Cane Management

To get good-quality fruit, you need to prune plantings annually. Some types of brambles require thinning to keep the plants from getting too crowded and producing poor-quality fruit. With others, you can mow off the canes annually to keep them under control. Proper pruning and cane management can reduce the incidence of disease and improve growth, yield, and fruit size, quality, and sweetness.

Different types of brambles require different kinds of management:

Primocane-fruiting raspberries (fall-bearing raspberries) produce fruit at the top of first-year canes (primocanes) in late summer or early fall and on the lower portion of those same canes in early summer of the second year. If the growing season cooperates, you can expect fruit from primocane raspberries in the fall of the year of planting.

Most growers sacrifice the early-summer crop by pruning or mowing down canes between fall harvest and bud break in early spring. Cut the primocanes as close to the ground as possible to force new buds to break below the soil surface. New primocanes from these buds will grow and fruit in late summer or early fall. This produces a smaller but higher-quality late summer crop.

If you plan to harvest your raspberries only in the fall, you want to maximize the number of canes, so thinning isn't needed. To harvest an early summer crop as well, manage the canes like floricane-fruiting brambles (see below), and remove the portion of the cane that's fruited after harvest in the fall.

Floricane-fruiting raspberries and blackberries produce fruit from buds on second-year canes (floricanes). Unlike primocane types, the canes must remain intact throughout the winter and until after harvest during the second year. After they bear fruit, the floricanes die. You can expect your first crop the year after planting and full production in the summer of the third year.

While the floricanes are flowering and fruiting during their second year, new primocanes also are growing. Some of these will replace the floricanes next season. But these new primocanes compete with the floricanes for sun and water, and they can interfere with spraying and harvesting. Proper pruning and trellising reduces this competition.

The traditional way to manage floricane-fruiting plants is to permit primocanes to grow through their first season and fruit the following year and then cut them off at ground level after harvest when they are dead. The key is to prune and thin the canes in early spring of their second season. In general, you remove any spent floricanes left from the previous season as well as any diseased or winter-damaged wood. Then thin out the canes to about three or four per foot. Finally, head back the remaining canes to a convenient height for picking—about 4 to 5 feet—but by no more than

Good-quality fruit requires annual pruning.

Prune primocanes while they are small and succulent, not big and thorny.

25 percent. (See "Pruning", page 72, for more details about pruning different types of brambles.)

Another way to reduce plant interference and competition is to mow half of the planting alternately each year during the dormant season. During the spring after mowing, primocanes emerge and grow without interference from fruiting canes. The following year, the floricanes flower and fruit, and then you mow them to the ground once again. This system requires less labor because thinning and pruning are not necessary. It also reduces spray material costs. But because of the high cane density, you can expect poorer quality fruit, smaller berries, and lower yields.

A third alternative is to select four or five primocanes per linear foot of row in June that you will carry through to fruiting the following year and remove the rest. Cut the primocanes that you don't want when they are about 8 inches tall. They are much easier to prune out while they are still small and succulent instead of large and thorny. This method also increases the fruit size and yield of the current season's crop. The disadvantage is that if any of these canes become diseased or damaged, you don't have others to choose from to replace them.

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