The raspberry is one of those rare plants that nobody has ever called ornamental, and yet there is a place in this world for selected uglies.
Even the peach tree, if you squint at it right, is not all that bad looking, so that from time to time somebody will say it is beautiful; and pears and apples are decidedly handsome vegetations, while the fig and pomegranate are unarguable splendid in aspect at all times except, of course, winter.
But the raspberry - I refer to the red raspberry, but the black and purple ones look much the same - has nothing to commend it to the gardener who broods over beautiful leaves and flowers and bulks and outlines. There is nothing to be said for the raspberry except for its fruit.
But the fruit is a consideration that makes all other objections to the raspberry irrelevant, since it is incomparable in intensity and richness of flavor.
Mankind, indeed, is best thought of as the raspberry - eating animal. Biologists classify mankind as "sapiens" or brainy, and philosophers sometimes say we are the only animal that laughs, and the only aanimal that blushes. But my own view is that we are best identified by that single activity of total and unalloyed ecstasy (not followed by any sadness at all) which is the ingestion of red raspberries.
Several readers lately have been kind enough to write me that their raspberries bear heavily without any trouble, and three people lately have tolemethe birds never bother their raspberries at all.
Some years ago in one of those beautiful South Pacific Islands I noticed the birds did eat the raspberries there I thought at the time this was because they had trouble flying through jungles, or perhaps that they had difficulty finding any berries by the time I had gone over the bushes.
But the evidence accumulates on this point, that often birds do not eat raspberries.
The gardener must not count on that, however, and should be prepared to net or cage his bushes, or else learn to admire, the lively sight of birds rejoicing.
Raspberries should have full sun, or perhaps a bit of late-afternoon shade from the west. They like sandy loam, deeply dug and lavishly enriched with compost.
Back to reality, they grow well enough in ordinary gardens if there is sun, and if the clay is given a few inches of compost or peat moss dug in. Needless to say, the gardener should have done this last year, before he decided to plant raspberries this March.
In the event this preparation has not been attended to, the gardener must manage as well as he can.
Plants are ordered from nurseries, as a rule, and planted three of four weeks before the last killing frost (let us say we plant them in mid-March here, though there is nothing especially magical about March 15) covering the roots with two to four inches of earth.
Usually there is a stub of an old stem, which is handy in setting the plants. Once new growth starts, or before, this old stub is cut off at ground level. This is supposed to reduce the chance of anthracnose.
The diseases of raspberries are impressive, and I feel that the less said about them the better. Raspberries should not be planted where tomatoes grew, lest they pick up verticillium in the ground from those previous occupants. Also the raspberry plants should be virus-free. Nurseries nowadays can supply virus-free bramble fruits, and if nothing is said about "virus free" then you get your plants elsewhere.
In small town gardens (I am assuming the passion for raspberries has overthrown the gardener' s mind, and that the gardner is determined to grow raspberries despite their lack of good looks, and despite the space they take that could otherwise be given to irises, peonies, roses, lilies and so on) the dormant raspberry plants may be set as close as 18 inches, though 30 or 40 inches is "proper."
The extension division of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University says no closer than 36 inches.
Varieties they mention as doing well include these:
Sunrise - Good quality early red, firm, fine-texture, tolerant to cold, anthracnose, leaf spot, can blight.
Latham - Vigorous, productive, somewhat tolerant of virus, and the standard red raspberry of the East.
Pocahontas - Large, firm, tart, hardy, productive.
Cherokee - Ditto, good for the Piedmont, and an "everbearer."
Heritage - Everbearer, and if all tops are cut down in late winter it gives one crop starting in August.
There are several other raspberries with various claims to attention, but since I have not grown any raspberry myself, I relay the VPI sorts, with the observation that I keep hearing good reports about the amber-colored raspberries such as Fall Gold and Amber, and I know that many have had good harvests from September and Hilton (both red) and some say Milton is the very best. It is dumb to name two varieties Hilton and Milton, but there it is.
Heritage has the reputation of being self-supporting, and not flinging itself about in all directions. I notice that correspondents sometimes tell me it is "reasonably" upright.
But in general there should be stakes reaching about 5 feet above the ground, to which the bushes are tied. Or posts with wires at three and five feet.
Red rapsberries, if pruned back to three feet, will be reasonably self-supporting. The variety Heritage is simply cut to the ground and left to grow as it will through the summer, then cut to the ground the following winter.
The idea with raspberries is to cut out the canes that have fruited, relying on new canes from the ground to provide the next crop of fruit. Once a cane has fruited, cut it to the ground, either in the fall or the winter (some gardners like to get rid of it immediately, others say no, wait till full dormancy).
In a row, you allow four young canes per running foot to produce that year's crop. The width of a row of raspberries (at ground level) should be kept to 18 inches or even 12 inches. It is wrong to be delighted at the number of new canes appearing, and it is wrong to let new canes spring up outside the foot-wide row.
If one is not ruthless, the raspberry row will soon become a dense thicket, into which the gardener gazes while wondering how to pick the berries.
Rotted manure, chemical fertilizer 10-10-10, and cottonseed meal have all been used successfully as fertilizer, and since raspberries are shallow-rooted, they greatly appreciate a mulch (two inches of sawdust, or five to six inches of bulkier stuff) especially since it is tiresome to try to pull weeds out from a forest of thorny stems.
Fortunately the raspberry usually does quite well without any spraying, but sanitation in the removal of old canes is important.
In the event raspberries are a tremendous glut, there are almost certainly persons who do not grow them who would be happy to solve your fears of wastage.