Pruning Raspberries

I just finished pruning my raspberries. If there is one job I hate more than anything else in my garden, it is pruning raspberries. Invariably, I pick the hottest day in spring so I am constantly debating whether the discomfort of a few scratches from the raspberry prickles would be worse than the streams of sweat rolling down my face from the long- sleeved shirt, heavy gloves and long pants. The sweat wins out because I know from years of experience that those little scratches can be extremely painful. By the way, those nice white goatskin or pigskin gloves that are sold in gardening catalogs just don’t make it when pruning raspberries. Those little prickles will manage to find they way through the thin covering into that nice soft skin between your fingers in no time.


Of course. I could have pruned my raspberries in fall, but I am usually so busy trying to harvest everything else from my garden before the snow flies, that there is little time for pruning. I could also brave the snow flurries and prune in winter, but I prefer to wait and see what the moose prune before I finish the job.


I also could do like most gardeners and not prune at all, but the thought of picking raspberries in a tangled mass of dead and live canes in mid summer nixes that idea.


I usually prune my rows three times. I go through first and take out all the floricanes that fruited last year and are now dead. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between living and dead canes, so I Look for a gray to black bark color; papery, shedding bark, and well-branched canes with some fruiting stalks still hanging on. At this time, I also take out any cane that is pencil-sized or smaller in diameter and any broken or damaged canes. I then start back at the beginning and thin out the remaining canes to about 8-10 per foot of row. This reduces competition and promotes large-sized fruit. Finally, I top the canes so that they are no more than 5ft tall. The most productive part of a raspberry cane is the middle 50% of the stem. The top 25% can easily be removed without sacrificing yield. Topping the canes makes them easier to pick because the tend to be more upright and the fruit is at a good height.


Now that my pruning chore is completed I can look forward to a bumper crop of sweet, juicy, aromatic fruit for another year. And now I see my five ‘Pixwell’ gooseberry bushes that desperately need pruning. Anyone know a good source of armor-plated gardening gloves?

— P. Holloway