Berry Different

A fruit farmer in New York state shares her knowledge of growing some of the best berries you've never tasted.

By Sue Smith-Heavenrich


Black raspberries were one of the very first fruits Creeger began to cultivate.Establishing Roots

Black raspberries were among the first crops Creeger planted when she started the farm 8 years ago. Not to be confused with blackberries, black raspberry fruits are smaller and less shiny than blackberries. All raspberries (Rubus) like sunny spots and well-drained soils. They don’t tolerate soggy soil, which Creeger learned: Last year, root rot claimed the black raspberries in the wettest part of her garden. She replanted elsewhere, but gardeners with wet soil should plant brambles in 10-inch-high raised beds.

“They also need enough space,” says Creeger. Black raspberries and purple raspberries (a disease-resistant cross between black and red raspberries) don’t spread as much as the reds, so most planting guides suggest planting them about 30 inches apart. Creeger planted her rows of canes 5 feet apart and will give future brambles more room. Raspberries grow better when trellised. They can be trained on T-bars with wires strung 18 inches apart, but “I use a simpler/cheaper method,” says Creeger. “I put in a single row of straight posts and contain the plants between two rows of twine wrapped around the posts.”

Pruning is essential. Most berry growers prune and thin canes early in their second season. Only second-year canes bear fruit, so further cane management consists of removing old canes and thinning to leave three or four younger, greener canes per foot of row. Creeger also cuts back the growing tips about 4 inches when they’re just short of the desired picking height. Tip pruning encourages branching, which results in more fruit and makes the berries easier to pick.

Before putting in raspberries, gardeners should get weeds under control and check their garden plans from previous years. Brambles (the term for raspberries and blackberries) are vulnerable to verticillium wilt, so avoid planting them in sites where plants in the tomato family (peppers, potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes) or strawberries have ever grown.

Instead of cultivating between rows, Creeger lets the grass grow and mows the paths. That doesn’t get all the weeds, so when she’s walking the rows she’ll rip up large dandelions and clover and use their leaves to mulch the berries. The worst weeds on the farm are goldenrod and other perennials, especially those that spread underground.

Both black and purple raspberries can tolerate a wide range of climatic conditions, from the extreme heat of California’s Central Valley to the cool and wet Northwest to the Midwest and eastern states. Creeger is planting ‘Royalty’, a purple raspberry, for the first time this year; black ‘Munger’ is another disease-resistant variety.