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.
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 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 testto 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 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.
Feed them in early spring with a balanced plant food, containing essential nutrients, such as Pennington UltraGreen All Purpose Plant Food 10-10-10. Give them a second feeding about 12-16 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.
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.