Black raspberries can be a delicious and productive crop for the small landscape. Learn how to train and prune black raspberries for the best harvest.
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Delicious and nutritious, black raspberries are a high-value crop that can save you money at the grocery store. Read all about growing and planting black raspberries here.
I especially enjoy growing black raspberries in my edible front yard landscape.
Black raspberries are easy to grow, but…
If you want to reap your best harvest, learn how to train and prune black raspberries correctly.
Pruning only takes 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how large your home garden berry patch is.
WITHOUT pruning and training them, you can expect:
• the berries to be smaller.
• the bushes to look wild and lose their advantage as a beautiful landscape planting.
• the plants to take up more space.
• harvesting to be an unpleasant fight with thorns.
So let’s get to it.
First I’ll cover training and then I’ll cover pruning.
If you’re renovating an old black raspberry patch, skip to the section below.
How to Train Black Raspberries
Step 1: Ensure Proper Spacing
Be sure you’ve planted your black raspberry canes every 2.5 feet or so in a row, and that you have access to both sides of the row.
Over time, new shoots will come up in the area around where you’ve planted each original cane. This area is called a “hill”.
Step 2: Build Support
Don’t worry, you don’t have to petition your neighbors to support your black raspberry project!
At the same time as planting, build a supportive trellis-type system.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Support for black raspberries is different than support for red raspberries, so if you have red raspberries, do not continue with these instructions.
Set a post behind each “hill”. The set post should be about 4 – 4.5 feet high. Set the posts at the time of planting to ensure the least amount of stress on the plant’s root system, since the roots are shallow and can be damaged easily.
Secure a heavy gauge wire or heavy duty twine to run from post to post near the top. Create a notch in the wood for the wire to sit in so it stays secured.
Below is a picture of our first solution for a post-and-wire support system. We used posts that were scrap wood from another project. It worked pretty well, but the posts only lasted two years. You’d want 2×4 or 4×4 posts if you want them to last.
As the canes grow, train them to drape over and run along the wire or twine in between the hills, as pictured below. In this picture, the black raspberries are ready for their early fall pruning.
We replaced our scrap-wood posts with 6-foot green plant stakes at each hill in an “X” shape, which has worked as a more secure and durable option. View it in the pictures below under “Early Spring Pruning”.
How to Prune Black Raspberries – Spring and Fall
Note: Pruning requires covered skin! It’s a good idea to wear long sleeves, pants, and closed-toe shoes.
In the first year, do nothing except admire your plants’ energetic will to live!
Would you like to learn more about reducing maintenance and increasing yield?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Early Fall Pruning
In the second year after planting, you should get a small harvest in the late spring/early summer. After fruiting, set your black raspberry plants up for a smooth ride through winter and a successful future harvest with an early fall pruning.
Head (pinch, tip, or cut off) each cane at a desired height in the early fall, anywhere between 28 and 48 inches. The ideal height for bigger harvests is 28-30 inches, but you might like the canes a little taller in your edible landscape. Be consistent across the row.
A cane emerges directly out of the ground.
I have a hypothesis that the shorter the canes are, the fewer berries you would lose to birds, because predators such as cats are a higher risk to them closer to the ground. Experiment with the height for yourself and let me know what you find out!
When finished heading the canes, you may LOOSELY tie all of the canes in one hill to their coordinating post. This isn’t necessary, but if your berry patch is in a tight area, this will help to keep walkways clear of thorns.
Early Spring Pruning
After making it through the winter, prune the black raspberries in the early spring to make sure your summer harvest is fantastic.
To do all of these early spring pruning steps, wait until the plants are beginning to create buds. Do not wait until the plant is leafing out, since this could stunt growth. It is difficult to see in the picture below, but the canes do have buds on them, no leaves.
Step 1: Remove Dead Canes
Canes that produced berries in the previous year will be dead, so cut them back to the ground. Other canes will have been damaged by the cold and will be brown and brittle.
Cut all dead canes off as close to the ground as possible.
Step 2: Thin Canes
There should be no more than 4-6 canes per hill. Choose the 4-6 strongest ones, and cut the rest back to the ground.
If your plants are young and haven’t produced this number of canes yet, then you can skip this step.
Step 3: Head the Laterals
In the previous fall, each cane was cut back to a desired height (see “Early Fall Pruning” above). That action inspired lots of side branches to grow.
In this step, we’re going to manage all of those side branches — or laterals — to get the best harvest. These laterals are where the berries develop.
For each lateral, or side branch, count 8-10 buds away from the cane and then cut the rest of the long branch off. Note: The detail doesn’t show in the picture above, but for each lateral the buds are clearly visible so that counting 8-10 buds is an obvious procedure.
You can see in the picture above that the laterals are quite the weaving, tangled mess in the spring. Between removing the dead canes, thinning, and now, step 3 — heading back the laterals — you will take quite a bit of biomass away.
Time for a spring fire!
The black raspberry plants will look dramatic after pruning, but have faith that it will result in better yields.
Again, you may wish to LOOSELY tie the canes in each hill to their coordinating post to keep everything tidy and out of walkways. This is optional. Notice in the picture above our X-post solution for support.
If you’re worried that this look is too dramatic and bare for the edible landscape, here’s another picture just two weeks later:
Although this process can seem complicated, the actual pruning doesn’t take long in the home-scale berry patch. With this method, you’ll be on your way to having a healthy and productive black raspberry patch.
Need more ideas for growing perennial crops in the permaculture garden?
- Are you a Busy Gardener? Grow these Low-Maintenance Crops
- How to Grow Edibles in a Parking Strip
- How to Build a Fruit Tree Guild
Have you found a training and pruning method for black raspberries that works well?