Raspberries

30 years ago, that was a few plants given by a friend. They're growing just as thick on the outside of the fence, too.

30 years ago, that was a few plants given by a friend. They’re growing just as thick on the outside of the fence, too.

Raspberries are one of those things that just say “summer” to me. As a kid, we were allowed to eat as many raspberries and blackberries off of the bushes as we wanted. Part of summer was checking to see if they were ripe, yet. We were also sent to pick them to make pies, jams, and to freeze for use in sauces in the winter. While visiting Maine, I got introduced to the part of raspberries that we didn’t have to deal with as kids. Winter care.

I'm so glad we're tackling this in winter coats and heavy gloves. (It was colder than it looks.)

I’m so glad we’re tackling this in winter coats and heavy gloves. (It was colder than it looks.)

It turns out, the raspberry is part of the rose family. Of course, remembering the damage the thorns (technically prickles) could do to me makes it less of a surprise. What most people grow as cultivated raspberries are usually either the European Raspberry or a cross between that one and the American Red Raspberry. To make it even more confusing, apparently there is now a purple one that is a cross between the red one and a blackberry.

I also stumbled across a very nice article about the planting and care of raspberries. Bearing in mind that some of her information may not be applicable if you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, I am going to leave the dispensing of that information to someone who actually has her own raspberry patch. I am also going to shamelessly steal her description of raspberry growth rather than using Dad’s more colorful one. “Raspberries multiply precociously, prodigiously, and prolifically. If you plant one cane this year, you will have a dozen or more in the same spot next year. Raspberries are joyfully exuberant about procreating by underground runners, poking up impressive numbers of healthy new plants all around your original patch.”

The dead ones were pretty easy to pick out. Most of them were cut last winter.

The dead ones were pretty easy to pick out. Most of them were cut last winter.

The above article has a very sunny outlook on the berries, but as delicious as they are, maybe they should come wrapped in caution tape. Ms. White contends that the exuberant underground runners can just be lopped off with a hoe, and that’s that. In Dad’s experience, if you can’t mow and preferably also till all the way around the patch, you haven’t got a hope of controlling them. The ones that Grandpa planted in the garden when it was his actually duck under the tilled area to pop up in the garden beds. Now that the garden belongs to my parents, Dad is working on getting them into their own beds so they stop shading and encroaching on everything else.

The reason I bring this up is because they aren’t a plant you can put just anywhere. Growing conditions aside, you also need to be able to control them. In other words, if you think they’d look really pretty up against the fence between you and your neighbor, your neighbor may not thank you for it. They also aren’t easy to get rid of. When Dad took out the blackberry patch, he burned it to the ground and tilled it under. He still had to mow down at least a few canes a year that tried to reclaim it for several years. Be very, very sure that you aren’t going to change your mind before you stick them in the ground.

Mostly cleaned out.

Mostly cleaned out.

Once you plant the berry patch, or resign yourself to care for the one the previous tenants left behind, it needs to be tidied up each winter. The berries themselves grow on second-year canes. That means step one is clearing out the dead canes that were bearing fruit the previous summer. The best time to do this is once the canes are really dead and pull off easily, but before the live ones start budding out. That would generally be somewhere between Thanksgiving and very early spring. Dad doesn’t stake his plants or support them with a trellis, so he ties bunches of them together so they support each other. They then get lopped off to four-ish feet. His view on this process is that it’s hard to be too aggressive when you’re cleaning it out, but if it’s a new plot, you might need to take a little more care. As for mulch, if it’s a new plot, or it’s a very dry climate like Colorado, it’s probably a good idea. Otherwise, it depends on how comfortable you want to make them.

Tied, lopped, and ready to take over in the spring.

Tied, lopped, and ready to take over in the spring.

This post happened partially because I did just get to winterize my first raspberry patch. However, they have been on my mind for a bit now, since they are on the wish-list for the owner of Showcase 2. Perennials, particularly ones that are inclined toward invasiveness, do require a bit more thought than throwing together a potato plot as an experiment. There’s more to learn, mostly because there’s always more to learn, but now I am feeling a bit more prepared to be responsible for raspberry bushes that would be under my care.

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