Follow these simple steps to prune your raspberry bushes each year. It's a vital step for getting the best crop of raspberries from your plants!
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I'm a little late pruning my raspberry bushes this year, but better late than never! Pruning a raspberry patch every year is an important part of getting the largest and best crop from your berry plants. Thankfully, it's also really easy!
If you've never pruned your berry patch before, don't worry. Even a long-neglected patch is easy to prune, and will be much better off after a good pruning! Grab your loppers and hand pruning shears, and I'll walk you through it! Ready? Here we go...
The first step in pruning a patch of raspberries is actually to determine which type of raspberry bushes you have. Are they June-bearing, or everbearing?
June raspberries bear fruit just once, on canes that grew last year. Everbearing raspberries generally bear twice - on canes that just grew this year, and (usually a smaller amount) on the canes that grew last year.
It's ok if you don't know which type of raspberries you have! I dedicated a whole post to sleuthing out the answer. You can use it as a guide to determine which type of raspberry bushes you have, then come on back, and we'll talk about how to prune them.
Pruning summer-bearing raspberries
First, let's talk about how to prune summer-bearing raspberries. These tend to be my favorite, and most of the varieties I grow are of this type.
1. Remove any dead canes
If you've determined that your raspberry bushes are summer-bearing (sometimes called June-bearing), the process couldn't be easier. Your primary job is simply to remove the dead canes each year, once the bushes are done fruiting.
Here in Maine, this is usually done in late winter or early spring. But in more southern growing zones, you may want to go ahead and prune in the fall once the canes that have fruited start to visibly die back.
It's easy to identify the old canes that won't bear again. They're darker in color than the living canes that will bear the new crop, and they tend to have a papery, ragged look to them, as in the picture below.
Remove any excessive or undesirable canes
Consider also the quality of the new canes that are growing from each bush. Sometimes raspberry bushes will put up an excess number of new canes. I always find that my bushes bear best and most abundantly if I limit the number of new canes to the strongest 3 canes, or for a larger bush, the strongest 4 canes. Pruning back any excessive little canes will help the plant put its energy into the remaining canes, giving a better crop.
Now is also a good time to remove any extra canes that have popped up in places where you don't want them - like between rows. You can prune them back to the ground, or dig them up and plant them in a place where you do want them.
Prune back any damaged canes
While you're pruning, take a look at each of the remaining living canes, to see if there are any damaged areas that need your attention. If you see branches that are broken or damaged, it's a good idea for the overall health of the bush, to prune those areas out.
Make a nice clean cut just below the damaged area, and remove that part of the cane. While you'll do most of your pruning during the winter or early spring, while the plants are dormant, it's never a bad time of year to remove any damaged areas that you see. If it's the middle of summer and you see that something's happened to one of your bushes, it's ok to go grab the shears and tend to your canes by cleanly removing any damage.
Pruning ever-bearing raspberries
What if your raspberry bushes are fall-fruiting (also called everbearing), instead of summer-bearing? Pruning this type is really easy too.
The usual way to prune everbearing raspberries is simply to cut all canes (yes the entire patch!), right down to the ground, each winter.
Since everbearing raspberries produce a fall crop on the canes that just grew in the spring and summer, this works out well, and keeps the patch nicely renewed each year. It's a good simple way to keep a bed of everbearing raspberry bushes well-pruned and cared for.
However, there's a small casualty to this method. Many everbearing raspberry bushes will actually put out a few berries on the lower branches of canes that fruited last fall, if they're left uncut. This causes some folks to opt for a different method of pruning their everbearing bushes.
If getting every possible berry out of each bush is important to you, it's ok to treat your everbearing raspberries the same way you would summer-bearing ones. In this case, you'd leave last year's canes growing, even though they've already fruited once, in hope that they'll bear again in the next season.
After the second-year canes have delivered their "last hurrah" of berries, they can then be cut down to the ground.
During the same time that second year canes are putting out a few last berries, there will be new canes growing which will set their main, large crop in early fall. You can then either prune them back to the ground (method 1), or allow them to remain for another season, giving them a chance to set a small second-year crop on lower branches, before then pruning them down to the ground (method 2.)
Which method is better for pruning everbearing bushes? People have some strong opinions both ways. However, Method 1, where all canes are cut to the ground each winter, is generally the recommended method.
For myself, it's the method I prefer. It's easy and simple to keep even a large raspberry patch cared for this way. And I would rather have everbearing raspberries put each plant's energy into one single heavy crop of berries, rather than expending energy setting berries on last year's canes and this year's canes.
However, both methods work perfectly well, and can keep a healthy patch of raspberry bushes going strong for years. Choose the method that works best for you!
I hope this quick rundown of pruning methods for both summer bearing raspberries and fall-bearing raspberries has been helpful! Still have questions about managing your berry patch? Leave them in the comments below 👇 and I'll try to help!