Growing black raspberries is a simple and rewarding experience. And with proper pruning, the plants behave quite well in the small-scale, edible landscape.
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The berries are so delicious that the harvest rarely makes it into my kitchen!
Black Raspberries are a High Value Crop
Black raspberries, like their red cousins, are highly perishable which leads to a high price at the grocery store. If you’re motivated to grow an edible landscape that helps cut the grocery bill, black raspberries are a good choice.
Now, maybe you’re like me: I don’t normally buy these soft, juicy fruits at the store precisely because of the steep price, so growing them doesn’t really lighten my grocery budget’s load.
Yet growing them myself supplies additional variety and nutrition to our diet that we wouldn’t otherwise get (antioxidants, vitamin C, etc.), so it’s ultimately a win for our household.
In fact, growing any fruit at all is generally a good way to save money at the grocery store. I’ve written about how cherry trees and currant bushes have also been productive additions to our edible landscape.
Planting Black Raspberries
Black raspberries are not as hardy as red raspberries, and can typically be planted in hardiness zones 5-8. You may be able to grow them in zone 4 if you grow them on the north side of a building or slope to protect them from spring frost and wind damage. All raspberries, regardless of type, will do well planted this way as an extra precaution (spring frost damage can mean reduced harvest).
Choose a location in full sun or one that is partially shaded. The hotter your climate, the better they will do with some late afternoon shade.
Don’t plant them near wild raspberries or blackberries, which can spread disease to your black raspberries. A 300-feet distance between them is the suggested rule of thumb.
Black raspberries are self-pollinating, which means one lone plant can produce fruit.
Black raspberries prefer well-drained soil, so choose a location where the soil is not soggy. When planting, mix in compost or manure, and add more of it each spring.
Plant black raspberry canes 2.5 feet away from each other in a row. Be sure that you can access both sides of the row for harvesting, training and pruning.
Like all brambles, black raspberry patches can get out of hand if they aren’t trained and pruned properly. A trellis or fence will help to keep your black raspberries manageable and easier to harvest. It is best to install this at the time of planting. See my post on training and pruning black raspberries for more details.
Mulch them well in the fall to help prevent winter damage.
The following books were helpful in learning how to care for my black raspberries:
Black Raspberries are a Beautiful Landscape Plant
Bright red canes blaze confidently through gray winters; pinks, reds, and purples of the ripening berries are beacons of cheer in early summer.
You might be tempted to consider growing red raspberries because of all of the wonderful benefits I’ve listed so far about growing black raspberries. Aren’t they just different colors of the same berry? In this case, not all brambles are created equal.
Red raspberries actually behave differently than black raspberries. Red raspberries spread away from the original planting site by sending up new canes called suckers away from the original root crown.
Rather than “walking” away over time, black raspberries “stay put”. They start new plants when their long canes bend over and touch the soil. The tips form roots and grow into new plants.
This is why I only recommend red raspberries and thorny blackberries for gardeners who have a little more space and can allow for fuller rows of canes that wander a bit. They’re better in the backyard garden rather than in the front yard landscape.
Black raspberries were the first fruits that we added to our (now) edible landscape back in 2010. They’re very special to me because they were our link to meeting fellow gardeners in our new community.
When I saw a post advertising free black raspberry canes on a local listserv, I jumped at the chance.
Because they are so prolific, asking around will usually yield someone who is happy to give you cuttings in exchange for helping them manage their berry patch.
Placement of Black Raspberries in the Edible Landscape
We planted them in front of our house, right next to the front porch by taking out the traditional yew bushes.
Black raspberries lend themselves to be foundational plantings, because:
- Their height never exceeds 2 1/2 – 4 feet (if they’re pruned properly)
- They’re thorny, so they provide some security near windows
- They grow great in a straight line (they’re easier to train that way)
- They’re beautiful in both winter and summer
- They “stay put”
- They’re shade tolerant and grow well in areas that are overshadowed by the house
- They are “juglone tolerant” and can be planted near black walnut trees, which produce a chemical called juglone that can poison many plants.
Wildlife and Growing Black Raspberries
1) The birds love them.
In fact, out of all of the fruit in our yard, these are by far their favorite.
Bird netting and shiny things like old CDs will deter them some.
My current unproven hypothesis for deterring birds is to prune the canes to a shorter height (closer to the 2.5-3 feet height). If the raspberries are lower to the ground, there is more risk to the birds by neighborhood predators such as cats.
Our black raspberries are pruned at around 4 feet, and the birds eat to their hearts content with Molly the cat looking onward. I’d like to prune them shorter in the future to see if there’s a difference.
2) The deer love them, too.
We don’t have deer in our neighborhood, so we don’t have to take precautions.
But fencing them in completely is going to be your only defense. Deer will eat the entire plant, not just the berries. (I don’t know how they stand those thorns!)
Grow a fedge!
If you have a deer problem, consider growing a fedge. A fedge is a food hedge, planted on the outside with food for wildlife, and planted on the inside with food for humans. The fedge is so densely planted, that the deer would rather just stay on the outside and munch on things than jump on into your garden.
The fedge works if you have a decent amount of space. Perhaps it’s 6 feet wide on the outside and 6 feet wide on the human side. Densely planted shrubs and trees of varying heights in the fedge also serve to confuse their limited depth perception. Plus, fedge is a cool word. Here’s a short post on the matter.
I hope you don’t need deer fencing, but it may be necessary depending on your situation.
Harvesting Black Raspberries
To get your best harvest, you’ll want to train and prune them correctly, which is a fairly simple task. Check out my post about training and pruning black raspberries.
Don’t expect to get any fruit in your first year of planting. In your second year, you’ll get a handful or so from each hill. After your second year, you should get a good harvest off of each hill: 2-6 quarts, depending on your wildlife deterring strategies and whether or not your plants are in the sun (more sun = bigger harvest).
Learn about the ripening season for the specific variety you plant. Varieties will ripen either in early, mid-, or late season. Ours ripen in June, so June is not the month for us to go on vacation if we want to harvest black raspberries!
When they’re ready to harvest, they’ll turn from bright reds to deep purples. Once they begin to ripen, you’ll want to harvest everyday in order to beat your wildlife friends (who will inevitably get some anyway).
Using Black Raspberries in the Kitchen
I freeze most of mine because they perish so quickly, and use them throughout the winter. Black raspberries are great–fresh or frozen–in smoothies and baked goods, over vanilla ice cream, or in jellies. Here are some more ideas on how to use the berries.
If you’re not growing black raspberries yet, I hope you’ll consider adding them to your garden or landscape this year.
Are you growing black raspberries? What advice do you have?