If you’re like me, every spring you spend lot of time researching (read: agonizing) over nursery catalogs, trying to decide which plants to get. With limited money, limited space, and soooooo many options to choose from, it’s pretty daunting to flip through 20+ pages of options… and when it comes to growing bramble berries such as raspberries and blackberries, the choices are endless. Do I go with thornless blackberries? Which is the best: red, black, purple, or gold raspberry canes? Will black raspberries survive in my climate zone?

Perhaps most importantly, which should I plant: primocane or floricane berries? With advancements in plant breeding, you can now find red raspberries, black raspberries, and blackberries in either primocane or floricane-fruiting varieties. For northern gardeners who may struggle with winter kill and a short growing season, choosing which type of bramble berries to plant is incredibly important.

Growing Primocane-Fruiting Berries

Growing RaspberriesFirst a little bit of terminology: a primocane is new growth; a fresh, often green shoot that first poked out of the ground during the current growing season. These are softer, more flexible canes, typically greener than last year’s seasoned growth (and far more healthy-looking than the unpruned old wood from past years). 

Naturally, a primocane-fruiting berry is a variety that blossoms and produces fruit on brand new canes. No need for these canes to survive the winter; they shoot up in early spring and produce fruit in the fall – and if they die in the winter, it’s no problem for the gardener, because the main fruit crop has already been harvested! Primocane-bearing blackberries and raspberries offer a full life-cycle compressed into a shorter, more cold-friendly timeframe.

For the true northern gardener who has to deal with exceptionally cold winters and heavy snow, primocane-fruiting bramble berries are an important option. Because the full lifecycle of the cane (including fruit production!) is packed into a single growing season, you don’t have to worry about the winters killing off the canes. Next spring, the crowns will send up new canes and start the cycle all over, so it doesn’t matter if you lose last year’s growth along the way. 

There are other benefits to primocane-fruiting varieties as well. Pruning is an absolute breeze; instead of carefully working through the cane stand sorting through to snip out old dead wood without harming next year’s fruiting canes, you can simply wait for the completion of the fruiting cycle and then take a weed whacker or heavy-duty mower to the stand. BOOM. Pruning done for the year! *Note: Yes, pruning primocanes is super easy. However, I do recommend giving the canes as much time as possible to feed energy back into the roots before mowing. Remember, the crowns in the ground still affect next year’s fruit crop!*

If you chose primocanes because your zone is too cold for typical brambles — but you feel like gambling with the weather — you can always experiment by leaving up some of the cane stand at the end of the season. If these mature canes in your berry patch survive, you will almost always get a bonus summer crop from last year’s canes to add to the new growth’s fall crop. For this reason, primocane-bearing cultivars are often called everbearing. What’s not to love? 

If primocane-bearing raspberries and blackberries sound too good to be true, don’t worry – they have their flaws too! For some gardeners, specific cold-climate characteristics might make a floricane-fruiting bramble berry more practical. The next section discusses the pros and cons of growing floricane berries.

Growing Floricane-Fruiting Berries

Yup, you guessed it: if a primocane is new growth, the floricane is the cane that grew last year and survived the winter. Raspberries and blackberries that produce fruit on these one-year-old canes are considered floricane-fruiting berries.

Unlike the primocane varieties, bramble berries that fruit on floricanes typically bloom earlier and set fruit that ripens in high summer. Remember those childhood days picking berries under the scorching summer sun? Those were floricane-fruiting canes, with a fruit harvest inevitably scheduled for the hottest days of the year!

The floricane tends to be a little bit tougher to grow in far-northern zones. The bitter cold of northern winters will often kill off any above-ground growth – and since fruit will only appear on canes that have survived a winter, that cold-weather kills your only chance at a harvest. This doesn’t mean that floricane-bearing berries are impossible to grow in the north, but it might take a little extra work and winter protection, such as laying the canes flat and mulching them to survive low temperatures.

Does this sound like a lot of hassle? Yes, it does – but trust me, the floricane is WORTH IT. There are huge benefits to growing these types of berries. If you live in a zone where early frosts are common, you are likely to lose a significant percentage of a primocane-bearing harvest to freeze damage. For a summer-bearing floricane berry stand, all the berries will be harvested long before fall frosts set in – so as long as you can get the canes to survive their first winter, you don’t have to worry about the crop. With primocanes, you don’t have the luxury of a worry-free harvest; if you live in an iffy-weather zone, primocane crops can be a nailbiter right up until the day of harvest. 

Arguably, the floricane is the better economic choice, too. These canes are more readily available, and often more affordable. On top of that, they tend to produce more dependably; in most cases, a mature floricane-fruiting variety will outproduce a primocane’s crop in terms of sheer quantity. More fruit is a big decision factor, in my book!

Primocane or Floricane Berries: Which are Better for Cold Zones?

At the end of the day, whether you select primocane- or floricane-fruiting berries for your fruit garden is going to depend on what your priorities are. For me personally, I was completely sold on Caroline Red Raspberries (a primocane-fruiting variety) for YEARS… and then just recently I started to expand into floricane-fruiting types as well. There are too many pros and cons to each side, and I decided I needed to diversify to make sure I wasn’t going to lose my entire crop if we had an unseasonal frost. 

In terms of blackberries, I am currently growing several different cultivars of primocane-bearing blackberries. This was an expensive investment, but I finally decided it was my only option after years of frustration with floricane blackberries. Once upon a time I started a blackberry patch with floricane-fruiting canes… and those canes died from the cold literally every single winter before they could produce their first crop of fruit the following spring. My ultimate goal is to drive up north and dig up wild canes that – although floricane – have been acclimated to my zone and even colder weather. Sure, the berries will be smaller, but once again, I’d like to diversify my cane stand so I have options on both sides of the fence!

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