Growing black raspberries is a simple and rewarding experience. Here’s how to grow and care for black raspberries in the small-scale garden or edible landscape.
This article may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.
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 would like to cut the grocery bill by growing an edible landscape or garden, black raspberries are a good choice.
Now, maybe you’re like me: I don’t normally buy these soft, juicy fruits at the grocery store because they aren’t commonly found there. So growing them myself means adding variety and nutrition to my diet that I wouldn’t otherwise get (antioxidants, vitamin C, etc.).
On top of that, growing fruit is generally a good way to save money at the grocery store. And the berries are so delicious that the harvest rarely makes it into my kitchen!
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. In hotter climates, they will do better 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.
They 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 as a soil topper.
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:
Would you like to learn more about using fruit crops in the edible landscape?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
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, however, 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 I added to my edible landscape. They’re very special to me because they were our link to meeting fellow gardeners in our new community. When I saw a post on a local listserv advertising free black raspberry canes, I jumped at the chance.
Because brambles 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 landscape 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
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 farm cat unable to patrol at that height. 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!)
Because they take up so little space, they’ll be perfect to add inside your garden deer fence.
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.
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, to use 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.
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 Train and Prune Black Raspberries
Are you growing black raspberries? What advice do you have?