It’s no big deal if you haven’t found time to summer-prune your raspberries, as there’s still plenty of time to do the job now, advises garden guru PETER CUNDALL
Offers some berry good pruning ideas
The most valuable raspberries are those harvested late in the season, usually during March and April. That’s when they are expensive to purchase, which is a very good reason to grow our own.
Plants are on sale now at most garden centres, usually displayed as small bundles of small, thin sticks sitting in beds of moist potting mix.
I’m one of those people who never hesitate to drag out a bundle or two in order to inspect roots before buying. That’s based on bitter experience after arriving home on a previous occasion, clutching my newly-purchased bundles of raspberry plants, only to discover several sticks had no roots.
There are summer-bearers and autumn bearers, but most of those that crop late can also be persuaded to also produce small crops in December and January. It depends on how they are pruned.
Mostly, the canes of summer-bearing varieties such as Chilcotin are best pruned
The greatest danger to all raspberry plants is poor drainage – especially during winter dormancy
immediately after main crops have finished around mid-February. That helps control diseases and pests.
All canes which have carried fruit die, so they are easy to select out and cut to the ground. All remaining, living canes are then loosely tied together.
If yours have not been summer-pruned, now is the time to do the job – no big deal.
Autumn-bearing raspberry plants are pruned differently and even more easily. There’s no need to bother examining each cane, just cut the lot right back to the ground every winter.
This is what happens next. New, vigorous canes sprout from the roots in spring and grow through summer without bearing fruit. They begin forming flowers in early March and go on to carry massive crops of extra-sweet, beautifully-coloured fat berries in autumn and early winter.
In fact, if this slash-to-the-ground winter pruning is deliberately delayed until
early September, cropping will also be delayed, sometimes well into winter in frostfree districts.
Good autumn-bearing raspberry varieties include Autumn Bliss and Heritage, while old, well-tried extra-vigorous varieties such as Lloyd George and Willamette often carry both summer and autumn crops, depending on how they are pruned.
The greatest danger to all raspberry plants is poor drainage – especially during winter dormancy. So choose a sunny, well-drained part of the garden when planting a new patch. These plants love a rich soil, crammed with moisture-holding organic matter.
The best fertilisers are sheep or cow manure at the rate of at least three bucketfuls to each square metre and well dug in.
To this add pelletised, high nitrogen poultry manure - a good double handful to each square metre - and a generous fistful of sulphate of potash. Work it in so all fertilisers are well mixed with the soil.
Plant the new raspberry canes spaced 300mm apart in rows a metre apart. Be sure to cut back each cane so only about 150mm is left sticking up. Water in and apply a thick mulch of pea straw to suppress weeds and seal in moisture.
For autumn croppers, feed again with blood and bone in December and again in February. Real success is achieved by generous watering, especially during our dry summer and early autumn.
Over-vigorous raspberry varieties, especially Willamette can grow up to 2m in height. The tops of the canes become slightly hooked and this part can be cut off. However, the harder the living, bearing canes are pruned, the smaller the yield.
Most autumn-bearers require little support, except when heavy fruit clusters form. The weight can bend canes down to the ground, so be ready to drive a few strong stakes in around the patch, linking them with strong twine or wire to provide support.
And as those delicious berries start to colour and ripen, make sure you have plenty of bird-netting handy to throw over the top. Otherwise those early birds will be only too happy to take full advantage of all your hard work.