Brambles: Spring Care for Raspberries & Blackberries

Support Raspberries & Blackberries While They Break Dormancy

by Rachel Porter
PHOTO: Rachel Porter

Brambles like raspberries and blackberries provide summer berries. But the work for yummy berries starts in spring with pruning, fertilizing and creating a welcome environment for plants to wake up. Since brambles are perennials and have some common characteristics allowing the following techniques to work for blackberries and raspberries.

The first year or two will require more water, mulch and regular care but won’t produce fruit. Once the brambles are established, they’re hardy and can grow on their own. However, these tips will ensure the most successful chance for a summer of harvests once they are old enough to start fruiting.


Late February through April is a great time to prune, as long as there won’t be future freezes. Pruning maintains size, vigor, form and future fruiting. These plants have perennial roots and crowns but biennial stems (called canes). They develop new canes each year.

For most home garden bramble varieties, fruit only grows the second year, so you’ll want to make sure and protect those canes, as they’ll be the ones to bring fruit. You also want to avoid pruning first-year canes. These need to grow and be ready to fruit next year. Therefore, look for last year’s canes to prune. These will look dead and brown, as opposed to red or green.

In addition, prune out canes that are diseased, damaged or crowded. Each plant should have about six healthy canes. Finally, prune back lateral branches that will fruit this year to a length of 12 to 15 inches so they can grow larger fruit.


Mulching around plants in the fall serves well to build nitrogen into the soil throughout the winter, but boosting them in spring has shown lots of success in creating more abundant fruit harvests, though not totally necessary. To fertilize, use a granular product; organic or a basic 10-10-10 works great and watering it in with a water-soluble fish emulsion 5-1-1. This application can be done in the spring and then again after harvest to boost the plant to set fruit buds for the following year.

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To apply fertilizers, gently rake the soil in a circle around each plant being careful not to damage the roots. Sprinkle fertilizers uniformly around the drip line of the plant and 1 foot outward, but never near the base of the plant. Be careful not to get fertilizer on the foliage or against the bark because this will cause damage.

If the fertilizer does come in contact with leaves, brush it away immediately afterward. Once you have spread the fertilizer, gently work it into the soil with a rake, then water the fertilizer into the soil so it can become available to the plants.

Prepping the Environment

  • Trellis: Make sure the trellis is strong, erect and has great supporting wires. Understanding that spring can be very windy, it helps to secure limbs with branch locks into a supportive and safe position. Wind can damage plants by breaking limbs that aren’t secured. Branch locks are repositionable fasteners used for lateral tying and training vines.
  • Position Canes: The best way for the canes to be positioned is straight up to support the fruit load. Guide them making sure they have a great supportive structure before they start growing a lot of leaves and vines.
  • Spacing: Ensure good air movement and sunlight spacing between canes. Sunlight on the buds will develop the fruit and sugar content to make big, sweet, juicy fruit.
  • Check your PH: Brambles prefer slightly acidic to neutral PH of 5.5 to 7.0 If your plants have produced fruit before, you’re probably on the right track but soil quality does change year to year. If you start to notice the coloring of the leaves is pale, it’s worth soil testing because you’ll still have time to amend what is missing.
  • Mulching: Check the amount of mulch around plants. Blackberries and raspberries should be permanently mulched with about 4 inches of organic material such as pine bark, rice hulls or wheat straw. This mulch will help control weeds, conserve soil and moisture, and promote growth of the root system. Since the need to cultivate for weed control is reduced by the mulch, fewer roots are broken, resulting in less unwanted sucker plants between the rows.
  • Preventative Pest Control: According to the Oklahoma State University Extension office, “Spraying/or excluding pests for insect, disease, and weed control (Extension Current Report CR-6243) is necessary. In blackberries, liquid lime-sulfur is applied at 1/16 inches budbreak for anthracnose control. An appropriate pesticide should be applied at bloom time to control strawberry clipper. Plants may need to be sprayed during harvest to control the newly introduced spotted winged drosophila. Raspberry cane and crown borer’s are other major insect pests.” For more specific pesticide recommendations, contact your local county Extension office.

Raspberries and blackberries are very hardy perennials that last for several years. They are a crop yielding more in its lifespan than most other things you will plant. Understanding how to aid these plants will help them reach their full potential.

Once you get the hang of tending to brambles, check out hybrid varieties as well. Boysenberry, dewberry, youngberry and bababerry all grow in similar conditions with similar needs.

This article about brambles was written for Hobby Farms online. Click here to subscribe to Hobby Farms print magazine.

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