles are incredibly easy to grow. Plant a bush the first year, get a handful of sweet berries to whet your appetite and then watch as the brambles take off the following year and start producing dozens of beautiful, plump, juicy red raspberries.
The only downside to raspberries is that after a few seasons the brambles will ruthlessly invade your garden and eventually take over the entire plot unless you learn how to keep them in line.
By “in line”, I mean that literally. Red Raspberry brambles left to grow without any discipline will create a dense thicket that will be impossible to harvest at more than just the periphery, which will cost you a lot of delicious fruit. Of course, the birds and rabbits will appreciate it. Rabbits love the protection of dense thickets of brambles as very few animals will dare to pursue or explore, due to the thorny bushes.
Raspberries are a unique plant, in that their roots and crowns are perennial, while the canes are biennial. That means that the plant itself will live for many years, but the canes upon which fruit appear live only two years. Raspberry canes are produced three ways: from the seeds of fruit that fall; from the root base of the previous year’s canes and from suckers that grow straight up from the mother plant’s roots, which can be a foot or more distant from the mother plant.
Below are the steps to keeping summer bearing red raspberry bushes “in line” to maximize fruit production. I learned these techniques from American Horticultural Society Pruning & Training (American Horticultural Society Practical Guides).
Establish A Line
Train your raspberry bushes along a wall or fence to maintain a straight line. This will make it easier to get at all sides of the brambles and harvest as much fruit as possible. Any suckers that appear outside of the line you can uproot and compost or plant further down the line where needed. It’s very difficult to kill a raspberry sucker, so you needn’t be too concerned about delicacy when transplanting.
Raspberry canes only fruit once-they grow on new wood from the previous season, so after the fruit is harvested, cut the canes to the ground on which the fruit appeared, as that cane will soon start dying off. After fruiting, you want all of that season’s remaining energy to be concentrated in producing strong, new canes.
After you get a straight line created, tie the brambles snug to the fence or a wire grid connected to a wall. During the growing season, cap the brambles at about six feet to concentrate the plant’s energy on fruit production and not further growth. It will be hard to harvest a plant taller than you are.
I don’t wear gloves to harvest, as the raspberry fruit is very delicate and tends to get crushed in a gloved hand. I’ve learned to accept the small amount of irritation on my arms the brambles create. Raspberries hide everywhere, so examine each plant from as many angles as possible, as you’ll see berries from one angle you don’t see from another.
As far as birds eating your berries – yes, they love them. The first time I bought bird netting to cover my plants, it became such a tangled mess that I found it all but impossible to harvest the berries. It’s better to let the birds take a little fruit off the top than to deal with the net you’ll find yourself tangled in. It’s the birds’ reward for keeping my garden free of unhelpful insects.
Raspberries will grow in nearly any soil, but for optimal results, acidify the soil as much as possible. I create compost/mulch from my Christmas tree every year and old raspberry canes, which does a fine job. This year my raspberries were a record harvest – more than 15 quarts from a 50 foot fence line – hundreds of dollars of raspberries at market prices. I froze a few quarts, but the rest we ate on a daily basis. Delicious!