Black raspberries have a unique flavor, capturing the deep earthy notes of a blackberry and combining it with the sweet brightness of a raspberry. Why on earth aren’t they more common in home gardens? Likely because black raspberries require specialized care and staking for optimal yields.
Somehow wild black raspberries manage to get along just fine without us. They may not produce huge yields on any one plant, but the plants grow in mass, meaning there’s plenty to go around. If you want to forage them wild, you’ll need a bit of patience. You can also try to tame your own wild black raspberry, and propagate it in your backyard.
Foraging Wild Black Raspberries
Though the unripe fruit of a black raspberry plant looks somewhat like a cultivated raspberry, black raspberries are easy to identify if you look closely. They have a different growth pattern than standard raspberries. While raspberries put off single canes, arching up from the ground, black raspberries come from a central leader. The central black raspberry stalk will branch out, producing fruit on side branches.
If you’re still confused, give those red fruits a gentle tug. If it’s a black raspberry plant, they won’t budge. They’ll also be hard and sour since they won’t fully ripen until they’re black.
The fruit on black raspberry plants tends to ripen over an extended season, so it’s hard to harvest a large quantity of fully ripe berries. Especially when you’re popping all the best ones right into your mouth.
If you want to harvest enough for homemade black raspberry ice cream, you’ll likely have to pick a few that are slightly under-ripe. They’ll be firmer, and maybe a bit tarter, but still plenty sweet and flavorful.
Up here in zone 4 central Vermont, peak wild black raspberry season happens in mid to late July. In more southern latitudes, it’s likely a few weeks earlier.
Taming Wild Black Rasberry Plants for Your Home Garden
If you happen to have wild black raspberry volunteers in a convenient spot, you can tame them by cleaning them up a bit. Simply cut back any old dried canes, lopping them off at ground level. New canes are green or a reddish brown, while old canes are tan and look dry.
Sometimes black raspberries get really long and leggy, and you can stake black raspberries up, tying them to a central post. Ours put off long stray arching branches, and it’s ok to trim those back so they don’t catch your hair as you pass. Canes with trimmed tips will put out lateral branches which will bear good crops too.
If you’re transplanting black raspberries from the wild to your home garden, early spring through early summer is the best time. They’ll grow best in fertile, well-drained soil. They likely won’t bear their first summer after transplant, but you can expect a good crop every year after.
Keep in mind that wild black raspberry canes can carry viral plant diseases, so if you have cultivated raspberries be sure to keep them separated. Our tamed wild black raspberries tend to grow better than any cultivated plants, but perhaps we’re just lucky.
If you’re concerned about introducing disease into your raspberry patch, you can shop for certified disease-free black raspberry cultivars. The cultivated strain, called Jewel Black Raspberry, is known for great crops.
Once you’ve established your tamed black raspberry patch, they need to be pruned regularly and staked. While red raspberries grow in rows, black raspberries like to grow in hills with a single stake. Here are some detailed instructions on staking and pruning black raspberries.