Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Raspberries: So Simple to Grow

There are raspberries, and there are raspberries. Let me explain.

Traditionally, raspberry gardeners had to pay attention to their plants because they grew and fruited on a two-year cycle:

Year 1: Raspberry plants puts up primocanes or suckers, which grow and put out lateral branches and then overwinter. Year 2: Canes that grew the previous year are now called floricanes, which produce flowers and fruit in June and July. The floricanes die after fruiting and then are cut out, usually in the fall or winter. These traditional raspberries, with their biennial growing cycle, are generally called summer-bearing.

Canes before cutting back
But there’s a newer type of raspberry in the garden. It’s described as primocane-bearing or everbearing. Here’s how the chapter on “Small Fruits” in the “University of Maryland Master Gardener Handbook” describes them:

“Primocane-bearing types have the ability to fruit in the early fall of their first year on their primocanes. They then fruit a second time, in June, on buds below those which fruited the previous fall. The fall crop, however, is more abundant. Therefore gardeners treat the canes as annuals, rather than biennials, by mowing the canes to the ground in the winter after the fall harvest.”

I appreciate the difference between the two types. My blackberries, also brambles, grow on the traditional two-year schedule, so each fall I have to remember to cut out the canes that fruited that year and not to cut out the new primocanes, which will fruit the next summer. My red raspberries, a variety called Heritage, are the primocane-bearing type. The put up their primocanes and fruit in the early fall, often until frost. During the winter, I cut them down to the ground, and in the spring the cycle begins again.

'I grabbed my loppers...'
During that warmish spell in late February I grabbed my loppers and cut my Heritage raspberry canes back to the ground. I’ll top the bed with some compost in a few weeks and remove any winter weeds and will be waiting to pick red raspberries in the fall. It’s that easy.

My raspberry patch is small, about 7 feet by 7 feet. I bought a half dozen dormant Heritage plants through a mail-order seed catalog about five years ago. The plants now put up so many canes each spring that I have to thin them with my pruners. We pick bowl after bowl of raspberries for our morning cereal and fruit salads, and we freeze five or ten bags for wintertime treats.

Raspberries demand little care, just some water in dry summers and a little time to pick bowls of fruit.

If you have a sunny spot in your garden and are thinking about growing raspberries, do some research so your expectations will be based on fact, not fantasy. Begin with the “Small Fruits” chapter of the “University of Maryland Master Gardener Handbook”—which is available in most Maryland public libraries and contains more than three pages of information about raspberries, plus several helpful Figures and Tables.

If you want additional information or to be the neighborhood raspberry expert, visit the website of the Western Maryland Research and Education Center. In the left column of the Center’s home page, click on “Brambles,” and you’ll have access to several resources, including “The Mid-Atlantic Berry Guide for Commercial Growers.” Chapter 8, “Brambles,” includes raspberries. The Guide is a cooperative effort of Penn State and Rutgers Universities and the Universities of Delaware, West Virginia, and Maryland.

To go to the Western Maryland Research and Education Center’s website, CLICK HERE.

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