In the Garden:
Bob finds dried berry clusters that show this cane's okay to remove.
Tackling the Berry Patch
Bob stood eyeing his raspberry patch next to the vegetable garden. "I usually prune them all down," he said, referring to the scatter of canes. "We always have a lot of berries into the fall."
This winter he and I decided to prune them properly to see if there would be an even better summer yield. We started by removing thin, diseased, dead, and broken canes. Dead canes are obvious. Hollow inside, they snap like dead sticks. It's easy to identify, then clip off at the base and toss them on a pile to be chipped or disposed of.
What about the rest? Canes with some green leaves. Canes with dead berry clusters. Canes with gray, cracked bark. Which to prune? How much to prune? Which canes to leave?
Before I start a pruning project, I like to collect the supplies and tools necessary for the job. A 10-gallon bucket comes in handy for carrying sturdy garden gloves, a bottle of alcohol, a small rag, sharp bypass loppers, and bypass hand pruners. It's easy to lose tools; best to keep things in one place. I spray pruner blades with isopropyl alcohol, then wipe them dry to keep from spreading diseases and insects among plants.
Pruning technique varies according to the variety of raspberry. First, what color are the berries? Are they red or yellow? If so, are they summer-bearing or ever-bearing? Summer-bearing raspberries grow their first year and fruit in year two -- after which the canes die. Ever-bearing varieties begin to fruit in late summer and autumn at the ends of first year canes, then fruit lower down on those same canes the next summer before they die.
Winter is fine for pruning summer-bearing, red or yellow raspberries. After harvest until just before spring growth, it's okay to cut to the ground any canes that have fruited. You can tell by their clusters of dried berries. Also remove old canes; they have grayish, peeling bark.
Raspberry plants are perennial; the roots live for many years. The canes are biennial; they grow one year and produce fruit the second year. New canes grow each year from the roots or the base of old canes. Canes that have fruited should be removed each year after harvest. New canes that haven't fruited are best thinned and trained. Top dress with compost and/or aged manure in late fall or early winter. Apply fertilizer (10-20-20) in early spring when you see new growth.
Canes produce best when not crowded. Good spacing is 6 inches between canes, so remove canes too close to each other.
To Shorten or Not?
The longer the canes, the more the fruit. They can reach 7 to 8 feet. Shorten only for your convenience to fit on a trellis.
After pruning, consider trellising raspberries. Long canes produce more fruit than short canes. Attaching them to a trellis will keep your patch tidy and your berries more plentiful.
Helpful pages from pruning guru Lee Reich's book, The Pruning Book (Taunton Press), are viewable on the Web.
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