Pruning Raspberries: Gardening’s ‘Who’s on First?’

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Winter pruning efforts can yield a summer of raspberry rewards. But before you start licking your chops prematurely, let me offer a little tutorial on how to cut back raspberry canes to encourage bountiful harvests of juicy berry bombs.

bowl of fresh raspberriesKeep your eye on the prize; prune today, eat tomorrow. Raspberries are an egalitarian fruit, as perfect plucked from the backyard patch as when doctored up to grace a bowl of the finest cream.

Let’s begin by determining the type of raspberries you have. Why does it matter? Prune the wrong way and you’ll have a berry-free bowl of regret. Summer- bearing or ever-bearing–that is the question, and often times when discussed, the conversation resembles Abbott and Costello’s classic Who’s on First comedy routine.

I’m here to keep it simple, taking my lead from Genvieve at North Coast Gardening who distilled it down so well, “just remove any canes that gave you fruit.” Though I have a couple caveats, that is the gist of it.  Here’s how you go about pruning raspberries, based on the type you have.

How to Determine and Prune Summer-Bearing and Ever-Bearing Raspberries.

Summer-bearing: A Tulameen raspberry cane is shown above; last year’s fruiting bracts (the nubbins on the ends) are still intact.

Ever-bearing: Fall Gold also has spent fruiting bracts, but there is a difference between the two.

One Crop: Summer-bearing Tulameen (See dry brown stem.)

  • Last year’s fruiting cane dies after producing berries. It will send up new shoots in the summer for next year’s crop. Basically, it fruits on the cane that sprouted the year before.

Two Crops: Ever-bearing Fall Gold (fleshy green stem)

  • The ever-bearing cane with bracts will have a live green stem when cut. Each cane produces for two years, a late crop  from the first year’s new growth and an early crop from this second year’s old growth.

Summer-bearing Tulameen, before pruning (and some weeding). Note the light colored canes (last year’s spent canes) and the darker wood which will produce this year’s July berries.

Summer-bearing, Tulameen, after dead wood has been pruned to the ground and removed (though tip pruning is still needed).

Ever-bearing Fall Gold produces two crops, a summer crop from last year’s cane and a late summer crop from new growth this year. Even if you cut ever-bearing raspberries to the ground in winter, you’ll still get one crop of berries in late summer. This is not the case with summer-bearing; if your cut down every cane, you will have to wait a year to get fruit from the new growth of the summer before.

pruning raspberries made easyEver-bearing Fall Gold (shown after pruning) I tend to prune ever-bearing more severely, leaving only the stronger, more robust canes, which (in my observation) leads to a better second raspberry crop in September.

Are you thoroughly confused? Yep, who’s on first, what’s on second? Let me recap for clarification.

For both types, look for canes with spent or old dead flowering or fruiting bracts.

  1. Summer-Bearing Raspberries: remove all (and only) the canes with dead flowering or fruiting bracts.
  2. Ever-Bearing Raspberries:
    1. For two small crops, one in July and one in September, remove the weakest, thinnest canes with dead flowering or fruiting bracts.
    2. For one large late summer crop, remove all canes, and the crop will come entirely from the new summer’s growth and produce berries in September.
  3. Summer and Ever-Bearing Raspberries: Prune the tip sections of both types, that is reduce the height of the cane to four or five feet. This helps create bigger berries, allows for easier picking and prevents the canes from breaking down during windstorms and heavy rains.

pruning raspberriesTip pruning: (left to right)

  1. Cut too high: Too much stem left above the bud; this will cause rot.
  2. Angle to0 sharp: The cutting angle is too close to the bud and angled too severely, which may cause bud die-off or weak bud support and stem breakage.
  3. Just right. This is how you do it, a moderately cut angle just above the bud.

Good luck, and I assure you it’s worth the effort.

Raspberries as big as quail eggs, picked by a hand that needs a little scrubbing.

Update: Here’s a Video I Made on How to Prune Raspberries

 
Other Tall Cover posts about Raspberries:

46 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, what a great and useful post on a confusing topic (I never had quite figured it out!). Your fruity photos are quite the incentive to get out there and prune!

  2. I need to go right outside and apologize to my raspberry bushes. And then thank them for providing some fruit despite how I “care” for them.

    Then maybe I’ll buy them a present, because I really — really — have pruned badly.

  3. Thank you thank you . . . my berries canes have been staring me down lately wondering when I’m going to have the guts to come sort things out!

  4. Nicely done, Tom! Do you have a favorite variety for these maritime regions? And how did your pet bees fair the snow?

  5. Renae, raspberries are a kinder, gentler berry cane, usually more like tall sticks than choking thorny nooses.

    Jan, I LOVE Tulameen for a summer-bearing berry and Caroline for ever-bearing. As a for the bees, they’re alive, they’re alive and quite busy on sunny days.

  6. Bees?? You have BEES?? Would you post about your bees sometime soon? Do you keep hives, or are your bees more free-range?

    (I know: I’m at my comment limit. But seriously — BEES. How cool is that?)

  7. Heidi, no comment limits here. Yes I do have one bee hive (and hope to add another one) and I will post an update shortly with a couple pics. So far so good this year, hope to harvest honey for the first time later in the summer.

  8. Thanks Tom. I’m bookmarking this for future reference…now, a couple of questions.
    1. Ya’ got any raspberry pie?
    2. How’s the rhubarb doing?

  9. June, I’ve never made raspberry pie. Got a good recipe? As for the rhubarb, it’s rearing is chartreuse little crown an inch above the soil, another couple weeks and rhubarb is on the table.

  10. I can’t wait to try my hand at growing raspberries; we have a lot of wild blackberries all around the mountain village but they are not enough! I need my berries every day!!

  11. Thanks Tom! I was just looking at mine recently, just planted last Spring, didn’t bear, which I assume is normal for first year. I’m guessing I’d prune back the really long canes to about 5 feet now? Oh, I have Tulameens. Sandi on AI

  12. Hi Sandi, yep it is pretty common for them not to produce the first year. I prune my down to about five to six feet, just tall enough to stand on their own with light trellising or wiring to keep them vertical, and easily within hands reach for picking.

  13. Hello Tom
    I discovered your blog last week and enjoyed it so much I read each and every entry. (Wonderful antidote to much gloom and doom lately.- Still gloom and doom but I’m reminded there’s also gardening.) Talk about serendipity toay re:raspberries as I was being blown about my patch in gale force winds here on Salt Spring Island and wondering what to do about the mess. Really clear description and M.O. from you. Again, thank you.

  14. Thanks Sandra, I love Salt Spring Island; it’s a special place and you have a great farmers market there, too.

    I have a question for you. I was up there years ago in mid July, and I found some small delicious apricots on roadside stands. Do you know what the variety is, as apricots do miserably on Vashon. They were small, creamy orange with a spot of red blush, about the size of a walnut. Appreciate any sleuthing help you can provide on this. Cheers! Tom

  15. MMM recipe raspberry pie – raspberry apple; raspberry peach; raspberry rhubarb, bumbleberry and just raspberry – comin’ atcha when we get back from our trip. Good thing your rhubarb’s not ready yet or we’d be making a side trip for sure!

  16. Thank you, Tom.
    I just put in some Tulameen, Fall Gold & Caroline plants in last weekend.
    All of these varieties were chosen on your recommendation.
    YOU ROCK!
    Can you help me with a Kiwi Pruning tutorial as well? It’s about to take over my house. 🙁

  17. Thanks Anupa, and here’s to your berry good summer. As for kiwis, mine reached the second story and came crashing down. I do need to prune them severely just to get them trellised in the right direction– away from the house. I’ll will hopefully do that soon and post it here. I need a little dose of can-do to get started.

  18. So, is it similar for blackberries, or are they just a different beast? I have volunteer blackberries that I spend most of my time trying to remove, since while the berries are delish, the vines get out of control….

  19. Hi Kara, cultivated blackberries are pretty easy to prune, wear gloves if thorny ones, prune out all of last year’s ‘wood’ with flower bracts, that is if the can flowered and fruited last year, prune that stick down to the ground. You can also prune the tips so the cane is a manageable size. If you pick wild blackberries, I wouldn’t bother pruning for fruit production, they do fine on there own.

  20. Hi Tom
    Thanks for sharing about raspberry care. This is one of the first chores that I tackle here along the west coast of the island. This February was too cold & snowy for much else…
    What do you do for feeding/fertilizing? I want to find organic options over the typical mix of berry food I’ve traditionally used. Sea soil?? Do they prefer something a bit more acidic (like blueberries?)

    • Hi Michelle, I usually fertilize them in late winter, early spring before their big growth spurt. I simply use composted steer or chicken manure, and spread it a foot away from the crowns of the plant, down the row. You do not want to cover the plant or place it directly on the plant as it encourages moisture retention and crown/root rot. Raspberries do like and perform better in an acidic soil like blueberries do.

  21. Thanks for this lovely post on raspberries. My parents have bushes of raspberries in their garden & sometimes they need some good tips from friends from the other end of the world!

  22. Tom, perfect timing! I have both types and was just thinking I needed to do some research on how to prune these backs. You’ve done the research for me! Many thanks.

  23. Oh good, I can do tip pruning. I was wondering if it was legal or if it would prevent a good crop. I have had my raspberries in for about 4 years now, and have been struggling with canes that get way too tall and then droop over. I will hie me outside today and finish cutting out last year’s fruiting canes, and cut the new ones back. Thanks! Also, since I now have chickens, am wondering if I could mulch with old chicken coop bedding? Currently I use pine needles because that’s what we have, with a drop hose underneath. Haven’t fertilized since I planted them (bad Kathy) — but maybe this is the year.

  24. Kathy, tip pruning really helps promote a robust plant and one that’s in arm’s reach and less likely to break at the base under the weight of the fruit and leaves, especially after a heavy rain.

    Raspberries love chicken bedding. A lot of folks say it may be too ‘hot’ but I’ve found if you keep it at least 10 inches from the canes, the plants thrive. Be careful not to overdo it. Maybe a couple times a years, but not a steady diet of it. I’d even suggest putting the chicken manure in your compost pile for added oomph! And then using that around the raspberries more often.

  25. Done! And don’t they look nice. And don’t I feel smug. It won’t last, of course, there are just too many other such tasks I won’t get to in such a timely manner. But in the meantime, I will hug the misty aura of virtue to myself as long for as possible. Thanks again for the nudge and the inspiration.

  26. Any advice for someone who planted Tulameens and Heritage (fall bearing) plants and one unknown variety, in the same row and are now co-mingled? The berry vines are so thick it is hard to know where to begin to separate and prune.

    • Hi Carol, here’s what I’d do. In the late winter, simply prune back any canes that show berry bracts, that is the spent berry caps, where you picked fruit from. If the cane has already produced fruit you are good to prune it back. I’d also prune any small, anemic canes too, leaving the strongest ones to produce.

  27. I planted 3 or 4 plants a couple seasons ago. They didn’t do much the first year and produced no berries. Last year they spread like crazy but produced no berries. This spring I noticed the rabbits ate them down to the ground but they came up a few weeks later and are really growing. It is still early in the season but should I expect some berries this year or will I just water and weed them again for another season?

  28. So glad I stumbled onto to you blog, Tom. It is late winter here in South Africa and I am about to prune my raspberries. Do I prune right down and another question, can I transplant babies to make my raspberry patch bigger…it is getting crowded?

  29. Hi Tom, I am so glad I stumbled onto your blog. It is late winter here in South Africa. Can I prune my raspberry bushes right down, and can I transplant the baby raspberries to make the raspberry patch bigger? Can’t wait to read your other blogs. 🙂

  30. Greetings Tom
    I grow Tulameen Raspberries in South-Central B.C. Canada. Excellent berry and a very agressive growing plant.I grow for farmer marketing.
    I have a probl;em with excessive growth during the fruit bearing season.
    The plants will have new growth over 6′-7′ tall.making harvesting very difficult. I have resorted to pruing during the growing and fruit bearing season . I have to do this procedure about every three weeks so my berry picker (my wife!!!) can enjoy picking the berries. My berry rows are 6′ apart, trelliced 6 inches wide, 3 rows of wire 18inches apart.? I have found this practice has not compromised the plants or the berries in any way. What is you’re thoughts on me doing this pruning schedule. You’re web site ,very informative. Thanks a mil. Bob

    • Hi Bob,
      Tulameen is one awesome berry, and I’ve found that it responds well to light tip pruning. So what I’d suggest is just trimming the canes down to about 4 feet. The buds will grow and bloom off the old canes and grow up another 1-2 feet so the cane will then reach 5-6 feet with fruit. If you find you get too many new canes that is the fresh growth from the ground, you can trim out the weak ones with minimal effect, in fact it will likely produce bigger berries of better quality. I think you’re doing that already it sounds like. Good luck! Hope this helps.

  31. Tom,
    I purchased some newly sprouted canes at a yardsale a year ago May. (The woman was moving, and had dug up all of the spreaders and potted them. I planted them right away. Did not expect any fruit. This year, the canes grew, but no berries. Well there might have been on two of them, but the deer clipped off the ends before anything flowered (but there were only two of the 17 that seemed like they would flower). Now, I am not sure what to do. Do I prune them back? I do want to have berries next year! I am not sure what kind they are (single bloom or everbearers). I am fencing them off so the deer aren’t close enough to do any damage. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Linda, I’d just trim them back a little so they are between 3-4 feet tall. That way the fruiting buds will still be there and concentrate their energies on producing flowering buds. If they’re last years canes, they should still produce if summer bearing or ever-bearing. Good luck!

  32. Greetings!

    I’m so, so happy (and relieved!) to have found your site and this post! My husband and I inherited a wonderful yard and garden when we moved into our home last year. Some of the treats awaiting us were raspberry bushes! We did not do anything with them last summer, but the bushes produced, and we enjoyed fresh berries for many, many weeks. This year we decided to get our act together and actually prune the bushes, but we have no idea if they are summer- or ever-bearing bushes. We think we remember berries in August, but it could have been July, or even into September (we have a toddler, so our memories don’t work as well as they used to :)). I have researched raspberry bushes extensively online, and even picked up a couple of books to try to clarify which variety we may have, and what to do about it (I have been nervous to cut back any canes for fear we wouldn’t have berries this year). So far, I have been nothing but utterly confused. Who’s on First, indeed 🙂 Anyway, your explanation has finally, finally cleared things up for me. I think based on the growth we have at this point, we likely have ever-bearing raspberries. Now we can care for these properly, and enjoy the fruits of our labor 🙂

    Cheers!

    • Katherine thanks for this wonderful comment. So glad I could help. Here’s to a summer of buckets and baskets of raspberries!

    • Hi Drew, Oh, sorry about that. I would say in the Pacific Northwest I usually prune around President’s day weekend as a general rule, basically on the tail end of winter and beginning of spring. I prune my roses then, too, it makes for an easy way to remember. If you live in a colder climate with snow, I would wait until the snow is gone and the cane buds just begin to swell or plump just a little, which indicates the cane is waking up to grow for the season. Hope this helps.

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