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Growing raspberries in the back yard

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When we first moved into our present home, we were blessed with a raspberry patch in the back yard. We enjoyed their sweet abundance for many years, but then decided to build a garage on that space.

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Raspberries are a tasty member of the rose family and are commonly grown in area gardens. Raspberry plants are technically brambles, meaning prickly shrub, as are blackberries, boysenberries and loganberries. All brambles produce biennial canes on long, woody stems.

The first year the canes grow vigorously, but do not flower. The second year the canes flower, produce fruit and die once the fruit matures. Each spring there is a new crop of canes, which are growing while the older canes are fruiting.

Red raspberries are the most popular, but there are yellow, black and purple varieties. Some varieties are summer bearing and others are ever bearing. Select a variety that is hardy in our area and they will not need winter protection.

Since raspberries spread exuberantly, it is easy to propagate new plants. Dig up and transplant the root sprouts or suckers of red and yellow raspberries. However, brambles are subject to viral diseases, so it is best to buy certified disease-free plants from a nursery.

Like other fruiting plants, raspberries perform best with at least six hours of direct sun. They require well-drained soil and the ground should be weed free. Dig in a 1-3 inch layer of compost or other organic material in the top 6 inches of your plot before planting.

Plant bare-root raspberries in very early spring, but wait until all chance of frost is past to plant leafed out plants. Dig a hole 1 1/2 times the size of the root mass and set them 1 inch to 2 inches deeper than they were in the nursery. Instead of a 'patch' plant in hedge-like 1-3 foot wide rows and 2-3 feet apart, the rows should be spaced wide enough that sunlight and air can reach all of the plants. You also need enough room to walk between the rows without damaging the plants or hurting yourself. Five to six feet is a good spacing. Since the plants sucker, you will need to remove those that block access throughout the summer by either pruning or mowing. Otherwise, they will eventually fill in the spaces between the rows and prevent you from reaching the berries.

Keep the plants well watered, but they don't like wet feet. Maintain a 3 inch layer of organic mulch on the plot. Fertilize in spring with one pound of fertilizer per 10 feet of row, using a product that is no more than 10 percent nitrogen.

The fruit is formed on the second year canes (floricanes). Immediately after you harvest the berries, cut these canes off at ground level. In addition, thin out new (primo canes) leaving only the thickest and healthiest. The canes should be at least 6 inches apart. Prune only when they are dry, not wet from dew or rain, to prevent spreading disease. Check canes for insects and diseases and remove infected ones. Cane blight and anthracnose cause purple and brown spots on the canes, the leaves are yellow and brown and the fruit is crumbly. Annual pruning keeps raspberries from becoming overgrown, diseased and difficult to pick.

Brambles can be grown without a support system, but are best grown on a trellis as it reduces disease problems, saves space and speeds pruning and picking. There are many methods including setting posts at the ends of the rows and stretching one to three wires between them. The highest wire should be 4 to 5 feet above the ground. Tie the canes to the wires.

The raspberry fruit is composed of a cluster of tiny fruits, called drupelets, each containing one seed. Pick them as often as possible to keep overripe berries off the plants as they attract beetles. The first years' harvest will not be as productive as in subsequent years. Ripe raspberries slip easily off the core and even more easily into the mouth, but save some for the rest of the family.

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