Raspberries and Blackberries for Home Gardens
Table of Contents
There are 3 kinds of raspberries available to the home gardener - red, purple, and black. Blackberries may be available, but differ from raspberries in that the "core" stays in the fruit when it is picked. The canes of raspberries grow upright while black raspberry and blackberry canes are long and trailing.
Red raspberries are available as:
There are many red raspberry cultivars that are winterhardy enough to withstand winter in most parts of Ontario. Blackberries are not winterhardy and should be grown only in those areas with mild winters or where protection for the canes is possible.
Raspberries and blackberries are excellent fresh, frozen or canned or made into jam, jelly or juice.
The root system of raspberries and blackberries is perennial, but each shoot is biennial. Each shoot only survives for 2 years. During the first year a shoot reaches its maximum height (and is called a "cane"). In the second year, it produces fruit and dies soon afterwards. Shoots may arise from 2 places - from buds at the base of the old canes and from buds on roots. Red raspberries and blackberries produce shoots or "suckers" from both places and will usually fill in a row very quickly. Purple and black raspberries do not produce suckers, so shoots occur in groups or "hills" instead of being scattered throughout the row.
Good location and soil type are important for successful growing of raspberries and blackberries. Choose a sunny site that is well drained with a deep, sandy loam soil with plenty of organic matter. Avoid clay soils. They are usually poorly drained and good drainage is absolutely essential as roots will die in wet soil. Gravelly soils can be improved by adding organic matter, but extra water and fertilizer will be needed for good yields.
Avoid planting in areas where eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, or strawberries have been grown. There may be root diseases present that can infect raspberries and blackberries. In more northerly areas, planting in areas that are protected from winds may reduce cane breakage and winter injury.
Also avoid low lying areas that may be poorly drained and prone to frost damage.
Since plantings can remain productive for several years, special care must be taken to prepare the soil before planting. Start preparation one year before planting.
All perennial weeds, such as quackgrass, Canada thistle and bindweed should be destroyed the year before planting. Do not permit weeds to go to seed. Additional information is presented under Care of Plantings.
Raspberries will thrive in soils with a good supply of organic matter. Organic matter improves air and water movement, favours growth of helpful soil organisms, provides nutrients, and increases the water holding capacity of the soil. Apply well-rotted manure at the rate of 12-15 L/m2 in late summer or fall before planting. Other organic materials, such as straw, can be used in place of manure, but should be well decomposed by planting time. If material other than well-rotted manure is used, add ammonium nitrate at about 6-12 g/m2 to aid decomposition. Avoid saw dusts, especially cedar or hemlock.
If planting is done in the fall, no fertilizer is necessary at that time, but apply 10-20-20 or 10-10-10 at 40-50 g/m of row early the following spring. Spread it evenly, around and between the plants, covering a strip about 60 cm wide.
With spring planting, apply 10-20-20 or 10-10-10 at 50-60 g/m2. Work it into the soil several days before planting. A lime application is not necessary on most Ontario soils. Information on soil testing can be obtained from your local Horticultural Crops Advisor.
The proper choice of cultivar is very important for successful production. Choose a cultivar suited to your location. That is, grow winter-hardy cultivars in colder regions. Locations with heavy soils should not be planted with cultivars susceptible to root diseases (eg. Verticillium wilt). More than one cultivar may be planted to lengthen the harvest season.
Red Raspberry Cultivars
Boyne: Early mid-season, productive. Fruit is dark-red, medium sized, soft, good flavour, good cohesion of drupelets, fair for processing. Mean date of 5% harvest is July 3 in Vineland, Ontario. Canes are of medium height, spiny, extremely hardy. Recommended for colder areas of the province.
Festival: First picking about July 18 at Vineland. The fruit are medium-light to medium red, bright, very attractive, large, firm with good cohesion of drupelets and very good flavour. Good for freezing but fair to poor for canning (somewhat light color). The canes are short, very hardy, upright and fairly resistant to mildew. It has performed better at Guelph, Smithfield and Ottawa than at Vineland. It is worthy of trial for the fresh market and for freezing.
Killarney: First picking about July 16 at Vineland. The fruit are medium-light red, bright, very attractive, large, medium firm, with very good cohesion of drupelets but poor flavor and poor to fair for processing. The canes are medium in height, strong, very spiny, very hardy, somewhat susceptible to mildew, but mildew does not occur on the berries.
Nova: A very productive, early-midseason cultivar, introduced by Agriculture Canada, Kentville, Nova Scotia in 1980. The berries mature 1-2 days after Boyne, are medium-sized, firm, bright, moderately dark. Flavour is fair. The plant is hardy with erect tall canes with few spines.
Regency: A mid-season, productive cultivar introduced by University of Guelph in 1990. The berries are medium-sized, moderately firm, and medium red. The plants are very hardy with vigorous canes.
Fall-Bearing Red Raspberry Cultivars
Heritage: The performance of this variety is very promising at Vineland. The fall crop starts to ripen the end of August. A summer crop is also produced in mid-July, starting about one day after Latham. The fruit are medium-red, bright, attractive, small in the summer crop but of medium size in the fall crop, firm with very good cohesion of drupelets and fair flavour. It is good for processing. The canes are somewhat short, strong, spiny, fairly upright, hardy, fairly resistant to mildew but susceptible to leafhoppers. This cultivar is of interest mainly for the fall crop in parts of Ontario where severe fall frosts do not occur early in September.
Purple Raspberry Cultivars
Royalty: The fruit are very large, purple, firm and have a sweet flavour. Canes tend to be sparse but very vigorous and winter-hardy. This variety is resistant to 2 types of aphids that are known to transmit virus diseases. This should extend the productive life of the planting. It has shown excellent promise in limited Ontario trials.
Brandywine: The fruit are large, round and reddish purple. Berries are tart and ripen in late July. Plants are very vigorous, forming tall canes in large hill systems. Fruit makes excellent jams.
Black Raspberry Cultivars
Bristol: Berries are large, firm and glossy with good quality. Bristol ripens mid-July at Vineland. May be susceptible to winter damage in colder areas of Ontario.
Jewel Berries: Much larger than Bristol and glossy black. May be more winter-hardy and disease resistant than other black raspberries.
Other black raspberries that may also be suitable are Dundee, Black Hawk, Haut, Lowden and Huron. Black raspberries are very susceptible to Verticillium wilt.
Chester Thornless and Illini Hardy (erect-spring) may have potential under Ontario conditions. Blackberries are not winter-hardy and may be winter-killed in the cooler areas of Ontario.
The best time to plant red raspberries is in the fall - late October and early November. Take care to prevent wilting during spring planting. Plant other raspberries and blackberries in the early spring.
Use only healthy plants that are known to be virus and disease free. Propagating diseased plants will cause the disease to spread and shorten the life of the planting. Nurseries, in cooperation with federal and provincial governments, specialize in growing red raspberry plants from virus indexed stocks. These outlets are the most reliable sources available. Virus-indexed stock of purple and black raspberries and blackberries is usually not available from Canadian growers. Contact local offices of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food for more information.
Red raspberries and blackberries are planted as dormant mature canes that have completed one season of growth. Young suckers may also be transplanted in early summer if they are well rooted. However, care must be taken to prevent wilting after transplanting.
Black and purple raspberries are propagated by "tip layering". Shoot tips are bent downwards and inserted about 8 cm into the soil in late summer. Roots and shoots are produced by the buried portion of the shoot. The following spring the "tip" plants can be severed from the mother plant, dug, and transplanted.
Do not store plants any longer than necessary. Store plants for short periods by placing in a plastic bag in a refrigerator or other cool place. Sprinkle dry roots with water before storing. Do not leave roots soaking in water as this kills the plant. If plants must be held for more than 1-2 weeks, they can be placed upright in a hand dug trench with the roots covered.
Rows should be spaced 2-2.5 m apart, depending on available space, machinery needs and plant vigor. Plant red raspberries 60 cm and all others 75-90 cm apart in the row.
Canes may be planted in individual holes or in furrows to save digging time. Set the plants as deep, or slightly deeper, than previously planted. Be sure to spread the roots out and cover with soil. Pack the soil carefully around the roots and water the plants. Prune red raspberry and blackberry plants back to 15-20 cm after planting.
Roots of "tip" plants of purple and black raspberries are covered with 2.5-5 cm of soil at first. Soil is gradually added to the hole as plants grow until the roots are finally covered with 10-15 cm of soil. The old piece of cane is pruned away after planting to avoid disease infection.
After planting, remove blossoms that appear the first summer to help plants establish.
Weeds compete with raspberries and blackberries for moisture and nutrients and may interfere with harvesting the crop.
A dense sod between rows and around the patch will prevent weeds from establishing in those areas. It is desirable to seed a sod (for example fescue), rather than relying on a natural sod composed of grass and weed species, since the weeds will seed into the crop row.
A biodegradable plastic mulch could be used for weed control in the year of planting. Within established rows, a straw mulch helps control weeds if it is applied early in the season, before weed seeds germinate. Use mulch that is free of weed seeds. Additional nitrogen may be required for the crops as the straw decomposes.
Control weeds within the crop and in adjacent areas by using cultural methods. Hoeing at regular intervals provides adequate control of annual weeds. Perennial weeds may have to be dug up and physically removed. Mowing weeds or using tools such as a weed whip in adjacent areas will prevent many weeds from flowering and setting seed. It is important to control weeds before they produce a new crop of weed seeds.
Mulching may be beneficial to conserve soil moisture, keep the soil cool, and provide a stable footing while picking. Materials such as straw, wood chips or sawdust may be suitable. All materials should be free of weed seeds. Mulches may tend to encourage late growth that could be winterkilled.
Be careful not to over-fertilize the planting. Do not exceed fertilizer applications of 110-150 g/m per row in the early spring. Spread it evenly around the plants and 60 cm or more on each side of the row. Concentrated applications close to the roots will burn roots and kill the plant. Manure is an excellent source of organic matter that may be applied at 12 L/m per row, if there is no mulch.
The period from bloom until harvest is the most critical time for water. About 25 mm of water per week is required for good growth. Also water plants during any periods of prolonged drought. Do not water in the fall as it stimulates late growth that may be winterkilled. Trickle irrigation systems are available through many garden centers and are ideal for raspberries because the water is applied directly to the soil. This keeps the above ground parts of the plant dry discouraging cane and leaf diseases and fruit rot.
Training and Trellising
Red raspberries and blackberries are usually grown in narrow rows (hedgerows) 20-45 cm wide at the base.
Purple and black raspberry canes grow in groups or "hills". Purple and black raspberries and blackberries do not require support for the canes if they are pruned as outlined under 'Pruning'. Red raspberry canes can be trellised, if desired, in various ways. The most common method, the 'T bar' system is described below.
Install posts every 6-9 m along the row and attach wooden cross arms 45 cm long. Centre them on the post. Stretch strong twine along the sides of the row and attach to the ends of the cross arms for side support. The canes are encouraged to grow between the lengths of twine. Provide extra support between 2 posts by bending pieces of heavy gauge wire to form a 'hook' at each end. The right wire length pulls the twine towards the center. Further information on trellising systems can be found in OMAF Publication 105, Growing Red Raspberries in Ontario.
Protect blackberries by bending the canes over in the late fall and covering with soil or other means to hold them down. A covering of straw or brush helps trap snow. Black raspberries growing in the colder regions of Ontario will also benefit from this protection.
After Harvest: Fruiting canes die when harvest is completed. Cut out and destroy them; this prevents serious disease buildup since the sources of infection have been removed. Remove small and/or weak canes as well.
Spring: After the danger of winterkill is past, further pruning is needed to remove weak canes and dead tips of canes. Keep 15 canes per m length of row. Remember to keep the rows narrow. Leave the strongest and most vigorous canes evenly spaced in the row (Figure 1, Figure 2 and Figure 3). Shorten tall canes to 135 cm for convenient picking.
Figure 1. Red raspberry canes in the fall before any pruning. The old fruiting canes are still present.
Fall-bearing raspberries are usually grown for just the fall crop. After fruiting all canes are removed and destroyed. The next season a new flush of primocanes appears and bears fruit in the fall. Thinning is not usually necessary.
If 2 crops are desired, then fall-bearing raspberries are treated like red raspberries. After harvest, prune and destroy the portion of the cane producing the fall crop.
Figure 2. The same canes after the old fruiting canes were removed in the fall.
Figure 3. Canes after pruning in the early spring. Weak canes were removed, the row was narrowed to confine row width and the canes were shortened slightly.
Purple and Black Raspberries, Blackberries
Summer Tipping: Early in the summer, pinch off the tips of new shoots when the shoots are 75-90 cm high. This forces growth of side branches. Do not tip shoots that have not reached the height for tipping by the time harvesting is started. Late tipping, after harvest, is not recommended. Do not prune new shoots any more for the rest of the growing season. (Do not Summer Tip Royalty Variety.)
After Harvest: Remove and destroy fruiting canes as soon as harvest is completed.
Figure 4. Black raspberry canes before pruning in the spring. Shoots were tipped the previous summer to force growth of side branches. Old fruiting canes were removed after harvest and do not appear here.
Figure 5. The same canes after pruning. Side branches have been shortened and weak canes removed.
Fully ripe red raspberries will easily separate from the core of most cultivars when mature. Harvest every 3-4 days. Refrigerate freshly harvested berries as soon as possible after picking to improve storage time. Avoid leaving containers of freshly picked fruit on the ground as this attracts sap beetles.
Yields depend greatly on cultivar, climate and amount of winter injury. A yield of 4-5 L/m of row is considered very good.
No crop is obtained in the year of planting. A small crop is produced in the second year. Plants will reach full production in the third year. Healthy plants should remain productive for several years.
There are a number of pesticides available for use on small fruit crops in the home garden. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and do not apply chemicals closer to picking than the number of days shown on the label. The most common diseases in raspberry are anthracnose and spur blight, powdery mildew and virus. Common insect pests include raspberry cane borer and crown borer and sap beetle. More detail on these pests and diseases can be obtained from OMAF Factsheet Insects and Diseases of Cane Fruit, Order No. 81-001. Also consult OMAF Publication 64, Insect and Disease Control in the Home Garden. This publication contains some descriptions of pests and up-to-date information on their control.
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