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At one time, backyard raspberries and blackberries were reserved for gardeners with lots of room and time. It's true these tasty berries require a little extra effort, but the delicious harvest makes it all worthwhile. Today, a new generation of modern berries is on the scene. Small in size, but big on flavor, they'll even grow in pots on balconies. Having homegrown raspberries and blackberries on your table has never been simpler.

Understanding How Berry Bushes Grow

Raspberries and blackberries grow a little differently than other common berries. Often called caneberries, these plants produce their fruits on canes from the plant's “crown" — the part of the plant right at ground level, where roots below ground and canes above ground meet. Raspberries spread and produce canes from roots, too, but blackberries only grow canes from the crown.

On caneberries, the crown and the roots are “perennial," meaning they live and produce year after year — often a decade or two for well-maintained raspberries.1 However, the canes that grow from the crown are “biennial." They only live for two years.

For most raspberries and blackberries, fruits only grow on canes in their second (last) year of life. A few types produce a small crop of fall berries in their first year, but the big harvest comes in summer from the two-year-old canes.

You can tell raspberries from blackberries by their hollow caps.
You can tell raspberries from blackberries by their hollow caps.

Selecting Berry Varieties for Your Home

When choosing berries, look for types suited to the climate in your location. Cold hardiness — the plant's ability to withstand cold temperatures — is important, because the buds that produce your berries' flowers and fruit must be tough enough to withstand your winters. In warmer climates, you need varieties that can tolerate moderate winter temperatures and still produce big harvests. Your local nurseries will have this information.

Size is also a consideration. Some caneberries easily grow 7 to 8 feet tall or more, and raspberries can spread underground and show up where you least expect them. However, the new compact berry varieties, with names like Raspberry Shortcake raspberry and Baby Cakes blackberry, grow just 3 to 4 feet tall, but deliver full-size, full-flavor raspberries and blackberries. They're perfect for large containers. Also, their canes are often thornless, unlike most caneberries. That's an important consideration, especially if kids play nearby.

Raspberries come in several colors, including black, purple and yellow. If you're unsure if your favorite berry is a black raspberry or a blackberry, you can tell by the shape of its fruit. When ripe, raspberries separate from their core and look like hollow caps. Blackberries keep their core intact.

Raspberries come in many colors, including flavor-packed golden yellow.
Raspberries come in many colors, including flavor-packed golden yellow.

Preparing Your Growing Space

Raspberries and blackberries need full sun and well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter to stay healthy and at peak performance. It's a good idea to conduct a soil test to make sure your berries get the kind of soil they need for good nutrition.

Caneberries do best in slightly acidic soil with a pH near 5.6 to 6.2.1 By testing your soil, you'll know what soil amendments to use to get soil pH just right. By adding lime, you can raise soil pH. Adding garden sulfur or other products can help lower it. Your l local county extension office can provide guidance.

For raspberries and blackberries, it's best to make soil adjustments before you dig your planting holes. If you're growing in containers, you can buy commercial potting mixes made for acid-loving plants. They'll have the soil pH your berries need.

Planting Raspberries and Blackberries

If your goal is a berry patch bursting with full-size plants, you'll need a sturdy trellis system and well-spaced rows. When tall canes are heavy with fruit, they can't support themselves. If you'd rather grow compact plants or container caneberries on your patio, you can skip the support and just plant.

Raspberries and blackberries are best planted in spring after the threat of frost has passed. Newer varieties are sold in containers, but many caneberries are still sold as dormant “bare root" plants. As the name suggests, these are dormant roots with all the soil removed. Don't be concerned; this is normal and it's a great way to get berries off to the right start.

Space your berries about 2 to 3 feet apart, so they'll have plenty of good air circulation to help prevent disease. Plant so the crown is at or just slightly below the level where it was growing before. Raspberries and blackberries have shallow roots, so add a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch, such as compost or pine needles, to help protect them.

Caring for Raspberry and Blackberry Bushes

Once your berry bushes are planted, care is pretty simple. Feed them in early spring with a complete, balanced fertilizer — one where all three N-P-K numbers on the bag on the bag are the same, such as 10-10-10. Give them a second feeding about six weeks later, and they'll stay well fed.

Watering is essential for plump, juicy berries. Bushes need about 1 to 2 inches per week during the growing season. Water to supplement rainfall when necessary. Keep an eye out for signs of insect pests that may try to put a damper on your berry plans. A trusted pesticide, such as Sevin® brand insecticides, helps control a broad spectrum of unwanted insects to keep your harvest on track. With Sevin® Insect Killer Ready to Use for spot treatments and Sevin® Insect Killer Concentrate or Sevin® Insect Killer Ready to Spray for berry-patch coverage, you can treat caneberries up to one full day before your berry harvest.

Pruning Raspberries and Blackberries

Getting rid of old, unproductive canes keeps berry bushes beautiful and productive. Pruning and thinning raspberries and blackberries should be done annually in late winter — and it's simpler than you may think.
During the growing season, brand new canes are bright green in color. Called “primocanes," they are the ones that won't offer their big fruit crop until the following year. The two-year-old, fruit-bearing canes, called “floricanes," have a thin, brown bark. After those second-year canes bear fruit, they die — never to fruit again. By late winter, they have gray, peeling bark that stands out from the rest. Just cut all those old, peeling canes back to the crown.
For a single container plant or compact plants, pruning is pretty simple. Use sharp, bypass pruning shears; long-handled loppers work well, too. If you're growing larger plants or berries with thorny canes, always wear thick gloves, a heavy jacket to protect your arms, and don't forget protective eyewear.
Pruning away dead canes each year helps berry bushes stay productive.
Pruning away dead canes each year helps berry bushes stay productive.

Enjoying Your Berry Harvest

When raspberries are ripe, they fall away from their cores, right into your hand. Blackberries show ripeness through softness and color. Harvest both types of berries as soon as they're ripe — and eat them to your heart's content.

If you're processing berries into jams or jellies, don't delay. They'll start to deteriorate after just a day or two in the fridge. If you plan to use berries in cooking later on — say, for a raspberry chipotle chili — spread them on a baking sheet and freeze them individually. Then store them in freezer bags or containers and use them as needed.

You may also want to treat yourself to some cut stems with ripening berries. Paired with garden roses and sprigs of herbs, the red-tinged raspberry leaves and colorful berries are a gorgeous foundation for a casual kitchen bouquet in a rustic, nature-inspired planter.

Growing raspberries and blackberries requires a few more steps than growing many garden fruits and veggies, but they're simple steps that yield big rewards.  GardenTech® brands and the GardenTech blog are here to help you learn and experience all the joys of gardening, including the taste of fresh backyard berries.

Always read product labels thoroughly and follow instructions carefully, including directions for pre-harvest intervals (PHI) and treatment frequency.
Sevin is a registered trademark of Tessenderlo Kerley, Inc.
GardenTech is a registered trademark of Gulfstream Home and Garden, Inc.
 
Source:
1. Handley, David T., “Growing Raspberries and Blackberries," The University of Maine Cooperative Extension, 2006.

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