Why Are My Raspberry Canes Dying? (Plus How To Save Them)


If you put in a lot of effort into caring for raspberry canes, you know how frustrating it is to see them dying.  I did some research to find out why this happens and what you can do to prevent it, hopefully saving your raspberry plants in the process.

So, why are your raspberry canes dying?  Raspberry canes only produce fruit in their first year (ever-bearing) or second year (summer-bearing), so they may look dead after that.  Also, a raspberry plant may die of old age, since most will live 20 years or less.  Your raspberry canes can also die due to improper watering, lack of sunlight, poor soil conditions, diseases, or pests.

Let’s go into a little more detail about each of the reasons that your raspberry canes or plants are dying.  We’ll also talk about ways you can prevent some of these problems.

Why Are My Raspberry Canes Dying?

There are many possible reasons that your raspberry canes are dying.  The first thing to consider is the age of the canes and the age of the plant itself.  If the cane or plant is too old, then they will stop producing flowers and berries, and eventually die.

Your Raspberry Canes Are Done Producing Fruit

A single raspberry plant has multiple canes, and each cane only produces berries for a limited period of time.  A primocane is a first-year raspberry cane, and a floricane is a second-year cane.

raspberries
Primocanes on summer-bearing varieties will not produce raspberries, but floricanes will.

A summer-bearing variety of raspberry plant produces no fruit on its primocanes (first-year canes).  Instead, it will only produce fruit on its floricanes (second-year canes).

After the second year, the canes will die and produce no more fruit.  At this point, you should cut them off to make room for new growth.

On the other hand, an ever-bearing variety of raspberry plant produces fruit twice: in the late summer or early fall on its primocanes, and also in the summer of the second year on its floricanes.

As with summer-bearing varieties, the canes will die and produce no more fruit after the second year, so you should cut them back.  For more information, check out this article from Iowa State University on pruning raspberry plants.

Your Raspberry Plant Is Too Old

A raspberry plant will produce new primocanes (new growth) every year for some time.  However, it will eventually slow down its growth, produce fewer berries, and then die at the end of its lifespan.

Many raspberry plants can live 15 to 20 years.  However, if your raspberry plant is more than 10 years old, you should consider the possibility that it is dying due to age.

As long as they have proper pollination and care, raspberry plants can produce fruit for over a decade!

At that point, it makes sense to replace older plants with new ones.  I would suggest staggering the replacement over time.  For example, if the raspberry variety you choose lasts 10 years and you want 50 plants, then you should replace 5 plants per year.

Most garden centers have raspberry plants available, but you can also order them online and get them delivered to your house.

Your Raspberry Canes Are Dying Due To Environmental Conditions

If age is not a factor in the death of your raspberry canes, then there are several environmental conditions that can also kill your plants.  The best place to start looking is the simplest one: watering.

Your Raspberry Canes Are Dying Due To Improper Watering

Many beginner gardeners tend to “kill their plants with kindness” by over watering.  Although your raspberry plants do need plenty of water, it is not always true that more is better!

garden hose
Make sure not to over water your raspberry plants – check the soil first!

Before you water, you should check the soil around your plants for moisture.  Dig down a few inches with your fingers and feel the soil.

If the soil is dry, you can water right away.  If the soil is wet and soggy, you should not water any more.  The reason is that a plant can develop root rot if its roots sit in soggy soil for too long.

Over time, root rot will prevent a plant from absorbing water and nutrients through its roots.  This will eventually kill the plant.

roots
Root rot causes roots to turn brown and mushy.

The worst part about root rot is that the plant will start to display symptoms that look like a lack of water, such as wilted or dry leaves.  However, no amount of watering will save the plant once the roots have died.

For more information, check out my article on over watering plants.

When you water your plant, avoid watering from overhead.  If you get the leaves wet, there is a much greater chance of fungus or other diseases infecting your raspberry plant.

Also, water deeply and less frequently to encourage a stronger root system.  Finally, water your plants in the morning, so that the water can soak into the soil before being evaporated by the strong midday sun.

Your Raspberry Canes Are Dying Due To Lack Of Sunlight

Your raspberry plants can also die from a lack of sunlight.  This is possible if they are planted near a house, shed, or garage where they are mostly shaded for a good part of the day.

sunlight through forest
Make sure your raspberry plants get plenty of sunlight.

It is also possible that nearby hedges or trees are shading the raspberry plants.  Remember: just because your raspberry plants did well in one spot in prior years does not mean they will thrive there now.

If young trees grow taller with thicker foliage, they may eventually overshadow your berries enough that they don’t grow the way you want them to.

Your Raspberry Canes Are Dying Due To Poor Soil Conditions

Poor soil conditions can also kill your raspberry plants, even if they are getting plenty of water and sunlight.  The first thing to check is the pH of your soil.

One way to do this is with a do-it-yourself test kit, which you can buy online or at a garden center.  Another way is to send a soil sample to your local agricultural extension.  For more information, check out my article on how to do a soil test.

Raspberries prefer a soil pH between 5.6 and 6.2 (somewhat to slightly acidic).  Outside of this range, raspberries will not grow as well.  If the pH is extreme enough, your plants may not be able to absorb the nutrients they need from the soil, leading to nutrient deficiencies in the plant and possible death.

If your soil test reveals that your soil pH is too low (acidic), then you can raise the pH by adding lime (calcium carbonate) to your soil.  If your soil pH is too high (basic), then you can lower the pH by adding lime.

Always do a soil test before adding anything to your soil, and only use the recommended amounts!  If you send your soil to a local agricultural extension and tell them what you are planting, they will send recommendations for adjusting your soil pH.

Nutrient levels in your soil may also be to blame for dying raspberry canes, even if the pH is in the proper range.  For instance, a lack of nitrogen will cause leaves to turn light green instead of deep green, and you will experience slow growth.

One good way to provide both nutrients and organic material for your soil is to add compost each year in the spring.  If a soil test reveals nutrient deficiencies, then you can use fertilizers or other additives as a supplement to compost.

For more information, check out this article from the University of Maine Extension on growing raspberries.

Your Raspberry Canes Are Dying Due To Diseases

Diseases are another potential cause of death for your raspberry canes.  Some of the more common diseases that affect raspberry plants include:

  • Raspberry cane blight – the fungus Leptospaeria coniothyrium causes this disease.  Dark brown or purple spots (cankers) will form on primocanes (first-year canes) where the canes were damaged by insects or pruning.  Black specks will appear, which is how the fungus reproduces.  You will also see the side shoots of floricanes (second year canes) start to wilt and die.  The cane itself will look weak.  For more information, check out this article on raspberry cane blight from the Ohio State University Extension.
  • Verticillium wilt – this disease is caused by soil-borne fungus Verticillium alboatrum.  It is more common in cool weather and poorly draining soil, and also after a wet spring.  Leaves will wilt, yellow, and drop, starting at the bottom of the plant.  Verticillium wilt can survive over the winter in soil.  For more information, check out this article on verticillium wilt from the Ohio State University Extension.
  • Rust – Late leaf rust and orange rust are each caused by a different fungus.  Late leaf rust appears as yellow or orange patches on the underside of leaves.  The disease is more common in cool, damp weather (autumn).  Late leaf rust patches may also appear on the fruit itself.  Orange rust, on the other hand, infects all parts of the plant, and is much more serious.  Primocanes that grow in the spring will look small and stunted.  For more information, check out this article on rust from Cornell University.

The best way to avoid diseases is to choose resistant varieties when cultivating new areas or when replacing aged raspberry plants.  If you find diseased raspberry plants in your garden, remove them immediately.  Don’t transplant any other plants into or out of that same area, or else you risk infecting other plants.

Your Raspberry Canes Are Dying Due To Pests

Pests could also be to blame for the death of your raspberry plants.  Two common pests are aphids and cane borers.

Aphids are small insects that can be green, white, black, or even pink.  They suck the sap out of leaves or stems, especially the soft primocanes when they first emerge.

aphids
Aphids can multiply quickly, attract ants, and weaken or kill your raspberry plants!

Aphids leave behind a sticky, sweet excretion called honeydew.  Ants love honeydew, and will act as “aphid ranchers”, protecting the aphids in exchange for honeydew.  This is why you will sometimes see ants colonizing plants infected with aphids.

For more information on aphid control, check out my article on how to get rid of aphids.

Cane borers leave telltale signs when they attack a raspberry cane.  First, you will see the tops of raspberry primocanes (first-year canes) wilting.  Second, you will see two brown rings on the cane, right below where the wilting occurred.

The rings are chewed by the female cane borer so that she can lay eggs between the two rings.

To treat this problem, cut off the top of the infected cane, just below the lower ring.  Then, destroy the part you cut off.  This ensures that the eggs will not hatch and infect the entire plant.

For more information, check out this article on cane borers from the Michigan State University Extension.

Conclusion

By now, you have a better idea of what is causing your raspberry canes to die.  You also know how to address some of the problems to save your plants.

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information.  If you have any questions or advice of your own about dying raspberry canes, please leave a comment below.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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