How to Grow the Tastiest Raspberries Ever
There isn’t anything much better than organic raspberries (Rubus idaeus) fresh from the garden. They’re so sweet and juicy, whether your preference is red, purple, black or yellow, and growing them yourself means you’ll have the freshest, most delicious harvest ever. And I even have a bonus for you, a variety you might never have heard of ~ Arctic raspberries (Rubus arcticus).
If you’ve never grown raspberries before, you might be afraid they’re hard to grow. Good news! They’re not! In fact, they’re really easy, even more so than blueberries and strawberries (which I’ll cover soon, I promise!)
And if you live in a really cold area, you’ll be thrilled to hear about Arctic raspberries. I’ll talk about them separately at the end.
Welcome to Week 6 of Crop of the Week. This week is the first time I’ve talked about fruits instead of veggies, so I hope you enjoy! If you’d like to check out the past crops, you can find them here: Peas, Beets, Brassicas (cabbage family), Salad Crops and Potatoes.
Some of my earliest memories are of being at my grandma’s house in the summer and picking raspberries with her. She only grew black ones (and they’re still my preference, wonder if that’s why?), and never really did anything as far as care for her bushes, but they were A-MAZ-ING! Sooooo sweet and HUGE berries. And her raspberry custard pie? To die for!
Of course, I stupidly never got the pie recipe from her, so haven’t been able to re-create it (yet!). I’m still working on it, and if I find a good replacement, you’ll be the first to know!
And don’t forget, if you’re not yet an email subscriber, you can get cheat sheets for all the Crops of the Week, plus lots of other goodies, in my FREE Subscribers’ Resource Library. You’ll get instant access with the password in your welcome email once you sign up. No spam, EVER, I promise, just lots of great information and subscriber-only goodies. Check it out here.
Types of Raspberries (Rubus idaeus)
To grow your own raspberries, you need a bit of information on the different types. Of course, you might already know there are red, black (not to be confused with blackberries, a totally different species of berry), purple (a cross between red and black) and yellow (or gold).
In this area of the country (the Northeast), finding black raspberries in the grocery store isn’t a possibility, they only ever carry the red and occasionally yellow. I LOVE black raspberries, though, so decided I’d better grow my own if I wanted any! I’ve encountered lots of people who don’t even know black raspberries are a “thing”, so I’m guessing they’re hard to come by in many areas.
Besides color differences, though, there’s another very important difference.
Summer bearers produce one large crop in the summer. Here in the Northeast in Zone 6b, my raspberries start to produce a harvest just about Independence Day each year.
Fall (or Ever)-bearing Raspberries
Fall-bearing or ever-bearing raspberries produce a crop late in the summer to early fall, and then a second, smaller harvest early the following summer. I’ve never grown these so can’t give you specific dates.
It’s best to make note of these distinctions when you purchase so you can prune accordingly (see below for details).
Whether summer or fall-bearing, your raspberries need full sun and well-drained soil. They don’t like wet feet! Adding some compost or manure before planting will give them a nice boost as well.
They’re best grown in Zones 4 through 8, although there are a few varieties that will grow into Zone 9. ‘Tulameen’ and ‘Chilliwack’ are reds that will deal well with heat, while ‘Black Hawk’ and ‘Cumberland’ are two black varieties that should do well in Zone 9. ‘Anne’ is a yellow variety that should work for you Zone 9’ers as well.
There are two other important considerations when deciding where to put your crop. First, raspberries don’t like to be buffeted by strong winds, so if you live in a windy area, some protection from wind is helpful. Mine are planted close to a stone wall that runs along the front of our property and acts as a nice windbreak for them.
The other consideration is that raspberries like to spread. They don’t go all over the place, but any canes that grow and hit the ground will root. Although you can, of course, uproot these and get rid of them, they’re free plants to increase your harvest, so if you give your plants plenty of room to start with, you can take advantage of them and let them grow.
You can also dig up the volunteer plants and relocate them to a more desirable location, if wanted. They do really well when you do this, as I do it all the time to keep things neat and orderly.
All that said, planting 3 feet apart in rows from 5 to 8 feet apart will give you plenty of room to expand. Mine are planted in a single curved row along the wall I mentioned above.
Oh, and if you do plant them near a wall (or something similar), leave plenty of room between the bushes and the wall to get back there and harvest. You don’t want to miss half your berries because you can’t reach them!
You can give your raspberry bushes support in the form of a trellis, if you’d like, although I haven’t found it necessary. If you decide to do this, get it in place at the time of planting so you don’t disturb your plants later.
Planting your Raspberries
Raspberries can be purchased as either bare-root or potted plants.
If you buy bare-root plants (which tend to be cheaper), you can plant them as early as you can work your soil in the spring. Be sure to soak the roots for several hours before planting. Soaking them in diluted compost tea will give them a nice boost.
One important step to take once you put your bare-root plants into the ground is to prune them back to only 2 inches high. I know, I know, it’s painful, but I promise it’s best for your plants. This allows the plant to put most of its effort into root growth, setting you up for strong, healthy plants for years to come.
I purchased a dozen plants bare-root from Stark Bros around 5 years ago and they’ve done wonderfully. So wonderfully, in fact, that my harvests are too abundant for my family of four to use up!
If you’d like to check out their available varieties, you can do that here. I have the ‘Jewel’ and, I believe, ‘Allen’ varieties, and absolutely love them! Stark Bros also includes a little care booklet with their plants, which I really like.
If you buy potted plants, you need to wait until after your last frost date to plant them. You won’t be pruning these back at planting as their roots are already well-developed.
How to plant
Whether potted or bare-root, the most important thing to remember is to keep the crown of the plant (this is where the upper growth and roots meet) about 1 to 2 inches above the soil level.
Dig your hole wide and deep enough that the roots have room to spread, and be sure to spread the roots out as you plant. Water your plants thoroughly once they’ve been planted.
Once your berries are planted, give them a nice layer of mulch. I prefer straw, but wood chips work as well. Some people have difficulty with winter mouse damage to their raspberries, and if you have that problem, either don’t mulch too deeply or pull some of the mulch away from your plants in the fall.
A note on Planting Different Raspberry Types Together
If you want to plant red, yellow, purple and black raspberries, or any combination thereof, you do need to be careful not to plant the black ones within 100 feet of the other varieties.
This is because black raspberries are very prone to diseases that can be carried by aphids you might find on the others.
This also applies if you have wild berries growing on your property: Keep the black ones as far away as possible.
Now, again, I’m going to go contrary to the “experts”. I have a ton of wild raspberries growing on my property and the undeveloped lot next door. It would be almost impossible to keep my raspberries more than 100 feet away from the wild ones, so I don’t bother. Maybe this will eventually bite me in the butt, but so far (*fingers crossed*), everyone has done just fine.
Care of your Raspberries
As with most other plants, raspberries prefer at least one inch of water per week. Two inches is even better.
We had one very dry summer where I couldn’t water (because, as I’ve mentioned before, we’re on a well), and the raspberry plants did okay, but the following year’s harvest was definitely impacted. This is because the canes that grew during the dry summer are the ones that produced fruit the second year, and so had suffered a bit with the drought.
Your raspberries will appreciate a side-dressing of some compost or well-rotted manure every spring. However, be sure not to fertilize past July first, as you don’t want to encourage tons of new growth late in the season.
Hand weeding is best with raspberries as they have shallow roots that can be damaged by tools.
Pruning your Plants
This is the most crucial part of the care plan when it comes to your raspberries. They truly are easy to care for, and I’ve never even had trouble with birds or other critters bothering my berries, but you do need to get your pruning right to maximize your crop.
This post contains affiliate links. When you purchase through one of these links, I receive a small commission. This doesn’t affect your purchase price.
Pruning Summer Bearers
The fruiting canes of your summer-bearing plants should simply be pruned to the ground after they bear fruit. Now, keep in mind that only two-year-old canes bear fruit, so don’t prune anything that wasn’t fruit-bearing that year.
It’s fairly easy to tell which to prune, as you’ll see the remnants of the fruit on those canes, plus the non-fruiting canes tend to be greener and more “alive” looking, whereas the canes that have borne fruit are woodier and brown.
I typically prune my fruiting canes a few weeks after they’re done fruiting, then the entire plant again in the fall as the younger canes grow like crazy in the late summer. Don’t take the young (ones that haven’t fruited yet) canes to the ground though. I usually leave them 12-18 inches long. If you’d rather, you can do this in late spring.
Some authorities suggest thinning to about six canes per foot, but my plants seem to do that naturally, so I don’t worry about it.
NOTE: Raspberries have lots of big, vicious thorns. If you don’t want to look like you’ve been attacked by a dozen angry bobcats afterwards, wear long sleeves and heavy gloves, or rose pruning gloves like these, when pruning.
Pruning Ever-bearing Raspberries
If you want to get two harvests from your ever-bearers, you need to follow a slightly different procedure than with summer bearers.
After the first harvest, you’ll want to prune the fruiting canes back to the last node you can see that had fruit. Essentially, you’re cutting the dead tips off the canes. Once they fruit for the second time the following spring, these canes can be cut to the ground.
If you prefer just one bigger, later harvest from your everbearers, prune all of the canes right to the ground after harvest, either in late fall or very early spring before growth starts again. You’ll sacrifice your second harvest, but get a very large single harvest instead.
Raspberry Pests and Diseases
Until I started doing research for this post, I had no idea there were so many pests and diseases that afflict raspberries. Seriously! I’ve been growing them for more than 5 years, and as I mentioned, my grandmother grew them for years with no care at all , and I’ve never had a problem with anything, nor did she.
I have to wonder if it’s like when you get a new prescription from your doctor. If you read the side effects on that little informational paper they give you, you think you’re going to be nauseous, have hives, hallucinate, grow an extra limb and turn orange with purple polka dots if you take it. Amirite? But, they HAVE to list every. single. thing. that could ever, ever, ever possibly go wrong even if it’s only one in a million. That’s what it feels like with these raspberries!
That said, I want to do my due diligence and give you information just in case you get the hives or the purple polka dots, metaphorically speaking. But, instead of trying to go through everything here (because you’ll probably die of boredom), I’m going to refer you back to Stark Bros and their awesome pest and disease information here, should you need it…..but I hope you don’t!
Harvesting and Storage
This one’s easy: When they’re the correct color, pick them! Really! You do want to be gentle when picking so you don’t damage the fruit. An easy way to be sure they’re ripe is to tug gently. If they don’t release, they’re probably not quite ripe, give them a day and try again.
Raspberries don’t keep well in storage, so either eat them immediately (not hard to do, most of ours don’t even make it into the house!) or freeze them. You can, of course, make jam out of them as well.
Just a note: If you’re going to freeze them, don’t wash before freezing.
Arctic Raspberries (Rubus arcticus)
Lastly, let’s chat about Arctic raspberries for a few minutes. You might also know them as Nagoonberries, by the way.
Although in the same genus as “regular” raspberries, Arctic raspberries are a much different critter. For one thing, they don’t have thorns (YAY!!). For another, they only get approximately 6 inches tall, so in this respect, behave more like strawberries than raspberries. They also die back (at least here in Zone 6b, so I assume also in colder regions) completely in the winter. As in, I was afraid mine weren’t coming back because they appeared to be GONE.
Why are they called Arctic raspberries?
I’m glad you asked! They’re called Arctic raspberries because they grow all the way to Zone 2 and can survive temps as low as -50F. I find that pretty impressive, I’m not sure I can survive -50F! Rejoice, my cold climate friends, you, too, can have raspberries!
As for my warm weather friends, I couldn’t find information on how WARM the climate could be for them, but my guess would be that they don’t thrive in terribly hot summers.
Growing and Care
Arctic raspberries are very easy to care for. They like full sun and well-drained soil, just as the other raspberries do.
I planted mine in window boxes last summer as they were just getting started, then moved them into my garden in the fall. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see much top growth the first year, I discovered when I transplanted mine that the root growth over the summer had been extensive, although the top growth had been just meh. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do this year.
The other really nice thing about Arctic raspberries is that they’re not troubled by much in the pest and disease department, so they’re very easy to grow.
Apparently, over time, they spread to form a nice, low ground cover, so do give them a bit of space to expand.
Cross-pollination is a must
Unlike “regular” raspberries, Arctic raspberries require two different varieties for cross-pollination. I got mine from Logee’s where they sell a 2-pack of two different varieties.
Fruiting and Harvest
Arctic raspberries apparently bear fruit in July and August, although mine haven’t fruited yet, so not sure on the exact dates. I’ve also been told that one plant can produce up to a pound of fruit, so for such a small critter, they pack quite a punch!
As with regular raspberries, the fruits tend to get damaged during picking so don’t store well. Aw shucks, guess that means you’ll have to eat them right away! If you have too many, you can freeze them, just do it soon after picking. Again, I believe they’re appropriate for jams and jellies as well.
One More Benefit of Arctic Raspberries
You may know you can dry the leaves of “regular” raspberries to use for tea. You can also do this with Arctic raspberry leaves, and they’re particularly high in magnesium, potassium, Vitamin B, Vitamin C and iron. I’ll definitely be trying this in the fall!
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s post and you’ll give raspberries a try! If you’d like to save this for later, please feel free to pin one or more of the images below on Pinterest. Again, if you’re not an email subscriber, head on over here for all the information and to sign up.
As always, smile and have a crazy organic day!
Posts Related to Growing Raspberries
- Printable Garden Journal
- Growing Peas
- Growing Beets
- Growing Salad Crops
- Growing Potatoes
- Growing Brassicas
- Subscribers Resource Library