We’re now into August and getting into the peak of fruit season. The most exciting fruit for me this time of year is raspberries. While I would hesitate to pick a favourite northern fruit – raspberries would definitely be a contender.
Like rhubarb, raspberries have been common in prairie gardens for all of my life. Also like rhubarb, raspberries often do very well (sometimes too well) in our climate. Many people have raspberries planted alongside the rhubarb along fences and garages in back alleys. I assume this is because raspberries can spread vigorously and putting it in the alley was a way to make sure they didn’t overtake the yard/garden.
Raspberries on the prairies are usually pretty easy to take care of – but they will need be pruned/cut back – ideally every year.
Below the ground, raspberry plants are perrenial, and can typically survive for many years. Above ground, however, the canes that form the raspberry “bush” only live two years.
Types of Raspberries
There are two types of raspberries. The first type will not grow any fruit on the canes in the first year. Those canes overwinter, and then flower and fruit in the second year canes (floricane). Because the cane is already a year old when the season starts, these raspberries are typically ready mid-summer.
There are also cultivars of raspberries that will produce fruit on the first year canes (primocanes). Because these canes need to grow before they produce fruit, these berries aren’t usually ready until the fall. These canes may produce fruit again if they are left to survive for a second year.
If you are harvesting berries off of first year canes – your pruning job is pretty easy. You can just mow down the entire raspberry patch at the end of each season. The plant will produce fruit on the new canes anyways – so there is no need to save the old ones. But remember that you will probably be getting fruit later than those harvesting off of second year canes.
If you are harvesting berries off of second year canes pruning is a bit more challenging because you need to figure out which canes to keep, and which ones to cut. The best way to do this is cut back the canes that you harvest fruit from in the mid summer after the last fruit has been picked. This can help keep pests and diseases down, help keep the plant healthy, improve air circulation and let light in.
However if you are like me, sometimes you don’t always quite get to pruning your rapsberries in the summer. If you wait until the next spring you will be able to see which canes have died off. Cut back the old dead canes and leave the other canes which are beginning to leaf out .
At the very least, if you understand a bit more about raspberries, you can take some of the guesswork out of how to prune them. But make sure you have proper tools and gloves, because most varieties are quite prickly!