Before you can prune raspberries, you need to know whether you have summer bearing, or everbearing raspberries - but what if you don't know which type you have? In this quick article, I'll walk you through the clues to confidently identify which type of raspberry bushes you have.
Originally published March 2019. Updated Sept. 2021.
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I've been doing some raspberry pruning this week, and was about to write a how-to article on pruning raspberries properly. However, raspberry pruning is something that's done differently, depending on which type of raspberry bush you have.
Any decent raspberry pruning guide has two sets of directions - one for summer-bearing raspberries, and one for everbearing (or fall-bearing) raspberries. BUT - what if you don't know which kind of raspberries you have?
I decided that the article I really needed to write first, is one that can easily walk anyone through identifying which type of raspberry bushes they have, during almost any season, so that then we can dive into pruning them with confidence.
Before I walk you through the clues for identifying which kind of raspberry canes you have, it really helps to know exactly what the difference is between how these two types of raspberries grow.
What are the different types of raspberries?
There are two major types of raspberry bushes: summer bearing (also called summer fruiting), and everbearing (also called autumn bearing, or autumn fruiting). Which type of raspberries you have, will determine how you prune them. So it's helpful to be able to tell the difference between the two types.
If you're like me, perhaps you've inherited a raspberry patch that came along with the home you purchased. Or perhaps (also like me), you misplaced the paperwork that came with raspberries you planted yourself, and the dog buried your plant markers somewhere you'll never find them. No judgement here.
The good news is, if you know what to look for, it's easy to tell the difference between summer fruiting raspberries and everbearing raspberries, just by looking at the plants.
What is the difference between summer fruiting raspberries and everbearing raspberries?
Aside from the fact implied by their names, that they bear fruit at different times of year, the key difference between summer and autumn fruiting raspberries is how they set that fruit. (This is why you'll need to prune them differently.)
Summer bearing raspberries bear fruit on the canes that grew last summer.
Everbearing raspberries bear fruit on canes that just grew this summer. They'll also usually put out a few more berries on those same canes, early in the season.
During most times of the year, it's pretty easy to identify which of these varieties you have.
How to tell the difference between summer fruiting and everbearing raspberries:
In spring: Look for canes that bore fruit last year. You will usually see some bracts and little remnants from where the berries were hanging onto the bush to help you identify canes that have already fruited.
Now that you've spotted a cane that definitely bore raspberries last year, examine it. Does it look dry and dead? If so, you probably have a summer bearing raspberry. Ever bearing raspberries generally won't look dead after bearing fruit in the fall. Instead, you'll see signs of life, like leaves, swelling leaf buds, or blossoms, as your canes prepare for putting out a last handful of berries on the lower part of these canes.
In summer: by mid-summer, it's pretty easy to tell which type you have. Summer bearing raspberries will be setting fruit on the canes that grew last year. Everbearing raspberries will be starting to form buds and flowers on fresh canes that just grew this year, and are probably still growing a bit.
In fall: If you're getting raspberries in September, you have an everbearing (autumn bearing) raspberry. Summer bearing raspberries will already have offered up their full harvest, and the canes that bore fruit will be starting to die back.
In winter: This is really when it can be hard to tell. Wait for the plants to break dormancy in the spring, and you'll easily be able to identify which type of raspberries you have then.
You can see in the photo above that this summer fruiting raspberry is starting to put out leaf buds. Here in Maine, this happens by mid April. Early spring is a great time to identify which type of raspberry bushes you have, and prune them according to what you discover!
I hope this quick guide to identifying summer-fruiting vs. everbearing raspberries has been helpful! Still not sure which type of raspberry bushes you have? Tell us about them in the comments below, and we'll try to help you sleuth it out! Happy growing!