Autumn raspberries are so rewarding to grow. Like strawberries and peas they offer the delight of fresh eating, straight from the garden – instant gratification compared to having to prepare or cook most other produce.
And what an experience picking and eating those sumptuous berries is! Gently pinching the fruit away from its central plug, cupping the bright jewel in your palm to admire it (and check for damage and insect hitchhikers), popping it in your mouth and letting it release its sweet, tangy juices as it melts on your tongue. And then picking another – and another – and another, until your fingers and chin are sticky and smeared with pink! Or is that just me?
The Perfect Climate for Growing Raspberries
Gardeners growing in a cool, maritime climate may struggle to grow bumper crops of aubergines and melons but, take heart, you’ll undoubtedly be able to produce some cracking rasps. Scotland is very much the soft fruit garden of the UK, so if your climate is similar to Scotland’s – damp, chilly in winter and not overly blessed with high summer temperatures – you’re in a prime position to grow ravishing raspberries.
Hot climates won’t do autumn raspberry plants many favours, as they need a good cold winter to produce plenty of leaf growth and lots of bee-pleasing flowers (and thus fruits). Raspberries will take the worst of what the winter has to throw at them and come back raring to go in the spring.
Despite being most comfortable in cooler conditions, autumn raspberries love the sun and will produce their best crops, and ripen most quickly, if they can bask in a bright spot. They are tolerant of shade, however, and in hotter regions shade may even prove beneficial.
Soil Requirements for Autumn Raspberries
Poor, dry soils don’t please many plants, and raspberries are no exception. The archetypal moist yet well-drained, rich soil will keep them happy, especially if the pH tends towards being slightly acidic.
Raspberries are suckering plants from the woodland edge which naturally ‘walk’ as the forest expands to seek out fresh stores of nutrients. This means that those grown in one place within a garden can soon exhaust the nutrients found in the soil, which can result in viruses and other diseases taking hold. To replenish these nutrients it’s a good idea to mulch around raspberries with a rich organic mulch such as well-rotted compost at least once a year.
Leafmould, shredded bark, wood chippings or well-rotted sawdust will also help to improve soil conditions, but they won’t provide the same amount of nutrients as compost. If you’re using any of these as mulch it will be worth also adding a top-dressing of an organic fertiliser, such as poultry manure pellets, seaweed or bonemeal in spring.
Mulching also helps to keep moisture in and reduces the need to weed. Hoeing can easily damage raspberry roots, which run close to the surface, so mulch generously and hoe with care.
The Benefits of an Autumn Harvest of Raspberries
I favour autumn-fruiting raspberries over summer fruiters for two main reasons. The first reason is the perfect timing of that luscious harvest. Autumn raspberries fruit from late summer right through to the first frosts, so when I’m struggling to keep up with the harvesting demands of ripe red strawberries before the slugs get them, I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to do with a glut of raspberries too!
Summer fruiting raspberries crop heavily for a short period, while autumn rasps crop more steadily over a longer period, so unmanageable gluts aren’t such an issue.
Growing raspberries that fruit in autumn almost completely side-steps the unpleasant issue of raspberry maggots. True, the very earliest fruits may be preyed upon, but the larvae of the raspberry beetle have long since moved on by the time those delicious autumn rasps are in full fruit.
Pruning and Training Autumn Raspberries
The second reason I love autumn rasps is the pure simplicity of care they need compared to summer varieties.
Summer fruiting raspberries, known as ‘floricane’ varieties, fruit on last year’s wood. This means that the old canes need to be cut out every year, while the new green canes are left in place to produce next season’s fruit. Trust me – it’s very, very easy to accidentally snip out the new canes by accident!
Autumn fruiting raspberries by contrast are ‘primocanes’, meaning they fruit on new wood. Pruning involves cutting down all canes after harvest ends in late autumn, but before new growth begins in spring. And that’s it!
With both types you’ll need to remove any suckers that are growing away from the main row, and thin canes out in spring, but training autumn raspberries is simple. While summer fruiting raspberries require a sturdy system of posts and tiers of wires to control those long, arching canes, autumn raspberries are largely self-supporting. A single wire or length of strong string between posts is enough to keep them from leaning over pathways.
And if you want the best of both worlds, you can even double-crop your autumn raspberries. The idea here is that you cut out fruited canes and leave the newer, greener canes to produce an earlier crop next year. This will help to spread out the harvest and, in most cases, increase overall yields. I plan to try this method next year, so if you’ve tried double-cropping your autumn raspberries please leave us a comment below and let us know how you got on!