Raspberries are one of my favorite berries. Growing raspberries in a cold climate is not difficult, because raspberries are quite hardy. Caring for the raspberry patch was one of the first tasks I learned in my childhood on my parent’s homestead. If you did not have the opportunity to learn hands-on, this blog post is for you.
To grow raspberries is very rewarding as with so many perennials — plant once and enjoy forever.
There are many varieties of raspberries to choose from. Different varieties have slightly different tastes and also growth habits.
There are two types of raspberries: Regular cane and primal cane. Make sure you know which one you plant, they have different pruning needs.
If you are looking for a specific variety, buying new healthy canes is your best choice. Boyne is a long-time reliable favorite, nova, red river, and royalty, are good choices, just to name a few.
We do not know what variety we grow in our main patch of raspberries, they were already there when we bought the house. They also have multiplied freely, as raspberries do, and we have shared them with other gardeners as good raspberries with no name. That’s probably the most common situation all around. Raspberries are shared from one homestead to another. Raspberries that are shared locally, will also grow well locally since they have already adapted to the environment.
Some varieties produce in early summer and in late fall. In our short growing season, however, the fall harvest seldom makes it.
Growing raspberries in different colors are fun. Here we got Honey Queen Yellow Raspberry and Black Wyoming Raspberry.
Where to plant raspberries
Raspberries are vigorous growers, and they spread mostly by underground lateral roots (runners or stolons), read sucker a lot. Planting them as a hedge at the end of the garden is not such a good idea. They will take the garden over if you let them. If you can, give them a dedicated area.
Growing raspberries in the open field does not work so well either, especially in a cold climate.
In nature, raspberries grow at the edge or opening of a forest. A bit sheltered by trees and in partial shade. That’s exactly the environment they like.
The soil in a forest is very rich in organic material and is fungal-dominant. Mulching the soil with woodchips helps to keep weeds down, and moisture in, and also builds that fungal soil life that berries like.
We grow ours between houses. The houses provide shelter and partial shade as a forest would. They still get full mid-day sun, which they really seem to like.
Choose a location that resembles their natural environment, and they will grow and produce for many years.
How to plant raspberries
Prior to planting prepare the soil. If planted in a food forest, you might not need much, since that’s their natural environment. However, if you are planting raspberries in a garden, or grass/lawn area, adding peat moss and organic material can help.
In our home garden, we covered the lawn with a thick layer of wood chips the year before planting the raspberries. The wood chips killed the grass and made the soil ready for berries.
Raspberries are best planted in early spring when they are still dormant. If digging them up from someone else, make sure to prune the canes back to about 1 foot, so the roots do not have to support as much growth.
Plant in rows or clusters about 2 feet apart making sure that you can harvest them easily. For example, we have 3 rows and can reach in and pick from both sides, reaching in 2 feet. If they are planted against a fence or wall, make 2 rows at the most, so you can reach in to get the berries. Planting in a single row with pathways in between makes harvesting easier. Choose what works best for your location.
Keep the roots moist at planting time, and water well after planting.
Pruning raspberry canes
The pruning method depends on the type of raspberries you have, but all of them need pruning to keep the raspberry patch productive and accessible.
Regular cane raspberries produce berries on last year’s growth. These are the most common, traditional varieties around. In our cold climate, we always prune in early spring before the plants start to develop leaves. Keeping the old canes over winter does provide a bit more support from heavy wind or snowfall.
When it is time to prune, remove all old, canes. It is easy to see, with is alive and which is dead. The old canes are usually lighter in color and would break if you bend them.
Remove the old canes back first, by cutting them close to the ground. Then you can see better what the new growth looks like. Remove all weak canes, leaving only sturdy and healthy canes. If it is an old, very established plant, like ours, you can leave 4 canes per plant. Now also remove canes that are too close together. You want to have about 9-10 canes per meter (3 feet).
Growing up we always headed our canes, however, now I do not do that. Maybe it depends on the variety. Try and see if heading brings you bigger berries, or if it only reduces the harvest.
Primal cane raspberries are cut right to the ground in late fall. They produce fruit on new growth. They are a great choice in areas with heavy wind and or snow load that tends to break the canes during the winter months. The Polka variety that we grow also needs winter protection.
Care and support
Raspberry canes do benefit from support. It also makes it easier to pick them.
We support our row with metal posts and horizontal wires.
Raspberries like moisture, we use a self-watering irrigation system in place. Whenever it rains, the water gets distributed throughout the raspberry patch.
Using wood chips as mulch has also worked very well for us. It keeps the weeds down and moisture in.
Keeping the berries picked regularly can prevent diseases. Plus you get better quality berries. At peak times we harvest daily. Raspberries freeze well if there are more then you can eat them fresh.
If you still get some unwanted bugs or diseases, cutting the canes back in mid-summer can be necessary.
Winter protection in a cold climate
Raspberries are usually hardy, but sometimes they do not make it through the winter. There are a few ways that can help to avoid winterkill.
Raspberries do not like to dry out. Watering them in for the winter can help as well as mulching, making sure the soil does not dry out.
In areas with heavy snow and strong winds, the canes can be damaged over the winter months. Growing primal cane raspberries might be a better option. They can be cut back in the fall and covered with a thick layer of mulch.
In areas where there is little snow cover or the snow melts during warmer spells, a mulch cover of leaves or straw can be helpful.
If your patch did not make it through the winter, do not give up on them too quickly. Give them a good watering in spring, they might come back. It is not so easy to kill raspberries.
Raspberries are so delicious. We try to grow enough to last us for a year, to enjoy each morning for breakfast.
Grow yourself some raspberries!