Pruning Red Raspberries | Living the Country Life

Pruning Red Raspberries

Pruning raspberries is needed to maintain overall plant health and berry yields.
Red raspberry canes should be pruned at ground level.

Raspberries grow from canes, which are shoots that have few branches. While raspberries have a long-lived root system, the canes are biennials.

"Meaning the individual canes live for only two years," says John Ball, SDSU Extension Forestry Specialist & SDSU Professor.

"Red raspberries can produce a quart of fruit or more per linear row, but high-yield fruit production requires annual pruning," he says.

A summer-bearing raspberry cane grows the first year, often to a height of 3 to 5 feet and then flowers and fruits the second summer before dying.

Ball said fall-bearing raspberry canes produce flowers and fruit at their tips during the late summer or fall of their first year and then a second crop lower on the same canes the following summer before dying.

"The best means of maintaining productive raspberries is to prune canes with heading cuts," Ball says. This is a type of pruning that stubs off the cane flush with the ground. "These heading cuts result in the formation of numerous new canes that sucker from the roots."

The heading cuts on raspberries must be made flush with the soil surface - lower than what is done with flowering shrubs - so the new canes arise from suckers rather than branches off the stubbed cane. Ball said that canes from suckers usually produce very little fruit and that which is produced is low quality.

Summer-bearing raspberries

Summer-bearing raspberries should have all their old, dead canes removed now if this task was not completed last fall. Some growers leave these canes up for the winter to serve as snow catches to provide snow to insulate the soil and additional spring moisture. These dead canes are easily identified by their greyer color and brittleness, and they often have a few mummified berries still attached. 

Once these canes are pruned off, remove any weak canes. These tend to be shorter canes, only 1 or 2 feet tall, and are very spindly. Broken canes should also be removed at this time. After this work is completed, thin out the remaining canes so they are separated by about 6 to 8 inches. Do not tip back the ends of these canes as this is where the flowers will be most abundant. 

Fall-bearing raspberries

Fall-bearing raspberries, which include both yellow- and red-fruited types, are usually grown as a single fall crop rather than harvesting a fall crop and another crop the following spring.

"The late-summer, early-fall crop of the first year usually has much higher yield and better quality than the summer crop the following year," says Rhoda Burrows, SDSU Extension Horticulture Specialist & SDSU Professor.

Fall-bearing raspberries will also begin fruiting a week or two earlier if the canes are grown for only the fall crop and not allowed to continue to grow into the second year.

If only the fall crop is desired, Burrows says, then all the canes can be pruned to the ground from November through March during the dormant season.

Once the new canes sucker up in the spring, the canes should also be thinned to a spacing of about 6 to 8 inches apart. This pruning is usually done in late May or early June when the canes are about a foot tall. 

If both the fall crop and the summer crop are desired from fall-bearing raspberries, begin by removing all the dead canes by the end of March. "These are the ones that fruited lower on the canes last summer, not the ones that fruited at the tip last fall," Ball explains.

He said it is usually easier to separate the two if this task is performed just after the two-year old canes fruit in the summer. Once these two-year old canes are removed, tip back all the one-year old canes, the ones that fruited last fall, by pruning off about quarter of their length.

"Remember, the summer crop occurs on the lower portion of the cane, not at the tips," he said.

Redefine row edges each spring

Regardless of which raspberry is grown, spring is a good time to redefine the row edges. "Raspberries will sucker out beyond their beds and must be held in check with cultivation and mowing," Burrows says.

The width of the raspberry row should be about 2 feet. Wider rows, Burrows explains, may yield more fruit but not as much as anticipated due to the crowding.

The fruit is also more susceptible to diseases due to the poorer air flow. Running a cultivator along the edges to a depth of a foot will help hold the plants in place. However this is temporary as raspberry roots are very aggressive and will continue to expand out into the soil beyond the bed.

Mowing or further cultivation will be needed during the summer.

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