Many rural gardens have raspberry patches and the first fruits are eagerly anticipated as midsummer approaches. There is nothing quite like the taste of fresh raspberries picked off your very own patch. Most grown in Prairie gardens are red varieties, with “Boyne” being one of the most popular. The berries are large, sweet, and produced in abundance on the sturdy canes. While most of us will stick with what we know — red raspberries, some of us might like to grow some that are not red, but yellow, black or purple.
Raspberries are categorized into three groups according to colour: red, yellow/gold, and purple/black. Black or purple are perhaps the least common and that is because they are the least cold tolerant. They often do not survive our harsh winters, even when provided with winter protection. Purple/black raspberries send out fewer suckers so maintaining a vigorous patch can prove challenging. They are often larger than red raspberries, the canes are very productive, they tend to be firmer, but they are not as juicy. If you do want to try growing black/purple raspberries, the best variety to try is “Wyoming.”
Gold or yellow raspberries are just as sweet as red ones, and quite prolific, and are relatively cold tolerant. They tend to be a bit smaller than many of the red varieties and they are soft and very juicy. They do not store or travel well and are best eaten or preserved as soon as they are picked. “Honeyqueen” is one popular variety.
No matter the colour of their fruit, all raspberries need rich loam soil, good air circulation — to ward off mildew problems, and an abundance of nutrients and water. The shallow roots are susceptible to drying out and the plants benefit from regular watering. Fertilizing on an annual basis is also recommended. A light mulch of dead leaves will help to conserve soil moisture, but the mulch cannot be so deep as to retard the development of new growth.
Raspberry roots are perennial but the canes themselves are biennial, so the plants are constantly sending up new growth to replace the two-year-old canes that die after they have finished bearing fruit. The old canes should be removed in late fall or early spring and new canes that appear during the summer should be thinned out so that the canes will not be too crowded. Spacing will depend on the variety grown. Tall one-year-old canes can be cut back a bit in spring. These will be the fruiting canes. This pruning will prevent the canes from falling over and will make picking much easier. Support can be provided by sturdy posts to which strong wires are attached.
Growing various coloured raspberries will allow you to create wonderfully colourful desserts from fresh berries to preserves. Jelly made from black raspberries has a vibrant dark colour and a golden raspberry pie has a pleasing appearance and sweetness. Perhaps you will experiment with growing coloured raspberries in your garden next year by planting some canes this fall.