Early spring before full bud break is the right time to prune raspberries, and there is a system–one that hopefully simplifies the process so you are dining on delectable homegrown little gems this summer (and toasting my tutorial).
Raspberries are a fruit that rewards you if pruned regularly, or better yet, if pruned thoughtfully.
My favorite way to eat raspberries: fresh, tossed in a bowl to get the juices flowing, then generously dolloped over quality vanilla ice cream.
Know Your Berries
First determine the type of raspberries you have: summer-bearing or ever-bearing. Why does it matter? Prune the wrong way and you’ll have a berry-free bowl of regret come July.
To keep it simple, I’m 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 to add, that is the gist of it. Now you may be scratching your head and asking how do I make that distinction between ever-bearing and summer-bearing? Read on Grasshopper, the prune master is here to share.
The Difference Between Summer-Bearing and Ever-Bearing Raspberries.
Summer-bearing : The Tulameen raspberry cane above shows last year’s fruiting bracts (the nubbins on the branching ends) are still intact.
Ever-bearing: Fall Gold also has spent fruiting bracts, but there is a difference between the two, which is shown in the photo below.
A Tale of Two Stems (when both show spent fruiting bracts)
Summer-bearing (above photo, top cane )
- Brown stem, inside and out
- One crop
- Variety: Tulameen
- Spent cane: Last year’s fruiting cane dies after producing berries. It will send up new shoots in the same season for next year’s crop. Basically, it fruits only on the cane that sprouted the year before.
Ever-bearing (above photo, lower cane)
- Green fleshy stem inside
- Two crops
- Variety: Fall Gold
- Viable fruiting cane, year one and year two
- 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 green growth and an early crop the following year from the same cane, now woody.
Summer-bearing Tulameen, before pruning (and some weeding). Note the light driftwood 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 to keep canes at five feet).
Ever-bearing Fall Gold (above) 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 or spring, you will still get one crop of berries in late summer from new growth. This is not the case with summer-bearing; if you cut down every cane, you will have to wait a year to get fruit from the new growth of the prior summer.
Ever-bearing Fall Gold (shown after pruning) I tend to prune ever-bearing much more severely, leaving only the stronger, more robust canes, which (in my observation) leads to a better second raspberry crop in September. And again you can cut them all to the ground and have one big fall crop.
Let me recap for clarification. For both types, look for canes with spent or old dead flowering or fruiting bracts.
- Summer-Bearing Raspberries: remove all of the canes with dead flowering or fruiting bracts.
- Ever-Bearing Raspberries:
- TWO CROP option: For two small crops, one in July and one in September, remove the weakest, thinnest canes with dead flowering or fruiting bracts.
- ONE CROP option: 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 through October.
- 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.
1. Too far from bud 2. Too sharp an angle 3. Just right
Tip pruning: (left to right)
- Cut too high: Too much stem left above the bud will cause rot.
- Sharp angle: 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 when fruit appears.
- Just right. This is how you do it, a moderately cut angle just above the bud
Raspberries as big as quail eggs, picked by a hand that needs a little scrubbing,
And loved by a man who has a nose for sweetness.
The End (well almost).
Here are some of my other berry posts:
Tom’s Top Ten Reasons to Grow Raspberries
Raising Canes: Tulameen a Juicy Choice!
Late Season Raspberries: Falling for Fall Gold & Caroline
Homemade Berry Sherbet Is a Sure Bet
How I wish I lived where I could grow these beauties. You have given me instructions I was not aware of. By all accounts, raspberries are my favorite fruit ever!!! Susan
Because of your past posts, I planted Tulameen raspberries in the fall of 2010 (18 plants!). Last summer (2011), the first canes shot up, and this summer will be my first year for berries.
I’m ASSUMING that the very first canes from last year are what my berries will grow on this first year to produce and I shouldn’t be pruning those. Right? (It looks like buds are forming on them.)
This is the BEST post! The close-up of the pruning examples is especially helpful. Thank you so much!
I wish you a bounty of raspberries this year, and an award winning jam. 🙂
Could you share any resources for buying a large fig tree? West Seattle
Hi Bryan, DIG Nursery on Vashon has some huge ones in pots, I think they’re dessert king.
Most nurseries have small ones though, as they tend to grow quickly once planted.
Their number T: 206 463-5096
West Seattle Nursery usually has a good supply this time of year, but again smaller usually. Good Luck
Raspberries are my favorite! Now, to keep the deer out so I can actually harvest a few for myself!
Tom – those raspberries look scrumptious indeed! Now I am feeling guilty…I so so need to get out to the garden for spring clean up and early planting. Where has the time gone?
Heck no Ina, you’ve got months to get things cleaned up. I haven’t done much of anything in the garden over the last month. Chip away, chip away, and you’ll get to it.
You gave such clear and concise directions! Many years ago when I first started gardening I planted raspberries without a clue, and they started taking over the yard. I was such a novice, I didn’t realize they needed pruning. You make me want to try again, now that I’m older and wiser, and have your wonderful instructions.
You do know how to have a lot of fun!
Against my usual “Annie Oakly” style, I’m going to follow your advice and prune my raspberries for the first time in thier long legged lives. If I get berries like yours (uuummm er I mean UUUMMMM) then it will be worth listening to you say “I told you so, you should listen to me more often”.
I’m picturing a rhubarb raspberry pie and my mouth is watering. Trouble is I don’t have a kitchen at the moment (renovations) and neither do I have raspberries or rhubarb. Darn but I am going to file your instructions away for future reference.
[…] produce this year and cut back those that will fruit this year. Tom at Tall Clover Farm has a great raspberry pruning tutorial if you need pruning 101 basics. The goats were really happy I took on this task today because they […]
i have a quick question for the raspberry whisperer… I planted mine last year, got about 4 berries, and this year I’ve got shoots galore. Should I just let these go since they were just planted last summer?
Sharon, you can just let them go and they should all produce berries. You could also trim out the weak ones.Being only two years old, see how they produce and you can get an idea of the cane size that is optimum for production and then next year thin out the spindly ones. Hope this helps.
My son gave me some golden raspberry bushes last year. He lives in Spokane and I live in Iowa. Not sure what variety or if they’re everbearing or June bearing. I never pruned them. so they are every place and full of leaves. Should I just leave them and prune in the Fall? Should I get berries this summer and are golden raspberry fruit usually ready in late August? Thank you for all the great information. Just by your website I can see why my son fell in love with Washington!
Tom, I’m just catching up with my reading and wanted to thank you so much both for mentioning my post and for expanding upon it so successfully. I get a lot of questions about all of the complexities involved, and now when someone asks, I can just send them here! Lovely post.
Old tulameens still bearing a little. New canes are shooting up some to 7+ ft. When is the best time to tip prune?
I was out picking raspberries this morning, and mine look nowhere near as good as yours. Your article above taught me a lot of good information. Thanks.
wow, thankyou very much for such clear instructions, wonderful, Inow feel I can go prune my raspberries and feel like I know what I am doing,
I was looking for some information on the correct time and way to prune raspberries. To my delight I picked your site, not only was it ever informative but I live in Michigan and my daughter (Amy) lives on your wonderful island. I hope to visit again in the near future.
Thanks for the visit Mary, I bet donuts to dollars I may even know Amy, it is a small island after all. Take care, and I’m making raspberry jam today!
I haven’t seen such clear directions in a long while. Excellent information about pruning raspberries.
We planted Fall Gold last year, and got a decent crop. We then got more early this summer, and now, to our surprise, have a VERY large crop coming on this years growth! We’ve been gather a bowlful every 3-4 days.
We didn’t know they were ever-bearing 🙂
Thanks Jonathan, my fall gold are still green, but I have hope. Glad to hear you raspberry crop is a bumper this year.
Thanks so much for a well-written, thorough, informative post. Just getting started with raspberries, can’t remember which kind I planted last year, and am grateful for the information here to help me!
Thank you ToriAnn for the kind words of appreciation. If it ever stops pouring around here, I’m going to do a little video on how to prune raspberries. My berry patch is desperate for thinning and pruning out. Should have it uploaded by next week.
Tom, your instructions are the best! However, I’m really puzzled with my Tulameen raspberry that I planted in 2011. Last year we had wonderful fruit. I decided to prune it in early spring and just got to doing it. The problem is it looks like I only have canes that fruited last summer! Just a few canes don’t have any remnants of fruiting bracts. What happened? Because they were bearing fruit until late October, I forgot they are supposed to be summer raspberries (I also have evergreen varieties growing nearby). In fact, I recall that last summer even new canes had fruit in October. Don’t know what to do, because if I keep cutting the fruited canes, I’ll have just a few canes left. Please advise. Thank you in advance!
Hi Yolochka, You know your Tulameen raspberries may not be Tulameen at all as that variety only produces on last year’s new growth, and would only produce through July. Your plants may have been mis-marked when you purchased them. I’ve had that happen before with some nurseries and mail order purchases. If the new growth is producing a berry in the fall, then you have an ever-bearing variety mis-labeled as a summer-bearing variety like Tulameen. Hope this helps.
Thank you so much for your quick reply! I’ve been wondering about this. I bought them from Raintree Nursery, and I usually have good experience with them. They replace plants without much fuss, but I want to make sure these were wrong ones first. Anyway, I like evergreen raspberries, so I won’t mind to keep these. It would be nice to know the variety. I’ve never seen raspberry canes that grow so long (5-6 feet). The cuts look green inside.
Seriously, you, raspberries and vanilla ice cream…a girl could die happy! Love you
Thanks Miffy, yep my Mom and sis schedule their visits around raspberry season. Let me know when you’re on the West coast and I’ll serve you up a bowl. (Raspberries freeze well.)
Dear Tom, thank you for the scholarly treatise on raspberries. Very informative ! Just wish I had some raspberry bushes …. sigh. Getting ready to take the chainsaw to the old fig tree. The unripe fruit are mocking me. Looking forward to see you soon. LOVED your blog on sunshine’s visit to Vashon and forwarded it to several friends.
Thank you, thank you! Clearest instructions I’ve ever found. Just what I needed!
I have summer fruiting raspberries the produce fruit on both 2nd.year growth and last years producing canes. The older canes produce smaller berries. My question is – how to I keep the new year growth from taking over and crowding the producing canes and making it hard to find and pick the berries?
Hi Joanne, on this type of raspberry it’s common for the first crop to produce smaller berries. You can thin the new growth, but it limits both the second crop and the next year’s crop on the older growth. Some growers cut the canes all the way to the ground and harvest only the later fruiting production. If you live an area of rainy late summers and falls, this may not be the best option though, as incessant moisture softens the berries. So I’d say thin out the weakest stalks and leave the strongest canes, that should help with exposing the berries to the picker. Good luck!
We have just moved into a new house and there is a raspberry patch. Is it safe to just cut them all off close to the ground? I would really like to have berries next summer. Is there any way to figure out what kind they are?
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Thank you for posting about pruning raspberries in a way that I can actually understand!! Great pics (especially the one of “Cyrano”).
I would like to start but need to know how to handle the birds. I don’t want to cover a large patch due to the labor and expense. Can I get by without it? I don’t mind sharing a certain percentage with the birds but it depends on how much they will take. Thanks.
Hi Sam, I have never had a problem with birds eating raspberries. Blueberries are another story. 😉 So for raspberries, I’d say don’t waste your time or money with a bird net or cover for raspberries, not needed.
my raspberries are mixed 1st & 2nd year. The 1st year are towering over the 2nd year stem with raspberries. It is a very thick patch so my concern is not enough sun for the bearing stems. Is it ok to cut back the tall ones (now mid June)? Past experience is they’ll get to be about 10 – 12 feet tall.
Hi Joy, yes, you can cut back the super tall ones, say back to four or five or six feet and the cane will produce flowering buds wherever a leaflet is. In fact it usually helps the quality of the berries, as the plant produces fewer but bigger berries. I trim mine back to about 6 feet, and the canes may need support when the berries are heavy and fully ripe.