Stella Otto: The Backyard Fruit Gardener

Today's Tip: Mow vegetation short around the base of fruit trees and bushes to reduce winter habitat for rodents.

Raspberries Now and Later

The sum­mer berry har­vest sea­son is bit­ter­sweet. We love all the fresh, ripe fruit while we have it, but the sea­son is over in no-time. One thing I like about grow­ing rasp­ber­ries; beyond just plain old lik­ing rasp­ber­ries; is they can be a “have your cake and eat it too” sit­u­a­tion. Thanks to pri­mo­cane fruit­ing vari­eties you can enjoy fresh summer-bearing rasp­ber­ries now and also enjoy another crop in early autumn. How is that?

Biol­ogy of a Rasp­berry Plant

Well, I’ll explain. The rasp­berry crown that you are grow­ing in your gar­den is a peren­nial plant. How­ever, the cane that grows from it and bears fruit is typ­i­cally a bien­nial. Dur­ing the first year of its growth the cane is veg­e­ta­tive and known as the pri­mo­cane. (“Primo-“ deriv­ing from pri­mary or first.) That cane over­win­ters and becomes fruit-bearing in its sec­ond year. At that point it becomes known as the flor­i­cane. (“Flori-“ mean­ing flower; which leads even­tu­ally to fruit-bearing.) Once the flor­i­cane has borne fruit for a sea­son it is no longer pro­duc­tive and dies. It should be pruned out after har­vest. New pri­mo­canes are already grow­ing from the crown to per­pet­u­ate the cycle fo fruit-bearing. The tra­di­tional rasp­berry vari­eties have been of the sum­mer floricane-bearing type. Now gar­den­ers have an addi­tional new type of rasp­berry to try.

Primocane-bearing Rasp­ber­ries
Primocane raspberries, floricane-bearing raspberries

Young rasp­berry pri­mo­canes in the fore­ground. Sec­ond year primocane-bearing canes in the back­ground. Flor­i­canes of summer-bearing rasp­ber­ries on the right.

By a minor fluke of nature, over time sev­eral rasp­berry vari­eties were dis­cov­ered that, in addi­tion to the nor­mal flor­i­cane crop, put out a crop of fruit on the pri­mo­cane. That is how we’ve got­ten to have our pie and eat it too! Pri­mo­cane bear­ing vari­eties can be man­aged in sev­eral ways, depend­ing on when you want their crop:

  1. They can be pruned like the summer-bearing vari­eties, allowed to pro­duce a pri­mo­cane crop, and then left to pro­duce a flor­i­cane crop the fol­low­ing sum­mer. The pri­mo­cane crop will grow on the tips of the canes. After the sec­ond crop, prune out the spent floricanes.
  2. They can also be grown just like the tra­di­tional flor­i­cane bear­ing vari­eties; har­vest­ing only the sum­mer crop and then remov­ing the spent cane. This sum­mer crop will nor­mally pro­duce more vol­ume than the fall crop. You can usu­ally expect a ratio of 2:1 sum­mer to fall har­vest yield.
  3. Finally they can be mowed to the ground annu­ally and grown for just the late sum­mer, early fall crop. This method sim­pli­fies main­te­nance but more care must be taken in choos­ing vari­eties. It is impor­tant to select a vari­ety that will pro­duce and ripen the crop before fall frosts occur in your area.

Cur­rently there are only red and golden pri­mo­cane rasp­ber­ries, no black or pur­ple vari­eties. Her­itage was one of the orig­i­nal pri­mo­cane vari­eties, but was not suited for north­ern regions since it ripened fairly late. Today there are ear­lier ripen­ing vari­eties. Some of the cur­rently pop­u­lar primocane-bearing red rasp­berry vari­eties include:

Polana primocane-bearing red raspberry

Polana primocane-bearing red raspberry

  • Autumn Bliss ripens 10 to 14 days before Heritage.
  • Autumn Brit­ten
  • Car­o­line
  • Crim­son Giant ripens after ‘Her­itage’ and extends the sea­son until late Octo­ber. It is only suit­able for areas with very long grow­ing seasons.
  • Her­itage is con­sid­ered the stan­dard fall bear­ing red rasp­berry vari­ety. It is not rec­om­mended for regions with cool sum­mers or a short grow­ing sea­son with frost before Sep­tem­ber 30
  • Himbo Top
  • Jaclyn ripens 2 weeks before Heritage.
  • Joan J
  • Josephine
  • Nan­ta­hala
  • Polana
  • Polka
  • Pre­lude also bears a very late sea­son pri­mo­cane crop. Best grown in zone 5 or higher. It does pro­duce an early sum­mer sea­son flor­i­cane crop.
Anne yellow primocane-bearing raspberry

Anne yel­low primocane-bearing raspberry

Yel­low Pri­mo­cane Rasp­ber­ries are color muta­tions of red vari­eties. The most pop­u­lar are:

  • Anne
  • Fall Gold (aka Goldie) is an amber sport of Heritage


Pri­mo­cane Blackberries

Recent breed­ing efforts have also pro­duced sev­eral primocane-bearing black­ber­ries. They are slowly find­ing their way onto the mar­ket and could be an answer for north­ern areas where ripen­ing a black­berry flor­i­cane crop is chal­leng­ing due to the short grow­ing sea­son. Some vari­eties worth try­ing include:

primocane-bearing blackberries

Recent breed­ing efforts have made sev­eral new primocane-bearing black­ber­ries vari­eties available

  • Prime-Ark 45 is tol­er­ant of sum­mer heat and suited for grow­ing in the south­ern cli­mates of zones 6–9.
  • Prime-Jim is quite thorny. It has a high chill­ing require­ment, so is not suited for the most south­ern grow­ing regions.
  • Prime-Jan also has a high chill­ing require­ment, so is not suited for the most south­ern grow­ing regions.

Enjoy your bram­ble har­vest now. Plant some of these new pri­mo­cane fruit­ing vari­eties next spring and you can have your fresh bram­ble berry pie in two seasons.

For com­plete infor­ma­tion on grow­ing both sum­mer and fall fruit­ing bram­bles buy The Back­yard Berry Book.