What’s the hardest part about growing raspberries? Choosing among the dazzling array of delicious raspberry types.
Raspberries may be my biggest homesteading success. I failed at growing fruit trees and making the perfect sourdough. I lost chickens and ducks to predators. I had so many potato bugs in my garden that I had to carry my vacuum outside and suck them up. But my raspberries have flourished. I feel like I should be awarded some kind of raspberry badge of honor. Or maybe not. Maybe I haven’t been the best at pruning those raspberry bushes. But that’s a post for another time. Let’s focus on my successes today, shall we?
In just two years my single cane of raspberries has produced pints and pints of irresistible bite-sized berries. Compare this to a standard size apple tree, which can take 8 long years (or never if your trees are like mine and tend to be gobbled up by voles) to produce.
In my opinion, raspberries are the King of the small fruit orchard. The biggest challenge is trying to painfully choose among the many equally scrumptious sounding raspberry types: From bright, eye-catching reds and sweet golden honey yellows to striking blue-blacks and plump luscious purples there’s literally a rainbow of choices. If you’re like me, you will want to plant them all!
So, how can you possibly pick the perfect plant for your homestead or backyard? Here’s a simple guide to help you decide which of the raspberry types will best suit your unique needs and location.
The Most Important Questions You Should Ask When Choosing Among Raspberry Types
How much room do you have and how much work do you want to do?
Red and yellow raspberries grow differently than black and purple raspberries. I wish I would have known this little fact when I bought my first raspberry cane. I planted it next to my garden and it completely took over. Here’s why:
Red and yellow raspberries spread by sending up suckers away from the original crown root. So, if you want to try and contain a red/yellow raspberry, you have to dig up, cut off, or mow down those sucker’s roots and potentially dig a trench at least 8 inches deep around the raspberry plants themselves and insert a root barrier. That’s a lot of work and there is definitely room for error. Those raspberry suckers are sneaky and extremely persistent popping up in less-than-ideal locations (often several feet away from the mother plant) seemingly overnight. I know from experience that their secret ambition is to not only take over your yard but the whole world.
In comparison, black and purple raspberries initiate new canes from the crown of the plant rather than from root suckers. They form new plants when their canes bend over and touch the soil (these are called “rat tails”). This is much easier to control. Unless you want a bigger planting, you can simply cut off the tails in the fall and your black raspberries will stay put without having to search for raspberry suckers or do any backbreaking digging.
Warning: In the case of purple raspberries, suckers may also form between plants depending on the cultivar. Ensure the variety you pick is “non-suckering” or your best bet is to choose a black raspberry instead.
If you want to learn more about planting raspberries, check out my Top 10 tips for planting raspberry canes and getting tonnes of berries.
So, which option do you choose?
A. I don’t have a lot of room and I want a simple, easy way to control my raspberries from spreading: Black and Purple Raspberry Types.
OPTION A: Black and Purple Raspberry Types
Although both dark in color, these two raspberry types are quite different. Purple raspberries are actually a hybrid of red and black. Beware: This can occur naturally if two red and black raspberry plants are in close proximity to one another, according to the Timber Press Growing Guide, Homegrown Berries.
Here’s how to choose between the two.
How to choose between black and purple raspberry types:
You should choose black raspberries if:
- You want to be the envy of everyone in your neighborhood and be the first to chow down on homegrown raspberries. These blue-black fruits are ready to eat as early as mid-June to mid-July in most regions.
- You want to enjoy the tastiest raspberry. Black raspberries are known for their exquisite flavor – a perfect balance of sweet and tart. In fact, Whiffletree Farm & Nursery’s catalog describes them as the “truffles of berries”.
- You don’t live in the extreme cold (zone 1 or 2). Black raspberries are slightly more cold-susceptible than the reds, yellows, and purples.
- You don’t mind paying a few more dollars per cane than you would for red raspberries.
You should choose purple raspberries if:
- You want a slightly more cold tolerant plant. Purple raspberries are a hybrid of red and black. In terms of hardiness, this means purple raspberries are a little hardier than black and a little less hardy than red types, according to the Timber Press Growing Guide, Homegrown Berries.
- You are willing to wait until late June for the first crop of berries to appear. They bear fruit from late June to late July in most regions.
- You want lots of berries! Purple raspberries are known to be large and the plants vigorous and highly productive, according to the University of Idaho’s Growing Raspberries Guide.
- You don’t mind a little extra work. Like black raspberries, new canes are initiated predominantly from the crown (see above), but in addition to dealing with trimming “rat tails”, suckers may also form between plants depending on the variety. If you don’t want to deal with suckers, ensure the variety you pick is labeled “non-suckering” or your best bet is to choose a black raspberry instead.
OPTION B: Red and Yellow Raspberry Types
Except for color, taste, and price, these two raspberry types are identical. Yellow-fruited raspberries are simply a mutation of red raspberries that prevents them from forming their bright, ruby color. They are grown exactly the same.
How to choose between yellow or red raspberry types
Choose yellow raspberries if…
- You want the sweetest possible raspberry. Yellow raspberries taste extremely sweet with honeyed apricot tones and just a subtle hint of tartness. However, if you would like my personal opinion, I grew the Anne variety and although I found them to be mild and sweet, I still prefer the extra tartness of a classic red raspberry.
- You don’t mind paying more. Yellow raspberries are usually a few dollars more per cane than red raspberries.
- You want to impress your Instagram followers with a stunning photo of your hand-picked, specialty yellow raspberries artfully placed on top of your morning bowl of yogurt.
- You don’t want a tonne of berries. They tend to be lower-yielding than most other kinds of raspberries, according to Manitoba Raspberry Cultivar Evaluation Results (2005-2007).
Choose red raspberries if…
- You enjoy the classic raspberry taste with a little tartness mixed in. Red raspberries are slightly more tart than yellow but are definitely full of sweetness when at their sun-ripened peak.
- You want the best price. Red raspberries are usually a few dollars less per cane than any of the other raspberry colors.
- You want the least amount of seeds in your raspberries. Red raspberries reportedly have fewer seeds than any of the other colors. “Black raspberries are more flavorful than the reds, although they also tend to be seedier,” states Timber Press Growing Guide’s Homegrown Berries.
How to choose between summer and fall-bearing raspberry types
Choosing between a red or yellow raspberry is a little more complicated than choosing between a black or purple raspberry because, unlike the darker raspberry types, there are two different categories of red and yellow raspberries: summer and fall-bearing raspberry types.
Choose summer bearing raspberry types if:
- You want your berries in the heat of summer. Summer bearing raspberries fruit only on the second-year canes in mid-July to August in most regions. The canes then die after fruiting.
- You want lots of raspberries at once. Summer fruiting raspberries crop heavily for a short period.
- You don’t mind doing a little extra work. Because the raspberries fruit on last year’s wood, the old canes should be cut out every year, while the new green canes can be left in place to produce next season’s fruit. They also require a sturdy system of posts and wires to control their long, arching canes.
Choose fall-bearing raspberry types if:
- You are willing to wait until fall for fruit. They produce the bulk of their fruit in late summer through fall (August to October in most regions).
- You want to enjoy fresh raspberries over a longer period of time. Fall raspberries crop more steadily over a longer period so you won’t have to worry about dealing with an overabundance of berries.
- You want to do as little work as possible. Fall-fruiting raspberries fruit on new canes. Your only pruning chore is to cut down all the canes after harvest ends in late fall, but before new growth begins in spring. Fall-bearing raspberries are also largely self-supporting. A single wire or length of strong string between posts is enough to keep them from leaning over.
Note: Whether you choose summer or fall-bearing raspberry types, you’ll need to remove suckers and thin canes out in the spring.
What about size?
Don’t be fooled by size. Sometimes the smaller raspberries are more flavorful than the larger ones, according to Timber Press Growing Guide, Homegrown Berries. My husband’s 94-year-old grandfather, who spends weeks each summer hand-picking berries, is famous for saying in regards to the larger ones, “If you wanted a popsicle, I would have brought you one.”
What about location?
You can plant raspberries almost anywhere in the world. In general, they are hardy in zones 2 to 9, but black raspberries are less cold tolerant than any of the other colors (although there are cultivars of black raspberries that can even be grown in zone 3). Please double-check the hardiness of your variety before planting.
What about flavor?
Did you know a raspberry’s flavor will vary from location to location? So, for example, one variety may taste different when it is grown in sandy versus clay soil, according to Timber Press Growing Guide, Homegrown Berries. The best way to choose the right cultivar is to plant a few of them and invite everyone over for a taste test.
So, by now, I hope you have a good idea of what type of raspberry you should plant so that you can avoid the mistakes I made such as planting a suckering red raspberry smack dab in the middle of a vegetable patch. Doh!
And don’t wait! Get planting this spring and in under 2 years, you will be happily filling your basket with pints and pints of these ripe tasty fruits and wondering what took you so long to take on this project in the first place.
PIN IT FOR LATER!
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