How to Prune Raspberry and Blackberry Plants

Raspberry plant

Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $10 to $35

Two of the most popular shrubby fruit plants in North America are raspberries and blackberries. Both species are from the Rubus genus, and both are known as bramble fruits—plants that grow in dense, shrubby masses that can be almost impenetrable once they are fully mature. Despite the fact that it is difficult (and sometimes painful), pruning these plants is essential. Left unpruned, they will grow into massive plants with lower fruit production and higher susceptibility to disease. So if you want to continue to enjoy their delicious fruit and keep them from overtaking your garden, it's necessary to learn the proper ways to prune raspberry and blackberry bushes.

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Click Play to Learn How to Prune Raspberry and Blackberry Plants

When to Prune Raspberries and Blackberries

  • Raspberries are generally pruned at two times of the year: in late winter or early spring and during the summer growing season for maintenance. For new raspberry plants, prune back the canes to 4 to 5 feet tall during the first few years of growth. This will ensure that the bush gets plenty of light, which is essential to fruit production. It also makes harvesting easier if you keep the canes at a reasonable height.
  • Blackberries are also pruned at two times of the year: in the early spring when they are "tip-pruned" and in the late summer for a general cleanup. With young blackberry plants, prune the tips of all new canes to encourage side shoots. This is where the next season's blackberries will grow.

Before Getting Started

The goal when pruning these fruit bushes is to ensure that light and air can get to the inside parts of the plants. To facilitate pruning, contain the plants in a row. Keep the base of the bushes within a 12- to 18-inch footprint by pruning any suckers that poke up outside that boundary. The tops of the bushes will arch nicely, providing plenty of fruit.

Always use clean, sharp tools. Canes that are crushed rather than cleanly severed can provide an avenue for insects and disease-causing pathogens to enter the plant.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Heavy gloves and eye protection
  • Pruners
  • Loppers
  • Stepladder (optional)

Materials

  • Support fencing or stakes
  • Flexible plant ties

Instructions

Materials and tools photo composite to prune raspberry and blackberry plants

The Spruce / Hilary Allison

Warning

Both raspberries and blackberries have serious thorns, so wear thick gloves and long sleeves when pruning. However, there are some modern blackberry varieties that are virtually thornless, making pruning a lot less hazardous.

How to Prune Summer-bearing Raspberries

Summer-bearing (floricane) raspberries will provide one large harvest, usually in late summer or early fall. These raspberries bear fruit on two-year-old canes, the ones that sprouted the previous season. Summer-bearing raspberries can be further categorized as early season, mid-season, and late-season in terms of when they bear fruit. The harvest period lasts about four to five weeks.

  1. Cut All Canes Near Ground Level

    In late winter or early spring, prune all canes (or stems) that bore fruit the previous year. They won't fruit again. These canes will have grayish, peeling bark. Cut them off near ground level using loppers or bypass pruners.

    Old raspberry stems cut with pruners near ground level

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

  2. Remove Outside Canes

    Cut back the canes that are growing outside of a 12- to 18-inch row footprint of the plant. Raspberries are much easier to tend and harvest if they are kept confined in well-defined rows. Don't worry about pruning too much. Raspberries are very hardy and can bounce back from aggressive pruning.

    Outside raspberry canes cut down with pruners

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

  3. Remove Unsightly Canes

    Remove any spindly or very short canes, using sharp pruners

    Short canes cut down near ground level with pruners

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

  4. Thin the Rest

    Thinning the rest of the canes will allow for about four or five of the healthiest, tallest, and fattest canes left per foot along the entire length of the row.

    Unhealthy raspberry canes thinned out with pruners near ground level

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

  5. Tie the Canes

    Tie the canes to fencing or stakes for support, using flexible plant ties.

    Raspberry canes tied to fence with twine for support

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

  6. Prune Unwanted Canes

    During the summer, prune any dead, broken, or diseased canes that you spot. Also, remove any canes that sprout up outside the designated row area.

    Raspberry cane with red fruit and diseased leaves

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

How to Prune Everbearing Raspberries

Everbearing (primocane) raspberries aren't really everbearing. But they generally have two harvests per season: one in mid to late summer and one in fall. The fall crop will probably be a bit lighter and is produced on canes that developed during the current season. Many everbearing raspberries bear so late in the fall that they are not practical for gardeners in short-season climates. If you want everbearing raspberries to produce two crops each year, prune them as you would summer-bearing raspberries. But if you want to force a single larger crop in the fall, use the following procedure.

  1. Prune the Whole Bush

    Prune back the entire raspberry bush to ground level in early spring.

    Raspberry bush canes cut down to ground level

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

  2. Thin the Canes

    As the canes grow back in the summer, thin them to about 6 inches apart. Keep the sturdiest canes, and remove suckers outside your designated row footprint. This technique will give you a larger fall harvest. Plus, it's helpful if you also have summer-bearing raspberry bushes and you want staggered harvests.

    Everbearing raspberry canes thinned with pruners six inches apart

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

  3. Prune Unwanted Canes

    Throughout the summer, prune any dead, broken, or diseased canes, as well as any canes that sprout up outside the row footprint.

    Everbearing raspberry with diseased leaves and red fruit

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

How to Prune Blackberries

Pruning blackberries is quite similar to pruning raspberries. Blackberries don't grow as enthusiastically as raspberries, but they also will yield better with regular pruning. As with raspberries, they're prone to diseases that can spread rapidly if the plants aren't maintained.

  1. Prune Fruit-Bearing Canes

    In the fall, prune all canes that bore fruit shortly after harvesting your blackberries. Dispose of the clippings, as dead canes can spread disease.

    Dead blackberry canes cut down with pruners

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

  2. Thin the Canes

    In the early spring, thin the canes to about five to seven per plant.

    Blackberry canes thinned out with loppers

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

  3. Prune Side Branches

    Also in the spring, prune back side branches on the remaining canes to about a foot long, containing roughly 12 buds. This "tip-pruning" will encourage the plant to branch out, leading to more fruit.

    Blackberry side branches cut down with pruners

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

  4. Tie the Pruned Canes

    Tie the pruned canes to support fencing or stakes, using flexible plant ties.

    Blackberry canes tied to fence post with twine for support

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

  5. Inspect the Plants

    In the summer, routinely inspect your plants and remove any dead, diseased, or broken canes.

    Diseased blackberry plants near bottom of cane

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel