Cutting raspberries: How, why and when?

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:16 pm

For a bountiful harvest and healthy plants, you’ll need to reach for your pruning shears every now and then and prune your raspberries. Fortunately, this is done quickly and is quite simple. Pruning summer raspberries and autumn raspberries is slightly different – but that’s the only difficulty.

Why do you need to cut raspberries?

Raspberries need regular pruning to provide a good harvest for a long time and stay healthy. Most plants can bear fruit without regular pruning, but by removing old shoots, the harvest is more abundant and the berries are of better quality. They are larger and usually taste sweeter and more aromatic.

Cutting raspberries: How, why and when?

At first glance, it seems strange that you can harvest more by cutting fewer shoots, but the younger shoots bear better. The older a shoot gets, the more lazy it becomes in flowering and eventually it hardly bears any fruit. With the vast majority of plants, pruning stimulates new growth.

A “tidy” shrub gives younger shoots room to grow and plenty of sunlight gets to the fruit. Plus, pruning increases the chance that your shrub will stay healthy. In a loose and airy shrub, the leaves can dry well after rainfall, which prevents diseases like powdery mildew.
In short, you need to prune your raspberries so that….

… the plant remains healthy
… you can harvest many raspberries
… the quality of the fruit remains high

 
What happens if you don’t cut back a raspberry plant?

If a raspberry plant is not cut back and left to its own devices, it will probably continue to produce a small crop for some time, depending on the variety and cultivar. At some point, however, the canes will be so old that they will no longer bear fruit. As new shoots keep growing back, a small raspberry jungle develops over time. The plants do not tendril as strongly as, for example, wild blackberries, but strong-growing are most varieties nevertheless.

There can be several reasons why a raspberry is not pruned for a long time. Perhaps it was forgotten or the garden owners did not know that pruning is necessary. But even in such a case, an old raspberry plant can be rejuvenated and saved by simply cutting it back radically. The root system will remain undamaged, and the plant will sprout again next spring. A new opportunity for regular pruning.
Good to know: equipment & important terms
Equipment for pruning raspberries

Most important when pruning raspberries is a sharp, clean pair of pruning shears. Models that you can use with one hand are best. That way, you’ll always have one hand free to hold shoots.

Gardening gloves are recommended for raspberries that have prickles on the lower part of the canes. Make sure the fabric isn’t too thin so it doesn’t become a prickly affair after all.

For old shrubs that are heavily woody, loppers or even a small saw can also do a good job. However, this is usually not necessary.

Also optional: an old pair of pants or knee pads or cushions, since you’ll probably be kneeling or crouching close to the ground when cutting raspberries outdoors. It can be wet and muddy in the fall or spring.

 
Pruning raspberries – important terms

When it comes to pruning plants, you will always come across certain terms. Two of them are pre-annual and this year’s. These terms refer to the shoots of raspberries, which are also called canes.

Pre-annual means that the corresponding canes have already sprouted new ones last year. So, we can also say that they are biennial, since they are in their second year. Usually their bark has already turned reddish to brownish and is slightly woody.

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In contrast, this year’s canes are “freshly hatched” in the spring. They are still young and green and are also referred to as annuals.

The names of the years can be confusing. After all, the rods aren’t actually one or two years old yet, so the terms annual and biennial aren’t quite appropriate. They are in their first and second year, respectively. You have to keep that in mind.

 
How far back do you need to prune raspberries?

When you read that a raspberry cane should be cut or removed, it always means that you should cut it back to the ground. You can set the pruning shears almost at ground level, so the shoots will then only stick out a few inches from the ground.

Shortening, on the other hand, is mostly about limiting the height of raspberry canes. Sometimes the shoots of summer raspberries become too long for their climbing framework. Young canes of twice-bearing raspberry need to be shortened to bear fruit once again.


The three raspberry varieties – overview

There are many varieties of raspberries. Plants can vary in their final size or differ in taste and color of the fruit. A very important characteristic of raspberries is whether they are summer or autumn raspberries. This is because it affects the correct pruning. And then there is also the combination of summer and autumn raspberry: the double-bearing raspberry. Because harvesting twice is simply better than harvesting once.

Cutting raspberries: The best time

VarietyAutumn raspberriesAlternative time
Summer raspberriesold shoots: in summer directly after harvesting
young shoots: thinning out in spring
old shoots: in autumn or spring if necessary
twice bearing raspberriesold shoots: in summer directly after harvesting
young shoots: shorten & thin out in spring
old shoots: in autumn or spring if necessary
Autumn raspberriesin autumn directly after harvestin spring

The following applies to all varieties: You can remove diseased, weak or dead shoots all year round.

 
Summer raspberries: Early harvest on old shoots

Summer raspberries bear their fruit from early summer onwards on old shoots. The first fruits appear in June and can be harvested until the end of July. The previous year’s shoots will not bear fruit the next year and are therefore cut off. The young one-year-old shoots that have not yet borne fruit are left in limited numbers.

 
Autumn raspberries: Late harvest on young shoots

Autumn raspberries begin bearing fruit on this year’s shoots in early August. Fruit can be harvested throughout late summer and fall, often into October. After harvest, simply cut off all shoots so that new canes will sprout again in the spring.

 
Double-bearing raspberries: Double harvest

Double-bearing raspberries are a special cultivar that is capable of bearing fruit on both previous year’s shoots in the summer and this year’s shoots in the fall. This is great and, fortunately, does not complicate pruning. Double-bearing raspberries are pruned almost exactly like summer raspberries.
Pruning summer raspberries: Here’s how it works

With summer raspberries, the goal is to have enough previous-year shoots in the summer to bear the fruit and be harvested. But at the same time, the plant should already have enough of this year’s canes to guarantee next year’s harvest. And this is exactly the problem: a mess of young and old shoots, which must be distinguished. After all, only the previous year’s canes may be cut.

But do not worry, with a few tips it’s easy

  • Harvesting tip: Summer raspberries only bear on the previous year’s shoots. So during harvest time, you can spot them very easily. As soon as they are harvested, you can cut them off directly.
  • The color tip: You can recognize previous years’ shoots by the fact that they are no longer as green as this year’s shoots. They lignify slowly and turn reddish to brownish.
  • The thread tip: This tip is very useful for all those who like to put off work until later. Mark the shoots that have borne fruit with a string. This way you will know later what to cut off.
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In the spring, the raspberry plant will sprout new shoots. In total, a summer raspberry should have about 5-7 previous year’s shoots and just as many current year’s shoots. If more young shoots sprout, you should reduce the number when pruning in summer or fall so that the others have more room.


 
When is it best to prune summer raspberries?

You can cut off the previous year’s shoots directly after harvesting, starting at the end of July. At this time, you can still easily see which canes had fruit hanging on them. By pruning, you give the young shoots of this year space to develop well. The cut parts of the plant can be chopped up if you have the possibility to do so. You can then use the material to mulch your raspberry plant.

Of course, this is also possible in the fall. Then the raspberries are especially happy about a thick, warming mulch layer. If you have not removed the harvested shoots in summer, they may have grown a little more now and the pruning effort is a little higher than in summer.

If the annual shoots have grown very long, fall is a good time to shorten them a bit. In the summer this is not useful, because they would sprout directly again and continue to grow.

 
Can I prune summer raspberries in the spring?

If you missed the time to prune in summer or fall, you can also prune in spring (February/March). If you haven’t marked your shoots, you need to go by the color of the bark. The older shoots are darker and feel harder. Note, however, that even the young shoots are now a year old and beginning to lignify!

If you wait too long, the raspberry will sprout again. Then you have this year’s, last year’s and last year’s canes on one plant… oh dear. To cut the summer raspberry anyway, you have to pick out the oldest shoots and cut them off. In the worst case, you’ll also catch some previous year’s shoots that would actually still bear fruit.


Pruning autumn raspberries: Here’s how it works

With autumn raspberries, we want to prevent the shoots from remaining on the plant for more than one season. Only the very fresh, this year’s canes bear the fruit. Therefore, the autumn raspberry is simply cut back completely.

In the spring, the plant sprouts new shoots. You should make sure that between 10 – 15 new shoots grow. You can cut off excess shoots so that the others have more space. If there are too many shoots, it will simply be too crowded.

 
When to cut autumn raspberries?

Autumn raspberries are preferably pruned in the fall after harvest, around the end of October. There are a few advantages to this: An autumn raspberry in a pot can be more easily overwintered once all the “brush” has been removed. Also, in the open ground, the cut shoots can be very well covered with a layer of mulch to protect the roots from frost. In addition, in this way, in the spring you no longer have to worry about cutting the raspberry in time to give the new shoots enough space to sprout.

One argument against pruning in the fall is that shrubs provide shelter and overwintering opportunities for many insects. This is true of other plants as well, and it’s actually a good idea not to tidy up the garden too much in the fall. Stems of various flowers, in particular, are ideal hiding places for bugs of all kinds. With autumn raspberries, a good compromise is to cut the bushes, but use the material from pruning for mulching, for example. Animals can overwinter there, too.

 
Can I prune autumn raspberries in the spring?

Autumn raspberries can also be pruned back in the spring. However, the longer you wait to do this, the higher the risk that the plant will already be resprouting. This makes pruning somewhat more difficult. In addition, the fresh shoots do not have as much space to develop well from the beginning.

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Cut double-bearing raspberries: How it works

Double-bearing raspberries are pruned very similarly to summer raspberries. There are two things to remember:

  1. completely remove old, worn shoots.

Here it is advantageous to carry out the major pruning in summer directly after harvesting or at least to mark the corresponding shoots.

Unlike summer raspberries, one-year-old shoots already bear fruit. Especially at the beginning of August, it is possible to get confused: Are the previous year’s shoots still bearing fruit or are this year’s shoots already bearing fruit?

It is best to mark the shoots that are flowering as early as May. These are definitely last year’s shoots that will have to be cut off later. If you have not made such a marking, you will have to orientate yourself later on the color of the shoots and the degree of lignification.

Woody, reddish or brownish shoots will bear fruit in summer and will not bear fruit in the next season.
it is best to remove them immediately after harvesting
alternatively you can cut them off in autumn or in spring if necessary

  1. shorten young shoots only

Young shoots bear in the fall and are only shortened a little – they will still be needed next year. Shortening should ideally be done in spring. You can usually recognize the shoots by the old, harvested fruit attachments. After pruning, the plant can sprout new shoots directly. Pruning in autumn has disadvantages: If it takes place too early, the plant may sprout again before frost. If it takes place too late, the fresh cut surfaces are susceptible to frost and pathogens.

Later in the spring, thinning out the entire raspberry plant is still on the agenda. By this time, very fresh shoots have already grown back (which will bear fruit in the fall). Be careful not to regrow too many young canes. Just like a summer raspberry, a twice-bearing raspberry should have about 5 – 7 previous year’s shoots and just as many this year.

Cutting raspberries: How, why and when?
In spring, it is usually still easy to see where the fruit hung in the fall.

Cutting raspberries in the pot

Raspberries in the pot are usually cut in the same way as in the open ground. There are special cultivars that remain smaller, but even with them a distinction is made between summer and autumn raspberries, or double-bearing raspberries. They can stand in a slightly smaller tub, while other varieties absolutely need a sufficiently large planter.

If you want to know more, check out our article on proper raspberry care as well as our raspberry knowledge text.


After pruning: clean up

All pruning in the garden produces plant material that has to go somewhere. Ideal, of course, is a compost. There, cuttings from healthy plants can be disposed of and new humus is created. But often the material is also good for mulching. When mulch is decomposed, it is, strictly speaking, also composted, and nutrient-rich, loose soil is created right on the spot. Raspberries in particular benefit greatly from such a layer of mulch. It also protects against drying out in the summer and frost in the winter.

If your raspberry plants are affected by diseases or pests, it is better to dispose of the removed canes in the household waste. They should not end up in the compost and they are also not suitable as a mulch layer. Otherwise, however, it is of course great if you can continue to use the cuttings in the garden after cutting the raspberries.

Author

  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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