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The Very Best Way to Plant Raspberries

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Step-by-step instructions on how to build raspberry beds that will be drought tolerant, self-feeding and abundantly productive for decades!

I have been planting, digging up and replanting, and giving away bucket loads of raspberry canes every winter and spring for many years now.  Raspberries grow very well (board-line invasive here) if planted the correct way.  I get shoots popping up all over my small garden, so I dig them out the ground and set my friends up with new hedges of their own every spring.  The more care you put into the planting, the more vigorous and productive the canes become.

This weekend my family and I replanted the raspberry bed at the Cobb School garden, and I have to say, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of all my years of gardening.  We built the beds using the Hugelkultur technique of digging trenches, burying wood, and building layers that will act as a giant sponge for irrigating during dry months.  As the layers decompose, the raspberries will have nutrient rich soil for many years.  This is the ideal way to plant perennials, and the first time permaculture principals have been applied to the school garden on this large of scale.

The Cobb School garden has always been a special place for me, because during the 80’s, when the school was built, my mom made it her mission to build a beautiful garden for the students to learn and eat from.  All my life she was an activist for organic gardening and the food revolution, and this garden is her legacy.  She’s been gone 10 years, but we felt her magic on Saturday.

The Very Best Way to Plant Raspberries

Hugelkultur means “hill culture”, to grow plants on mounds that have been built using specific layering strategies.  The mounds can either be built right on top of the ground, or, as we did, in trenches.


The wood on the bottom layer soaks up moisture throughout the year and holds on to it, then slowly releases it when the conditions become dryer.  As the wood ages and decomposes, it becomes food for the plants.  The soil also becomes aerated as the layers breakdown, so there is never a need to turn or till the soil.  Above the wood, straw is applied, then nitrogen-rich manure, then cardboard, then compost and topsoil.  Raised beds can also be built using this layering style with great success and little watering too, check out mine here.  I’ll be honest, it is a little work in the beginning, but you will be rewarded with beautiful plants that require much less water and maintenance.

Step 1- Dig some trenches

The trenches should be 18in-24in deep.  A backhoe really is the fastest way.

raspberry trench

Raspberries need to be planted in long rows, that are at least 6ft apart.  They send out underground runners in the spring, and if the rows are planted too close together, they will form a thicket too dense to produce very many berries.  We made 4 rows that were 18ft long and 6ft apart.

digging raspberry trenches

Step 2- Wood

Layer wood inside the trenches.  Hardwood is best because it will breakdown slowly, but use what you have.  There was a pile of slash behind the garden, so we used pine and oak branches that had been aged over a year.  Aged wood is better because it robs less nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes, but if freshly cut wood is all you have, then apply a nice thick layer of manure when you get to that layer.  Black oak, black cherry, black locus, fresh cedar, and heart redwood may cause problems in the soil, so avoid those trees.

logs for hugelkulture

Layer the wood inside the trench and water well.  We’ve had a lot of rain, so our wood was nice and wet.

wood layer of hugelkultur raspberry bed

Step 3- Straw

Layer straw (not hay, which as grains that might seed) over the wood and water really well.  We want each layer to absorb as much water as possible, this creates the sponge.  I found 2 bales of rotting straw next to the garden, so we used that.

watering the straw layer hugelkultur

Step 4- Manure

Manure adds nitrogen to the layers.  The microorganisms that decompose wood need nitrogen, after the wood begins to break down, it will return the nitrogen to the soil.

manure layer hugelkultur raspberrry beds

Step 5- Cardboard

The cardboard layer is another source of carbon for the pile, and will keep anything not wanted from sprouting up from the lower layers.  I found this cardboard laying around from the greenhouse delivery, and it was all nice and wet from the rain.

cardboard layer hygelkultur

Step 6- Compost and Soil

If you have a lot of compost, use that for this layer, or mix what you have of your precious compost with fertile topsoil, mounding it as much as possible.

compost layer hugelkultur raspberry bed

Step 7- Plant

Ideally, you would like your mounds to settle for a little while, or cure, but because we had to dig up the raspberries to put these new beds in, we didn’t have time for that.  All of this came from the 8 canes that my family donated to the garden just 2 years ago, that is why it is so important to plant them correctly the first time!

bareroot raspberry canes

Plant the raspberries about 2 feet apart, because they need plenty of room to spread.  We dug these up at just the right time, the raspberry canes are waking up and getting ready to send out new shoots and runners.

raspberrry canes sending shoots

Step 8- Support

The canes can’t support themselves as they grow and fruit so quickly, so hold them up with t-posts and wire.  Place t-posts on each end of the bed, about 2 feet apart, and more in the middle if your rows are long.  String wire at 2ft and 4ft from the ground, and train the canes upright inside for support.  This makes picking very easy!  We’ll have to come back and finish this step soon.

new raspberry hugelkultur beds

We mulched the walkways with wood chips to cover the mud, keep the weeds down, and make everything neat.

planted the raspberry hugelkulur beds

This whole process took a handful of people, and a backhoe, 7 hours to complete.  This really is the very best way to plant raspberries, and I’m looking forward to the children of Cobb Mountain Elementary School gobbling up these wonderful berries for years to come.

Take a peek into my world of Eating, Gardening, Making and Mothering, authentically and with meaning. Thanks for visiting!
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