Are you indimidated by any kind of pruning? Does learning how to prune raspberries overwhelm you? It’s an important autumn or winter task and is relatively easy to do.
The main maintenance task that you need to do on raspberries is to prune them in autumn or winter once they are done producing fruit.
Read on to learn the basics of pruning raspberries.
You can also check out the companion video for a visual walk-through of how to prune raspberries:
What you need to prune raspberries
Luckily you need only a few things to successfully prune your raspberries. You’ll likely have both already in your garden shed.
Gloves – raspberry canes have lots of tiny thorns or barbs. You need to protect your hands when handling the raspberry canes. I like the Atlas NT370 Nitrile Garden and Work Gloves, as they offer protection but your hands will still be flexible enough to hold the pruners well.
Pruners – a good pair of sharp clean pruners such as the Felco F-5 Classic Manual Pruning Shears will make sure that your pruning cuts do not invite disease into the canes.
There are also special long-handled tools that make it easier for you to cut canes down to the ground. They’re not necessary however.
Why you need to prune raspberries
So why do you even need to prune out the old raspberry canes? After all can’t we just let them take care of themselves?
In an urban homestead there are two reasons why we want to trim raspberries to keep them in check.
Raspberry canes can grow over 6 feet tall. In fact some of mine grew close to 7 feet tall! If you let these go without pruning, they become unmanageable in a small garden. It also will get harder and harder to pick the raspberries as the thicket of raspberries grows out of control.
The second reason, as with most trees and bushes, is encourage new growth in spring. This produces more vigorous canes and a better fruit harvest.
It can also help if your raspberries have disease. Pruning out the growth that has the disease can stop it in it’s track so long as you practice good hygiene and disinfect your pruners and dispose of the canes properly (more on that below).
When to prune raspberries
Usually you’ll have a fairly long window in which to take care of the pruning. This is however highly dependent on your climate and how long the growing season is.
You definitely want to wait until all the berries are gone. Here in my climate on the west coast of Canada, I’ve had berry harvests still in November and find the odd lingering berry still in December 😮, providing we haven’t had any hard freezes.
Another indication is when the raspberry canes have lost all their leaves. You basically want the plants to be dormant.
Definitely you’ll want to trim the raspberries before they start to generate new growth in spring. This could be as late as April or May in cold climates or as early as late January or February in mild climates such as ours here in south-west Canada.
What works for me is to actually have two pruning times. One is in late summer when last year’s canes fruited and are done. These ones are visibly browner than the new canes that came up from the ground in the spring/early summer which are green.
You do have to be careful about pruning out the summer fruiting canes so that you don’t break or otherwise damage the new canes that bear fruit in the fall.
Then the new canes will have enough room to grow and give you a second crop in the fall where the fall is mild enough to allow the berries to form.
So be sure to set appropriate reminders in your calendar for the various pruning times so that you don’t forget. Depending on the weather you may need to adjust the times, but at least you’ll be reminded to check your canes for the optimum time to prune.
How to prune raspberries
This is a much less intimating task than fruit tree pruning. You can’t go too wrong in pruning raspberries, other than cutting them too short.
There’s a lot of differing opinions of how low to prune your raspberries. Some say to keep them at 5 feet (1.5m) or more, otherwise you might affect your harvest.
I typically though prune at about a 3 foot (1m) height. I find that is a good compromise of keeping the canes in check but still getting a good harvest.
You don’t need to measure with a measuring tape! Just keep it around the 3 foot mark – some canes can be higher or lower based on where you end up cutting.
You should cut just above a bud. You’ll see those as bumps on the sides of the canes. Here is a shot of several buds on a cane and potential places (red lines) where you could trim the cane:
You don’t have to worry too much about which one to prune like you do with roses, where you need to keep an open form to avoid mildew and other diseases.
Watch the video for a visual demonstration of how to prune:
What else you need to do after you prune raspberries
Once you have finished pruning, clean and disinfect your pruners before you use them elsewhere just in case your raspberries have any disease. For more information, check out How to Maintain Pruners.
As for the branches, you can dispose of them as I outline in this post. I usually do shred or chip them into mulch as so far I don’t have any disease on my raspberries. However I don’t use the resulting mulch on the raspberry bed nor on my strawberries.
The other task that helps give you a better harvest is to do some weeding at least to get rid of the largest weeds. Then I like to provide the berry canes with some compost to act as a mulch and to feed and build the soil.
Taking the time to prune raspberries is well worth it. You should see an increase in your yields and a more managed berry row.
Now that you’re done, you’ll need to wait for that first handful of berries in the summer. Happy snacking!