There can be few things more pleasant than harvesting your own freshly-grown raspberries in summer. The juicy, sweet fruits are packed full of flavour and goodness, and go well with all manner of different puddings.
But if you want to enjoy your own raspberries as soon as possible then you’ll need to plant your raspberries the right way…
What are Raspberry Canes?
There are two standard ways to propagate raspberry plants – or “canes” as they’re often known. The first of these is to take cuttings from the existing plant, where a properly cared-for cane will soon grow its own roots.
The other is to buy a rooted plant, which while more expensive can get your raspberry patch established more quickly. For the purposes of this article we’ll be assuming that you’re planning to buy (or relocate) an existing rooted plant.
Different Types of Raspberries
Before you trundle down to your local garden centre to buy your raspberry canes there is an important classification that should be understood.
Most commercially-available plants can split into one of two groups; those which fruit in the late summer/early fall, and perpetual fruiters which produce fruit more evenly throughout the warmer months of the year. These are often described as either “autumn fruiting” or “summer fruiting” varieties.
This distinction is important for two reasons. Firstly, it makes sense to try and buy a selection of both types, in order to have the longest possible harvest on your vegetable plot.
Secondly, and even more importantly, the care of these two types is quite different. Getting a good understanding of which you’re buying will ensure that you give them the best possible start to life, and maximises your yield.
When to Plant Raspberry Canes
Raspberry canes are best planted in the depths of winter, where the plants are naturally dormant. This reduces the chances of any shock to the plants, and gives them the best possible start to a new year of growth.
The period between November and March is generally considered the best time to plant soft fruits, but a few weeks either side shouldn’t be too harmful.
How to Plant Raspberry Canes
Raspberries are pretty stoic little plants, and will grow under almost any conditions.
Indeed, sometimes keeping the plants under control can be hardest job, as they have a habit of spreading vigorously, with new canes popping up all over the place.
For best results, however, raspberry canes appreciate the sunniest spot you can provide them. Rich, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter is also recommended.
If there is one common complaint among raspberry growers, it is that they are prone to attack from mould and mildew. This can weaken plants and quickly spoil fruit. When planting raspberry canes it is therefore important to consider the circulation of air, which helps to prevent the spores growing.
In an ideal world, an open patch of soil, where the breeze can blow through the plants tends to work best. Pruning, which we will get to shortly, is another excellent way of helping the air to circulate around your canes.
To aid this free movement of air raspberry canes are generally best planted with some 2-3 feet between plants. Rows should be 4-6 feet apart, which not only makes harvesting easier but also increases air movement.
Once you’ve chosen the right spot in your garden, actually planting raspberry canes is quite simple. Firstly, dig a suitably-sized hole for each plant, and line it with some fertilizer. Tap the plant out of its pot, and bury it so that the crown of the plant sits at soil level. Refill the hole and water thoroughly to help it get established.
Raspberry plants can be hit quite hard by high winds, and plants laden down with fruit may wilt and bend under the weight. Therefore a final consideration should be the provision of some support.
Wooden posts sunk into the ground at either end of your rows, attached to one another with horizontal wires every 12-24 inches tends to be an effective and easy way to provide this. The woody canes can then be gently tied onto these wires to give them the necessary support.
Pruning raspberry canes has a distinct number of benefits. Firstly, it helps to keep the plants bushy and vigorous by focusing the plant’s energy on those areas which actually produce fruit.
Secondly, in spiny varieties it reduces the risk of you getting scratched while harvesting your crop. Lastly, as discussed earlier, opening up the plants minimises the risk of mildew attacks.
Pruning of the two different types of raspberry is quite different, so this is where a good understanding of when your raspberries should fruit comes in handy.
Autumn-fruiting varieties are the easiest of all to prune. Simply cut all your plants down to just above ground level in late winter (February tends to work well). New shoots will be produced in spring which will bear large volumes of fresh fruit by fruiting season.
Summer-fruiting varieties can be a little more challenging to prune. This is because these varieties produce fruit in last years canes, so if you cut everything down you’re unlikely to get much fruit. Instead, in these varieties you only want to prune back the canes that have produced fruit this year.
Leave any fresh canes that haven’t produced fruit, as they’re the source of next years harvest. While the summer-fruiting varieties can be pruned at any time during the dormant phase, it is normally easiest to do it in autumn, when it’s easiest to remember which canes you need to cut back to ground level.