Pruning Raspberries: Gardening’s ‘Who’s on First?’{42}

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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.

Ever-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.

Tip 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.

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