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, you’ll want to 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 that:
• the berries will be smaller
• the bushes will look more wild and lose their advantage as a beautiful landscape planting
• they’ll take up more space than they need to
• harvesting will be an unpleasant fight against thorns
So let’s get to it.
First we’ll talk about training and then we’ll talk about 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 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, you should build a supportive trellis-type system. Be aware that support for black raspberries is different than support for red raspberries, so if you have red raspberries, you will not want to continue with these instructions.
Set a post behind each “hill”. The set post should be about 4 – 4.5 feet high. Setting the posts at the time of planting ensures the least amount of stress on the plant’s root system, since their 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. You can see it in the pictures below under “Early Spring Pruning”.
How to Prune Black Raspberries – Spring and Fall
Note: Pruning requires covered skin! Long sleeves and pants, and closed-toe shoes make this task more enjoyable!
In the first year, you get to 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, it’s important to set your black raspberry plants up for a smooth ride through winter and a successful future harvest.
Each cane is headed (pinched, tipped, or cut off) 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 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 back the canes, you may like to 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 the walkways clear of thorns.
Early Spring Pruning
After making it through the winter, we’ll prune the black raspberries to make sure our 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.
If you’re afraid of accidentally cutting back a live cane, then wait until late spring when the plant has started to leaf out and as soon as you’re sure that a cane hasn’t produced any leaves and is dead, cut it back. The sooner, the better.
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 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 that the laterals are quite the weaving, tangled mess in the picture above. Between removing the dead canes, thinning, and now, Step 3 – heading back the laterals – you will be taking quite a bit of biomass away.
Time for a spring fire!
The black raspberry plants will look dramatic after pruning, but have faith that the yields will be better.
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.
In case you’re worried that this look is too dramatic and bare for the edible landscape, here’s another picture:
See, they grow back fast!
Renovating an old Black Raspberry Patch
If you’re renovating an old black raspberry patch, the process can be started in either spring or fall.
Note: This will not be fun! There are thorns galore in an unmanaged patch. Take note of how unenjoyable this task is and know that thorns are less of an issue in a managed berry patch! 🙂
Starting Renovation in the Early Fall
This can be done anytime after the fruiting season is over, and is the ideal time to begin renovation. Cut all of the canes back to 28-48 inches tall. As above, the shorter height is probably more advantageous for a good harvest, but the taller height might work better in the edible landscape solution.
Continue the renovation by following the directions below for tasks to be completed in the spring.
Starting Renovation in the Spring
Step 1: Ensure Proper Spacing
Measure to be sure that the center of each hill is around 2.5 feet apart in a straight row.
If unmanaged, many of the canes will have bent over and rooted themselves outside of the hill. So if the row is crowded, you will want to dig up the extra canes and find a new home for them.
Step 2: Build Support
It will be a little trickier to set posts now that the root systems of each hill are more mature, but spring is the best time for the plants to overcome some root die-back and regenerate new ones.
While the posts are typically set just a few inches back from the hill, the posts for a renovated berry patch may be set about 6 inches to 1 foot behind each hill, in order to avoid the bulk of the root system.
You could also consider our “X” pole solution, as they will not pierce as much of the root system, and will probably last longer than the wood.
Follow the directions above under “Build Support” for building the post-and-wire support system.
Step 3a: Spring Pruning After Fall Renovation
If you started your renovation in the fall, then you’re now ready to follow the directions above for “Early Spring Pruning”.
You should get great yields this summer, and be sure to stick to the Fall and Spring pruning plans from now on!
Step 3b: Spring Pruning for Spring Renovation
If you started your renovation in the spring then you will follow this modified plan.
1. Remove the dead canes and thin the remaining ones. Refer to “Early Spring Pruning” for details.
2. Drape the long branches over the heavy gauge wire in the support system.
You should get an improved harvest this year, but be sure to follow the directions for “Early Fall Pruning” to continue renovating your berry patch for an even better harvest next year!
I sure hope this has been helpful. While there are a lot of words on this page, the actual pruning never takes more than 30 minutes to an hour in a home-scale berry 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 that works well?