raspberries and blackberries
Updated: March 29, 2024

About raspberries and blackberries ("brambles")

Raspberries, blackberries, and their relatives (boysenberries, marionberries, loganberries, dewberries, etc.) are collectively known as brambles. These species and hybrids belong to the Rubus genus, part of the rose family (Rosaceae). Black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) and several blackberry species grow wild across Maryland, and many gardeners plant and enjoy a variety of cultivated types. Raspberry is somewhat less heat-tolerant than blackberry.

Bramble flowers have 70-125 pistils (female part) and each pistil contains two ovules. One ovule develops into a seed, and the other into a drupelet containing the seed. Each fruit is made up of a large number of drupelets, collectively called an aggregate fruit.

Bramble growth cycle

Bramble crowns and roots are perennial. Canes are biennial with the following typical life-cycle:

  • Each spring, new shoots emerge from crown buds at the base of the plant.

  • These first-year shoots, known as primocanes, grow and produce lateral (side/secondary) branches during the summer.

  • At the end of summer, flower buds are formed on the  primocane stems, though they do not bloom. Primocane stems go dormant in autumn and survive their first winter.

  • In the second growing year, those one-year-old canes, now called floricanes, produce flowers and fruit on main stems and laterals (side branches). Lower parts of the canes are unproductive.

  • Floricanes die after fruiting and must eventually be removed because they will not produce another harvest or survive a second winter. Usually, this pruning is done in late winter before new canes begin coming up.

Some cultivars produce fruit on primocanes:

  • Primocane-bearing raspberry and blackberry cultivars produce fruit on first-year canes. They fruit later in the summer compared to floricane-bearing cultivars that fruit in June, and will often produce fruit until the first frost.

  • Most gardeners cut and remove the canes after harvest in the dormant season, which simplifies maintenance.  

  • Red raspberry and blackberry produce root suckers that emerge close to or far from the crown. Black raspberry produces new shoots from the crown area only. Purple raspberry produces shoots mostly from the crown with some emerging from the roots.

Growth habits (Types)

Blackberries and raspberries are categorized based on how they grow (upright or sprawling growth habit) and which stems produce fruit.

Blackberry types

Floricane-bearing:

  • thorny erect 

  • thornless trailing

  • thornless erect

Primocane-bearing:

  • thorny erect

  • thornless erect 

Raspberry types

Floricane-bearing: 

  • thorny

  • thornless

Primocane-bearing:

  • thorny (red, yellow)

  • thornless (red)

  • Black raspberry and purple raspberry (a cross between red and black raspberry) are floricane-bearing 

The widespread, invasive bramble species Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) should not be planted in gardens. It escapes cultivation and disrupts natural habitat, where its rapid growth crowds out native plants.

Recommended raspberry cultivars

 
Recommended Raspberry Cultivars
Cultivar Comments
Anne Yellow primocane-bearing. UMD release. Large fruit with good flavor.
Bristol Black. Large fruit of excellent quality. Erect, vigorous, productive plants.
Caroline Red primocane-bearing. UMD release; excellent intense raspberry flavor.
Crimson Night Red primocane-bearing. Dark purple veins, dark red fruit. Decorative canes are also red.

Double Gold

Yellow primocane-bearing. Attractive, champagne-colored fruit with a deep blush.
Encore Red June-bearing. Thornless. Ripens mid-summer between most floricane- and primocane-bearers.
Himbo-Top® Red primocane-bearing. Large fruit is firm and bright red. Easy to pick.
Jaclyn Red primocane-bearing. UMD release; the earliest primocane. Good flavor, heat tolerance.
Jewel Black. Productive variety. Large fruit with fine flavor; disease-resistant.
Joan-J Red primocane-bearing. Upright and thornless. Big yields.
Latham Red June-bearing. Cold-hardy, virus-resistant. Flavorful, firm fruit. Mid-season.
Prelude Red primocane-bearing. One of the earliest-ripening primocane-bearing varieties.
Royalty Purple. Large fruit becomes sweeter as it colors. Very vigorous and productive canes.

Note: Dwarf raspberry cultivars, like Raspberry Shortcake®, are available for growing in containers.

Recommended blackberry cultivars

 
Recommended Blackberry Cultivars
Cultivar Comments
Eclipse Thornless, semi-erect, floricane-bearing. Medium-large, dark, firm fruit that ripens early. Sweet flavor.
Galaxy Thornless, semi-erect, floricane-bearing. Larger, sweeter fruit than Eclipse. Ripens a few days earlier.
Natchez Thornless, semi-erect, floricane-bearing. Firm, glossy, oblong berries are very large. Ripens in early summer.
Ouachita Thornless, semi-erect, floricane-bearing. Conical fruit with a high-gloss. Ripens mid-season. Stores well.

Prime-Ark® Freedom

Thornless, erect, primocane-bearing. Large fruits with good flavor.
Prime-Ark® Traveler Thornless, erect, primocane-bearing. Medium- large, firm fruits with low acidity.
Sweet-Ark® Caddo Thornless, erect, floricane-bearing. Large, flavorful fruit. Reliable bearer. Low chill-hours (300 hours).
Sweet-Ark® Ponca Thornless, erect, floricane-bearing. Super-sweet, sub-acid berries from a very prolific plant. Stores well.
Sweetie Pie Thornless, trailing, floricane-bearing. Large, very sweet berries. Heat-tolerant and disease-resistant.
Twilight Thornless, semi-erect, floricane-bearing. Firm, dark fruit that ripens just after Eclipse. Outstanding flavor; a little tart.

Notes: Dwarf blackberry cultivars, like Baby Cakes, are available for growing in containers. Other well-adapted thornless cultivars for Maryland include Apache, Arapaho, Navaho, Osage, Von, Triple Crown, Chester, and Hull. The latter three are trailing-type cultivars, producing very long canes.

Planting

Location and spacing 

  • Choose a planting site at least 300 feet from wild brambles, a potential source of diseases.
  • Although bramble growth and productivity tends to be best in full sun, in warmer regions of Maryland, raspberry plants may benefit from light summer shade in the late afternoon.
  • When planting in rows, red raspberry plants should be spaced 2 feet apart within the row; black and purple raspberry plants 3 feet apart; and blackberry plants 3-4 feet apart.
  • Allow for 8 feet between rows if planting multiple rows.

Timing and technique

  • Brambles can be sold potted or bare-root (either at local garden centers or mail-ordered). Those propagated from tissue-culture (TC) might not yet be acclimated to freezing temperatures when sold, and should be planted after the last spring frost.
  • Lay the roots of bare-root plants horizontally in a 2-3 inch deep trench and cover them with soil.
  • Old, dead canes attached to bare-root plants should be pruned off. New growth will come from the roots and crown.
  • Remove flowers during the first year to encourage plant establishment.

Plant care

Supporting stems

  • All bramble plants, including those that are described as self-supporting (erect), will benefit from a sturdy trellis. This makes harvesting easier, especially on thorny-stemmed varieties, and reduces the sprawl of plants that might otherwise tip-root as stems arch down to the ground.
  • Loosely tie individual canes to horizontal wires, or train canes to grow between two horizontal wires (called a T-trellis).

Suppressing weeds

  • Remove weeds and turfgrass between and around raspberry plants. A weed-free zone:
    • promotes rapid drying of leaves and fruit after rain and irrigation, which decreases the incidence of diseases
    • reduces root competition for water and nutrients
    • discourages pest insects that can be harbored by weeds

Training and pruning

All bramble plants require annual renovation pruning – removing dead canes that have fruited to make room for new shoots from the roots or crown. Renovation pruning maintains the vigor of the plants and aids in disease and insect suppression. 

Floricane-bearing plants 

  • When plants are dormant, remove the dead floricanes that fruited the previous season. 
  • Thin first-year raspberry shoots (primocanes) to a 6-inch spacing near the base (crown) of the plant. Blackberry stemsshould be thinned to 3-4 strong primocanes. 
  • Primocanes are also “tipped” at a 3-4 foot height to encourage lateral (side) shoots to form. The laterals are shorted to an 18 inch length for maximum fruiting.
  • When removing dead, fruited canes or excess primocanes, make the cuts at ground level so that the dead stubs do not protrude where they can harbor canker-causing fungi. Remove all pruning waste from the planting area. 
  • During the growing season, prune out wilted, injured, and weak canes.
  • Red raspberry rows should be kept under 18 inches in width to help maximize airflow and keep the lower canopy dry.

Primocane-bearing plants

  • Two-crop method: After harvest, prune back first-year canes just below the lowest laterals. In late spring, flowers and fruits will form on new laterals that will grow from buds on the overwintered canes. The second-year spring harvest will be significantly less than the first-year, late-summer harvest.

In spring, thin new shoots (primocanes). Remove the second-year canes (floricanes) when they are finished fruiting. Primocanes are “tipped” at a 3-4 foot height to encourage lateral shoots to form. The laterals are shorted to a 12-18 inch length for maximum fruiting.

  • One-crop method: When plants are dormant, prune out at ground level all the dead canes that fruited the previous season. In late spring, thin new shoots to a 6-inch spacing at the base. Primocanes are “tipped” at a 3-4 ft. height to encourage lateral shoots to form. The laterals are shortened to a 12-18 inch length for maximum fruiting.

    This method is preferred by most gardeners. The annual yield is higher and the plants are more manageable.

Resources

(Video) Blackberry Pruning Demonstration | University of Kentucky

(Video) How Do I Prune Raspberries? | University of Maine

(Video) Pruning Raspberries | University of Nebraska

Harvesting

  • If possible, harvest in the morning after dew has dried and temperatures are still cool. Fruits harvested late in the day have retained heat that reduces storage life. 
  • Harvest fruit regularly to reduce the incidence of fruit rot and to prevent sap beetles and plant bugs from feeding on ripening berries.
  • Ripe berries will detach easily. With blackberries, the receptacle (white inner core) stays with the harvested fruit. With raspberries, the core remains attached to the plant. Pick blackberries when the fruits lose their shine and become dull.
  • Since they are delicate, fruits should be rolled off the plant, rather than squeezed or pulled, and put in shallow containers.
  • Bramble fruits will continue to ripen and develop flavors after harvest, but will not get any sweeter. Refrigerate berries immediately, and only rinse them just prior to consuming or cooking them. Chilled raspberries will last about a week; blackberries will keep several days longer.

Propagation

  • Root cuttings (3-4 inch sections of roots) of raspberry and blackberry can be planted 2-3 inches deep in  flats or containers filled with soilless growing media. The cuttings can be planted out once new shoots begin to emerge. 
  • Root suckers can be removed and planted in pots or new garden locations. They will require frequent watering until they establish on new roots. 
  • Long shoots will naturally bend over and root where the shoot tip touches bare soil. Several weeks later a new plant will grow where the shoot tip has rooted. Use a shovel or pruners to separate the new daughter plant and its roots from the mother plant. Black raspberry tip-roots readily. The shoot tipps of other bramble types can be bent over and held to the ground with a rock, brick, or landscape staple.
  • Propagate only healthy, disease-free plants.

Plant and pest problems

Several diseases can infect bramble plants and reduce their vigor and productivity. These include fungal infections like spur blight, cane blight, anthracnose, orange rust (on blackberry and black raspberry only), and late rust (red raspberry only), plus some viruses.

orange fungal disease on blackberry - rust
Orange rust. Penn State University Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology, Bugwood.org

Common bramble insect pests include Japanese beetles, several borers, and spotted-wing drosophila.

Japanese beetle adults are metallic coppery-brown and green in color and about a half-inch-long. They often feed in large numbers, damaging the fruit and skeletonizing the foliage, giving leaves a lacy appearance.

coppery beetles on a raspberry plant - Japanese beetles
Japanese beetles on a raspberry plant. Photo: J. Traunfeld, UME

Sunburn (also called white drupelet disorder) of bramble fruit may occur during periods of dry, sunny, breezy, hot weather. Excess ultraviolet radiation scalds the fruit. Individual drupelets become hard and bleached-looking, being white or tan in color. If a small percentage of the drupelets are affected, the fruit is still edible and can also be used in recipes.

white section on a red raspberry - not ripening - druplet disorder
Symptoms of white druplet disorder: Photo: M. Talabac, UME

Resources

(PDF) Cane Diseases of Brambles | University of Kentucky

Raspberry Cane Diseases | University of Minnesota

Controlling Raspberry Cane Borers | Michigan State University

Raspberry Anthracnose | University of Wisconsin

Late Leaf Rust of Red Raspberries | Ohio State University

Pest Management Guide (click Home Fruit) | Virginia Cooperative Extension

Additional resources

Pest Management Guide (click Home Fruit) | Virginia Cooperative Extension
UME recommends this guide for Maryland’s home fruit gardeners.

Southeast Regional Caneberry Production Guide | NC State University

Blackberry Diagnostic Tool | NC State University 

Blackberries (breeding information) | University of Arkansas

Author: Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist. Reviewed by Miri Talabac, Lead Horticulture Consultant, and Christa Carignan, Digital Horticulture Education Coordinator. 3/2024

Still have a question? Contact us at Ask Extension.