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How to Prune Raspberries

Different raspberry varieties require various pruning strategies

By: Sandy Feather 2008
Penn State Extension


Q. We planted 'Heritage' everbearing red raspberries and 'Jewel' black raspberries in our garden and need to learn how to prune these different raspberry varieties correctly.

A. Black raspberries and everbearing red raspberries have very different growth habits and require different pruning strategies to get maximum fruit production. You can think of raspberries as perennial plants (the roots live for more than three years) with biennial stems (the canes live for two years, then die after producing a crop). Black raspberries produce new canes from the crown of the plant. They have a rather wild growth habit, and should be trained to a trellis to support the fruit up off the ground.


Raspberry Pruning Techniques

When the plants have gone dormant for the year, remove all dead and damaged canes at ground level. Thin the remaining canes so that you leave five to 10 healthy, vigorous canes per plant, preferably spaced about 4 inches apart. Thinning out the canes permits good air circulation and sun exposure to minimize disease problems and maximize fruit production.
  
If you did not do so this summer, top the remaining canes at 36 inches. The lateral branches are the ones that produce fruit and should be cut back to 4 to 7 inches from the main cane. Next spring, remove dead or winter-damaged tips back to healthy growth.

 

Throughout the summer, black raspberries should be topped back to 36 inches. You will have to repeat this two or three times throughout the summer. This encourages the development of lateral (fruiting) branches and increases the strength of the cane. As soon as you harvest your crop, remove the canes that fruit at ground level. When the plants have gone dormant for the winter, repeat the process of thinning them out to five to 10 healthy canes per plant.

Red raspberries
Red Raspberries.. Delicious!

Red raspberries have a more restrained growth habit than black raspberries, and do not have to be trellised. They are usually grown in a 12- to 18-inch-wide hedgerow. They produce new canes as suckers from the roots, rather than growing from a crown like black raspberries. Everbearing red raspberries' fruiting canes (primocanes) bear a crop at the top in late summer and early fall, and then produce a small spring crop on buds below those.

raspberry canes
Raspberry canes

They can be pruned two ways. Some growers manage them the same as June-bearing red raspberries. During the dormant season (March is ideal), remove canes that have suckered up outside the hedgerow. Thin the canes in the hedgerow to allow 6 to 8 inches between canes. Be sure to remove weak or damaged canes and leave the healthiest, most vigorous ones. Top the remaining canes to 5 or 6 feet high. During the summer, the primocanes that have borne their second crop should be removed at ground level.

Most growers sacrifice the small spring crop and cut everbearing red raspberries to within 2 or 3 inches of the ground during the dormant season. Even if you choose the second method, it is still a good practice to thin out weak or damaged canes and allow 6 to 8 inches between them. This promotes good air circulation and sun exposure to produce a healthy crop.
   

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