Floricanes

by Julia Frisbie

posted June 10, 2021

Some raspberries and blackberries fruit on first-year canes. Those are primocanes. You plant them, eat berries the first summer, and then cut them to the ground in the winter. The next year and every year thereafter they return and make more berries, and then you cut them down afterwards. Simple. 

Other raspberries and blackberries fruit only on second-year canes. Those are floricanes. You plant them, they make lovely leaves, but there are NO flowers and NO fruit and you think, “what did I do wrong?!” If you prune them back, you won’t get berries the next year, either. I think a lot of people get frustrated and give up on floricanes. But I’m here to tell you that they’re worth the fuss, and I’ll explain the management system that’s worked for me. 

I grew up in berry country (Oregon’s Willamette Valley). My great-grandparents had a berry farm, and my dad remembers being nestled in the backs of pickup trucks among flats of marionberries. He got in trouble for pelting the speed limit signs with them. When my husband and I transplanted ourselves up north to Anacortes, we brought berries with us. They now cover about 80 feet of our fence line. All this is to say I’m marginally qualified to explain floricanes. 

Raspberry and blackberry plants have a root underground and a crown right at the soil surface where new growth comes from, both of which are perennial, meaning they live for years. From the crown, canes are produced each year, and each cane is biennial, meaning it lives for two years before dying back. The canes create leaves, flowers, and berries. There’s a lot of genetic variation in the fruiting habits of wild berries, because the plants have a better chance of attracting berry-eaters to distribute their seeds if they don’t all make berries at once. Selective breeding by humans has taken domestic berries in two directions: one that favors production of berries over a long period in the fall of each cane’s first year (primocanes), and one that favors production of berries over a short period in the summer of each cane’s second year (floricanes). For example, my red fall raspberries are primocanes. My golden summer raspberries are floricanes. The best known floricanes are probably domestic blackberries like marionberries and loganberries. If you’re not sure which sort you have, just ask yourself: does the bigger crop come in summer (floricane), or in fall (primocane)? 

This time of year, a properly managed floricane has one set of tall, leafy canes about to burst into bloom, and one set of shinier, more red-tinged new growth near the foot of the taller canes that will bear NEXT year’s berries. (That red tinge is caused by anthocyanins, which are like built-in chemical sunscreens for tender new leaves.) You tend floricanes with one foot in the present, and one foot in the future. You never trample that tender new growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With canes like raspberries that hold themselves mostly upright, I just corral them with a single waist-high wire on each side of the row. Berry-laden second year canes are heavier, and more likely to bend and nod over the sides of the wire, making for easy picking. First year canes don’t carry the weight of berries, and are likely to grow straight up in the middle, not interfering much with the harvest. At the end of the season it’s easy to see which canes have already fruited– they look more tattered and tired– and remove them from the edges of the row. 

But with trailing or semi-erect canes, you need to plan carefully or you have a tangled mess at the end of the season. The idea is to make the second-year canes accessible for picking, while giving the first-year canes lots of space to do their thing. 

Some people string two horizontal wires to a trellis a few feet apart. They train the second-year canes to one and the first-year canes to another. Each year, they pick from one of the two wires, with the position of the fruiting cane alternating from year to year. A variation on this theme is to use v-shaped posts and train canes to the right one year, and to the left the next year, picking on alternating sides from year to year. 

Because I’m not a commercial grower and don’t mind sharing berries with the birds, I only train second year canes. Here’s my process, from the first year of planting onwards: 

  1. New canes are allowed to grow straight up and wander as they will. 
  2. Winter comes and growth stops. I detangle the canes and trellis them in arches downhill and to the right: 

(That’s a springtime picture, but you get the gist.)

  1. Spring comes and the arched second-year canes branch out laterally and blossom. New first-year canes emerge and are allowed to shoot straight up through the tangle. 
  2. The month of August is one long blackberry emergency. We eat them, give them away, cook them, preserve them, give up and toss handfuls of them to the chickens, and thank the wild birds for eating the ones we can’t reach. (This coming summer we’ll take some to Transition Fidalgo’s free “Share the Bounty” produce stands!) Meanwhile, the first year canes are looking like a jungle with a bad hair day at fifteen feet tall. They’re out of the way of the harvest. We wave to them from below. 
  3. When fall comes, the arched canes are looking pretty worn out. Their stems are rough and woody. Their leaves are tattered, bronzed, and falling. I tell them thank you, and then cut them down, often dividing them into many pieces in order to remove them without damaging the younger canes. 
  4. Once last year’s fruiting canes are chopped up in a heap, I can really see the younger canes. They have soft, dark green leaves and smooth stems thicker than a roll of quarters. Some of them are 25 feet long. I detangle them, my whole body becoming a wide-toothed comb. Working from one end to the other, I bend them into a series of arches. Next spring they will become a flower crown around my whole garden. And then in August, a blackberry emergency. And then in December, a stick pile, succeeded by their daughters. And on and on it goes. 

1 thought on “Floricanes

  1. Don McLaskey

    I have raspberries that produce fruit on first year wood in the fall. Only the tips die off and the next summer they fruit again only early. At the same time new first year wood is growing for the fall crop. I prune them back after the second year. Are these a third type of berry not mentioned?

    Reply

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