How to grow Raspberries
Raspberries Growing Guide
Raspberries might play second fiddle to their Wimbledon-associated cousins on shop shelves but on the plot there should be no such bias – raspberry plants crop reliably year-after-year and ask for little in return. They even thrive in partially-shaded areas where few fruit or vegetables would grow. They’re soft and squishy off the plant but on it they’re resilient and care-free – as long as you get them off to the right start.
How to grow Raspberries
There are two types of raspberry available to the kitchen gardener. Summer-fruiting varieties will crop at any time from the beginning of July to early August on stems of last season’s growth; autumn fruiting raspberries bear their berries over a longer period – from mid- August to the first frosts – on the current season’s stems.
Both are similarly easy to care for but require slightly different pruning techniques. With good care, they can last as long as 12 years.
Growing raspberries in a greenhouse is possible, but they don’t need this protection so are better planted outside.
Best conditions for raspberry plants
Like most edible crops, raspberries produce a better yield when grown in full sun. However, thanks to their woodland origins, they can be grown in a degree of shade too, as long as they receive at least a few hours of direct sunshine each day.
They prefer slightly acidic soils, which is great news for gardeners who struggle to grow plants in these conditions. They like it to be moist as well, so be prepared to water the plants as they establish – but beware of waterlogged winter ground.
Turn the soil over and remove any weeds, especially perennial types (such as bindweed and horsetail) and their roots. They are also heavy feeders, so for every plant you intend to grow incorporate a bucketful of well-rotted manure or compost while digging, turning it all into the soil. Ideally soil preparation should be complete a month before planting; at the very least you should allow two weeks to give the earth time to settle.
Planting raspberry canes
Buy in certified disease-free, one-year-old plants (usually called canes) from a reputable nursery or mail-order catalogue. They are usually acquired bare rooted, packaged up into bundles ready for planting. The best time to plant them is in the autumn, from October through to early December, as the soil still retains a degree of warmth which will help the roots to grow and quickly settle the new introductions into place. If this isn’t possible they can, however, be planted any time up to March.
Position each cane into a shallow hole about 22cm wide and 7cm deep, spreading the roots evenly across the bottom. Backfill and firm in around them as you go, making sure that the soil mark on the canes is at least level with the surface and up to an inch beneath it – this will encourage extra root growth and quickly anchor the plants into place. Space them 45cm apart within the row, leaving 1.8m between further rows to allow room for the roots to spread sufficiently, and enough space for picking.
The tall, gangly canes will need to be held upright, so set up a suitable support system at planting time. The best system is a simple post-and-wire set-up – hammer in two sturdy, 2.4m-high posts at either end of the row, 60cm into the ground and 3m apart. Stretch three galvanised wires horizontally in-between them at heights of 75cm, 1m and 1.5m. You can omit the top wire if you’re growing an autumn-fruiting variety as they are sturdier and require less support.
How to propagate raspberry plants
Suckers are simply new shoots that appear too far from the main stem to be of any use – they cannot be tied into place and would spoil the overall balance of the plant. Instead, they should be eased out of the soil and cut away. However, the suckers are still vigorous young shoots and would fruit given the opportunity. So if you want to bulk up your existing stock, they offer a convenient and low cost method of doing so.
Wait until the autumn, then carefully dig away the soil from around a strong-looking sucker, lift it out, then replant it into prepared ground where you want the new plants to grow. Water it in thoroughly and care for it in exactly the same way as a newly-planted one-year-old cane. One word of caution – only propagate in this way from plants that were originally bought in as certified disease-free stock.
Can you grow raspberries in a pot?
Growing raspberries in containers is a possibility if space is at a premium. The best compact raspberry plants to grow in a container is an autumn-fruiting variety or dwarf summer-fruiting type. Find a container that’s at least 20cm deep, perhaps a window box or wooden crate.
Give your raspberry bush the best possible head-start, by packing in the nutrients with some rich compost. Use a seaweed feed during the growing season to give them an extra boost and to encourage prolific fruiting.
Raspberries like a moist, water-retentive and free-draining medium to grow in, and this is even more important when in a pot or a container. Maintain a steady and regular irrigation regime to prevent the soil from drying out too quickly.
Growing Raspberries month-by-month
Carry on planting new canes. Make sure tall stems on established plants are tied in to prevent them being caught by the wind.
Cut back all the stems of autumn-fruiting varieties to ground level before new growth appears. Prune the tops of summer-fruiters.
Finish planting by early in the month and apply a thick layer of mulch to all plants. Drench the soil beforehand if dry.
Tie in new growth to supports as it lengthens and remove any weak stems and suckers. Space stems about 10cm apart.
Pinch out flowers from newly-planted canes and water all plants thoroughly in dry weather.
Keep watering raspberries as the fruits set and begin to swell. Position netting over plants if growing them outside a fruit cage.
The main cropping month for summer-fruiting raspberries. Prune fully-fruited canes to ground level as soon as harvests are complete.
Summer crops finish now and autumn-fruiters start to take over. Tie in new growth from summer-fruiting canes into position.
Continue to tie new growth into the supports. Loop over excessively tall stems so they do not catch the wind.
As growth comes to a halt, check supports and shore them up if necessary. Begin to plant new bare-root canes as they become available.
The best month to plant bare-root canes. Ensure soil is well prepared with plenty of organic matter and use only fresh, disease-free stock.
Continue planting new canes as the weather allows. Firm in the roots to enable quick establishment and to stop the plants getting battered by gales.
Caring for your Raspberries plants + problems
Immediately after planting your canes, cut each one just above a bud so that they’re 30cm in height. By spring, new shoots will appear from the base of the old cane and these will need to be tied into the wires as they reach them. The original cane can be cut right down to about 3cm above ground level at this point, again just above a bud.
Remove any weak shoots in this first summer and any appearing more than 20cm from the row. Be disciplined and remove any flowers that develop in the initial season too – the object of the first year is to establish a good base. Allowing plants to channel energy into setting fruit will compromise this effort.
In the following years, pruning is simple, although it’s important to use the correct method depending on whether you’ve opted for summer- or autumn-fruiting varieties.
The former should be cut right back to ground level as soon as they have finished cropping. At this stage there will already be plenty of new growth at the base of the plant and these will be the fruiting stems for next year.
Tie them into your support system using garden string, so that each stem is spaced around 10cm from the last. Cut down any spindly stems or those growing away from the row.
Towards the end of the growing season, loop over and tie in place any really tall stems to prevent them falling over in the wind over winter. In early spring, before growth commences, cut them back to a bud about 15cm above the top wire so that they are uncluttered and in a good position when they start fruiting.
Pruning autumn types is much more straightforward – just cut back all of last year’s canes to ground level before growth starts in February. Cutting back raspberry canes in winter will mean new shoots will appear from the base by spring and these should all produce berries on the upper stem sections by late summer.
Looking after raspberry canes
Feeding and watering are pivotal to good raspberry plant care. Keep your canes moist and well-fed and, coupled with the correct pruning regime, you should be carrying away punnets full of berries. Watering is particularly important at flowering time, as well as when the fruits are swelling and during dry spells.
Applying a thick layer of organic matter as a mulch in early spring will help to lock-in moisture (make sure the soil is moist beforehand) as well as feed the canes. Be generous – make it at least 5cm deep and more if you can spare it. Any well-rotted organic matter such as compost or manure will do but avoid adding mushroom compost – it is alkaline and therefore unsuited to the acid-loving plants.
Mulches will also help to nourish the soil and stifle weed growth. As raspberry roots are very shallow and can easily be damaged by hoeing, any weeds that make it through the mulch will need to be removed by hand.
Raspberry pests and diseases in the UK
Raspberries are usually pretty trouble-free. Be on the watch out for birds – netting will prevent damage from hungry beaks and can be draped over plants at fruiting time. Fruit cages, however, offer the ultimate protection and are a worthwhile investment if you’re growing more than just a few canes.
One of the other prevalent raspberry plant pests is the raspberry beetle. Non-chemical controls are very limited. Traps are available which lure the adults away from your crops and can limit numbers of this pest. It’s important to remember that raspberry beetles are most active earlier in the season, and so yields that ripen from August onwards should be safe from harm. Chemical measures are available but they should only be used in severe cases.
Some gardeners like to grow their bush alongside allium as raspberry companion plants for deterring pests - if you’ve found that companion planting alongside onions, leeks, garlic or other alliums helps keep pests at bay, get in touch!
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How to harvest Raspberries
Summer-fruiting raspberries are further divided into approximately three groups: early season, which crop from the beginning of July; mid-season, starting in midto- late July; and late season, which only gear up to fruit in late July or early August. The summer-fruiters each have a short but intense harvest window; autumn-harvested varieties crop for much longer (mid-August to October).
Pick the berries once they have fully coloured up – the main body of the fruit should detach easily from the plant, leaving the pithy core behind. Eat them within a few days and take great care not to bruise them, which will only shorten their already brief storage life. The fruits won’t all be ready at the same time, which makes the issue of storage less of a problem. However, any excess can be frozen – freeze them first on trays so they are not touching and can easily be pulled apart, then pour them into freezer bags to store for up 12 months.
The yield per plant will begin to tail off after about eight to 10 years and rows will need replacing entirely after about 12. It is likely canes will be virus-ridden and unsuitable for composting by then. Take them to the local recycling centre for disposal and replant new plants in an entirely different piece of land.