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Tough Love: Pruning the Raspberries

Looking down at my right hand I am reminded of that not-funny joke about child-rearing, you know, the one that goes “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Well, I’m finished pruning the raspberries this year and though I can’t comment on how much I hurt the raspberries, the scratches and gashes on my hand show that I was hurt a bit in the process. It was well worth it.

I worked more than my allotted 20 minutes yesterday but this is one time of the year where a little bit of extra effort can really pay off. The black raspberry harvest is over and the second year canes that bore fruit are beginning to die, leaves turning yellow. It’s time to get those canes out of the way to allow the first year canes space to grow, to spread and to send out new branches. In other words it’s time to prepare for next year’s harvest.

Clipping out the dying canes is also good hygiene. The theory is that any dead tissue should be removed from the plants because you don’t want to encourage diseases that grow on such tissue. For this reason, I carefully remove the dead canes and put them in a compost bag for the city to take away, rather than using them in my own compost. I’m being extra cautious. I had a very terrifying brush with the dreaded Orange Rust a few years back. Basically Orange Rust is one of those cash-in-your-chips-thanks-for-playing catastrophic plant diseases. I was lax about bramble hygiene before that wake up call. I’m more vigilant now.

It’s easy to tell second year canes because they’re purple. Yup. Purple. I know an artist who used them in one of her pieces, though I have absolutely no idea how color fast the pigment is. First year canes are green, usually a vibrant “spring” green. If there are canes that are grey or brown, they’re even older than two years. Get them out too.

I wear a leather palmed glove on my left hand and I hold the pruning shears with my right. I find I can’t operate the shears with a gloved hand so that’s why I end up with so many scratches.

Inevitably, some of the first year canes are going to be bent over and kinked. That’s fine because they need to be pruned as well. Raspberries bear near the tip of their canes. Left to their own devices, each cane has only one tip. But, I bet due to the same process that makes apple trees send up suckers and water sprouts, raspberries can be coaxed into having multiple tips per cane. At this time of the year, I prune them pretty low, about two feet off the ground, though I’ll sometimes go a little higher if there aren’t any leaves on the resulting cane. This height corresponds pretty well to the first tier in my raspberry trellis so they have some kind of support.

Before fall, each one of these pruned canes will start sending out three or four lateral shoots, so the harvest is potentially four times larger. I’ve been told I could get another pruning in during the fall but I usually wait for spring. I’ll prune the canes about a foot beyond where they’ve split from the original cane. I like to do this pretty early in the spring to allow the new tips to grow and bear fruit. In the spring, the plants are putting out first year canes as well as so I know they’re under some stress. I’ve never had to fertilize my raspberries any more that the layer of thick mulch I have spread around them. I know some folks don’t mulch around their brambles but you already know how much I hate weeding and weeding around plants with nasty sharp thorns is the worst.

It’s always a little discouraging to look at the patch after pruning. The plants that were so mighty and formidable just a couple weeks ago are nipped down to clusters of sticks poking out of the ground. This of course is the perfect time to adjust the trellis, to shore up the posts and tighten the wires. I also took advantage of the elbow room to weed and spread a nice layer of fresh straw. By the end of August, though, the patch will have regained its look of vigor and it will be set for next year.

And the gashes on my hand will have healed up too.

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  1. About Raspberries — Our Twenty Minute Kitchen Garden linked to this post on August 1, 2009

    […] Tough Love: Pruning the Raspberries […]

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