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How to Revive A Dying Raspberry Plant (3 Quick Steps)

A reader recently reached out to me and asked why their raspberry plant is dying. While it’s difficult to identify the issue with photos, I wanted to give them a complete guide to help save their raspberry plant. Here’s what I put together.

Raspberry plants die from under or over-watering, improper nutrients, transplant shock, climate stress, pests, and diseases. The most common issue is watering, which can be avoided by only watering when the top 2-4 inches of soil gets dry. Additionally, provide 2 inches of compost and at least 4 inches of mulch.

Now, let’s take a closer look at how we can identify the specific issue, and how to fix it.

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Can Dying Raspberry Plants Be Saved?

a dying raspberry plant in the backyard

Dying raspberry plants can be revived if you first find the proper issue and apply a timely solution. The hard part is finding out which issue is affecting them.

However, a good approach is to start with the possible issues based on the symptoms and try solutions starting from the least invasive to the most invasive.

The reason why we want to start with the least invasive solution first is to minimize the stress your raspberry cane gets.

For example, if we’ve narrowed down the possible issues to a lack of water or drainage, it’s much easier on the raspberry plant to adjust its watering than it is to dig it up or spray it with chemicals.

By approaching solutions in this way, it makes it much easier for you to treat your raspberry plant, as you can work your way up from simple solutions to more complex ones.

How Do You Know if Your Raspberry Plant Is Dying?

Raspberry Plant SymptomIssue*
Wilting/Curling LeavesUnder-Watered, Heat Stress, Transplant Shock
Yellow LeavesUnder/Over-Watered, Transplant Shock, Lack or Excess Nutrients, Pests
Brown LeavesUnder-Watered, Heat/Frost Stress, Transplant Shock, Pests
Red Leaves Frost Stress, Lack of Nutrients, Disease
Spotted Leaves or FruitPests or Diseases
Dropping LeavesUnder/Over-Watered, Heat/Frost Stress, Transplant Shock, Lack or Excess Nutrients, Pests or Diseases
Dropping FruitUnder/Over-Watered, Heat/Frost Stress, Transplant Shock, Lack or Excess Nutrients, Lack of Pollination, Pests or Diseases
*While these diagnoses are accurate in many cases, they are still generalizations. Symptoms vary based on the plant and the issue.

It’s sometimes difficult to tell if your raspberry plant is dying, but generally, if it has any of the above symptoms, it’s likely declining in health.

Keep in mind that these symptoms aren’t normally a cause for concern if they’re affecting less than 10-20% of the plant. For example, it’s fairly normal for 10-20% of your raspberry plant’s leaves to be yellow or brown. The same is true for some flower or fruit drop.

However, if more than 20% of the plant is affected, or you’re seeing other concerning signs such as pest or disease symptoms, then action is likely needed to save the plant.

Also, raspberry plants are deciduous plants, so it’s normal for their leaves to turn red and yellow, and drop in the fall and winter. This is a strategy to reduce the plant’s energy expenditure and go into dormancy to survive the winter (much like bears hibernating).

On the other hand, evergreen fruiting plants adapted to the cold differently or are native to more tropical climates (with little to no frost). As a result, evergreen fruits (such as citrus trees) keep their leaves green year-round.

So, don’t stress if your raspberry plant is losing its leaves in the fall or winter!

However, if your raspberry plant is losing its leaves early (in the spring or summer), or has other symptoms, continue reading to see what we can do to help it.

3 Quick Steps To Save a Dying Raspberry Plant

If you’ve already tried finding out which issue your raspberry has, and you’ve gotten stuck, there’s still hope.

Here are 3 steps you can use to save your raspberry plant, for just about any condition.

1. Identify the Possible Issues

The first step in reviving a dying raspberry plant is to identify the possible issues. After all, the process of elimination wouldn’t work if we didn’t know which options we were eliminating!

If you haven’t seen them yet, reference the below sections for the top 7 most common raspberry cane issues.

2. Isolate the Actual Issue

Once you’ve checked the specific symptoms your raspberry has, you can now cross off potential issues from your list.

Try to get it down to 1-3 potential issues that best match the symptoms your raspberry plant is exhibiting. This will give you the best chance to provide the right solution for it (you don’t want to repot the plant if the problem is a watering issue).

3. Test Solutions

Now that you have a narrowed-down list of the potential issues, it’s time to try the solutions one at a time.

Start with the least invasive solution and work your way up to the most invasive. Again, it’s much easier on the plant (and you) to provide less water than to repot or transplant it. Try to save those options for last.

Continue testing the treatments you believe are most likely to fix the issue. Hopefully, one of them sticks.

Worst case scenario, start from step 1 and make a new list of possible issues. There’s a chance you might have missed something or noticed something new the second time around.

Stay persistent! It’s easy to say, “Dumb plant, why don’t you want to live?”, but there’s always a reason why plants act the way they do. Stay the course and see if you can uncover it.

If you have no idea what issue your raspberry cane might have, that’s okay! That’s what I’m here for. To give you a head start, let’s explore the 7 most common reasons raspberry plants die.

The Top 7 Reasons Why Raspberry Plants Die

1. Under-Watering

Under-watering is one of the most frequent reasons raspberry plants die and it’s especially common if you get hot and dry summers.

The best way to water raspberry plants is to only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry. I check this by pushing a finger into the soil, under the plant’s drip line. When watering soak the ground at least 2 feet deep.

Since over 90% of the plant’s roots are found within the first 2 feet of soil, soaking the soil ensures the majority of the roots get water.

Deep watering like this encourages the plant to grow deeper roots, which provides it with deeper water and better anchorage.

On the other hand, shallow and frequent watering encourages shallow roots and makes drought stress and wind damage more likely.

Apply 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch under the plant’s drip line. Reapply compost every 1-2 months and mulch every 3-6 months. Keep both materials at least 3 inches from the raspberry canes to avoid mold buildup.

Compost provides essential nutrients and increases the soil’s water retention. Every 1% increase in the soil’s organic matter leads to an additional 20,000 gallons of water held per acre. Compost also feeds the soil life, leading to benefits such as increased nutrients and pest and disease resistance.

Mulch dramatically reduces evaporation, regulates soil temperature, and prevents soil erosion. Since raspberry plants evolved as understory species in forests, they prefer plenty of mulch in the form of fallen leaves and branches.

As permaculture guru Geoff Lawton says, a forest grows on a fallen forest.

Both compost and mulch also amend soils that drain too quickly. But what happens if the soil has poor drainage?

2. Over-Watering (Poor Drainage)

While both under and over-watering can be prevented by only watering when the soil is dry, if the soil has poor drainage it can become waterlogged and lead to issues such as root rot (more on this later).

Over-watered soils are most often a result of ground that’s depressed, compact, or high in clay.

Here are some quick steps to fix poorly draining soil.

  1. Test
  2. Amend
  3. Mulch

Percolation Test

doing a soil percolation test in our backyard

A good way to test your soil’s drainage is by doing a percolation test.

  1. Dig a 1-foot by 1-foot hole
  2. Place a yardstick in the hole and fill it with water
  3. After an hour, measure the water line on the yardstick

The goal for proper drainage is about 2 inches per hour. However, this is a guideline and not a rule, so don’t worry if yours is way off. This is just a way to see if your soil has poor or fast drainage.

I recommend digging at least 3 different holes across your property as some areas might have much better drainage than others.

Amend Poorly Draining Soil

raised mound of soil and compost in my garden

Once you determine your soil’s drainage, it’s time to amend it.

Interestingly, the solution for both poor drainage and fast drainage is the same—compost.

Compost not only breaks up the clumps of ground in poorly-draining soil, but its organic matter retains water in fast-draining soils.

As mentioned above, I recommend providing your raspberry plants with 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months. Over time, the compost will work its way into the soil.

If you can’t wait for the compost to do its job on the soil, you can also move your raspberry plant to an area with better drainage such as a raised bed or mound of soil.

Raised beds are often the most expensive item in the garden, but a little secret is there are some nice affordable ones on Amazon.

Potted raspberry plants that have poor drainage should be amended by repotting them with fresh potting soil.

Provide Mulch

using my cover crops as a mulch

Once your raspberry plant has well-draining soil, provide 4 inches of mulch to give it a big boost of water retention and protection from the elements.

Some good mulches for raspberry plants are leaves, straw, grass clippings, and pine needles.

Let’s move on from watering to other reasons why raspberry plants die.

3. Transplant Shock

If your raspberry plant was recently planted or repotted, and it’s starting to die, it’s probably due to transplant shock. Transplant shock occurs when the plant is exposed to a new environment and has to establish a new root system.

Avoid transplanting unless necessary as it can take up to 1 year for recovery.

Like many plants, raspberry canes are vulnerable to transplant shock, which can take up to a year for them to recover from.

To help avoid transplant shock, I like to plant with the following steps in mind:

  1. Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
  2. Remove as much of the plant’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
  3. Grab the base of the plant’s stem and wiggle lightly
  4. Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
  5. Lightly place the plant in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
  6. Make sure the soil is at the same level on the stem as before
  7. Apply 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch to the top of the soil
  8. Water generously and add more soil as needed

4. Improper Nutrients

Excess Nutrients

When raspberry plants get too many nutrients, their roots are chemically burned which stresses the tree and causes a decline in health. Excess nutrients are often caused by fast-release chemical fertilizers as compost isn’t potent enough.

If you believe you’ve over-fertilized your raspberry plant, I suggest removing as much of the fertilizer as possible via leaching.

To leach, heavily water your raspberry plant’s soil to dilute the existing fertilizer and allow it to flow deeper into the soil (and out of reach of the plant’s roots). You may have to do this at least a few times.

Avoid leaching if your soil has poor drainage as the soil can become waterlogged.

In this case, either apply generous amounts of compost and garden soil to dilute the chemical nutrients, or repot the plant with fresh potting soil (for potted raspberry plants).

A Lack of Nutrients

Nutrient DeficiencyLeaf Symptom
NitrogenEntire leaf is pale or yellow
IronDark green veins, rest of the leaf is yellowing
ZincYellow blotches
ManganeseBroadly pale leaves, foliage color looks mottled or smeared
Source: The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources

If you haven’t fed your raspberry plant in the past several months, there’s a good chance it may be dying from a lack of nutrients.

Symptoms of a lack of nutrients depend on the deficiency.

For example, raspberry plants commonly get a nitrogen deficiency and get lightly colored or yellow leaves.

Let’s take a look at the ideal way to prevent a lack of nutrients for your raspberry plants.

The Best Way To Fertilize Raspberry Plants

If you decide to use a chemical fertilizer, opt for one with a balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), such as a 10-10-10.

Each brand has different percentages, so follow the instructions on the label for the best results.

If you’d like to see which fertilizers I recommend, check out my recommended fertilizer page.

Alternatively, you can use compost.

I recommend applying 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months under the plant’s drip line followed by 4 inches of mulch.

Keep in mind that while nutrients are essential, they aren’t everything.

Imbalanced Soil pH

ph scale couch to homestead

Raspberry plants prefer a soil pH of 5.6 to 6.2.

The reason raspberries (and most plants) prefer a slightly acidic soil pH is that it dissolves the nutrient solids in the soil, making them more accessible to the plant’s finer roots.

Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.

Donald Bickelhaupt, Instructional Support Specialist, Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management

When raspberry plants have an imbalanced soil pH, they develop issues such as discolored and dropping leaves. Additionally, their flowers and fruit drop early and the plant is more likely to develop other issues.

Two good ways to test your soil’s pH are with pH strips or a meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re affordable and easy to use. To see which pH I recommend, check out my recommended tools page.

If you find your raspberry plant’s soil is too alkaline (above 6.2), provide acidic amendments such as peat moss, sand, and coffee grounds.

On the other hand, if your soil is too acidic (under 5.6), provide alkaline amendments such as charcoal, wood ash, and lime.

5. Heat or Frost Stress

USDA hardiness zone map
Source: USDA

Raspberry bushes are natively from temperature climates, so they prefer cooler environments such as USDA hardiness zones 2-8. However, this is a generalization as some varieties prefer warmer or colder zones.

Climates that are too cold (below zone 2) or those that are hot and dry quickly pose a problem for raspberry canes.

Keep raspberry plants in a cool and mild climate if possible. If the sun is too hot, and the tips of the leaves are curling and browning, provide shade or move potted raspberries indoors. When bringing them indoors, take care to avoid the hot and dry air from the central heat.

Hot Weather

In hot and dry areas such as California, Arizona, Nevada, and parts of Texas, raspberry plants lose moisture from their leaves and soil quickly. Normally, raspberry plants do best in temperatures under 90ºF. Any hotter and they start to decline and die.

Much like humans, plants cool themselves by exhaling moisture (called transpiration). Plants also keep themselves cool by sending moisture from their roots to their leaves.

This becomes a problem when the climate is too hot and dry. Essentially, the transpiration and root moisture can’t keep up and cool the plant and its leaves.

As a result, the raspberry plant’s leaves dry, curl, brown, and drop if it’s bad enough.

So, the hotter and drier the weather, the more energy the plant uses to transpire and survive, and the less energy it has to use to establish its root system and grow. This drain of resources can quickly stunt or kill the plant.

The best practices to help your raspberry plant survive hot and dry weather are to provide it with sufficient water, compost, and mulch. Additionally, give it partial shade from the west (as the afternoon sun is the hottest).

If you live in a drier climate and you’d like more information about the best drought-tolerant fruiting plants, check out my other post: 30 Best Drought-Tolerant Fruit and Nut Trees (Ranked).

Cold Weather

If temperatures fall below -40ºF to -50ºF (the standard zone 2 minimum temperature), raspberry plants will likely start to die.

For outdoor raspberry plants, you can insulate the plant and its roots by giving it 4-12 inches of mulch. You can also use windbreaks such as walls or other plants to reduce the effects of windchill. Greenhouses or high tunnels will also work.

I would suggest not moving potted raspberry plants indoors during the winter as they typically require 800+ chill hours to fruit properly in the spring. Since indoor temperatures rarely get this low, it’s normally not a good idea.

The ideal chilling temperature is about 47°F; temperatures above 65°F and below 32°F do not contribute to chilling. The chilling requirement for most brambles is usually between 800 and 1,000 hours.

Kathy Demchak, Rich Marini, Ph.D., Former Professor of Horticulture, Pennsylvania State University

Another issue with moving a raspberry plant indoors is that the central heat indoors can dry out the plant quickly.

I found out about the effects of central heat the hard way.

We had a surprise snowstorm last year here in Austin, Texas, and I moved my potted Meyer lemon tree inside. However, it quickly started losing its leaves. After moving it into a cooler room, it quickly started growing new leaves (see the photo below).

my Meyer lemon tree in front of a snowy window
My Meyer lemon tree next to a cool window as it doesn’t like the dry heat from the heater.

When it comes to sheltering your potted raspberry plant during temperatures below -50ºF, move it to a basement or another cool, sheltered location. Try to keep the temperature around 47ºF to maintain the plant’s chill hours.

6. Pests

aphids on a plants leaves
Aphids
  • Aphids – Small dot-like bugs that suck the sap from underneath the raspberry plant’s leaves. Treat by spraying water, neem oil, or releasing ladybugs (a natural predator). Spraying them with a jet of water worked for my potted Kaffir lime tree.
  • Spider Mites – Similar to aphids, mites suck the sap from leaves and can be treated in the same ways.
  • Japanese Beetles – Feeds on leaves and sometimes berries. You’ll likely notice them visually or see evidence of holes in leaves. Treat the plant with soap and water or neem oil. You can also physically remove the beetles from the leaves (bonus points if you feed them to your chickens!)
  • Leafrollers – Small caterpillars that feed on berry leaves, flowers, and green fruit. They use their silk to curl the leaves and hide in them. Treat with pheromone traps and by encouraging natural predators such as spiders. Sprays are not recommended.

7. Diseases

pruning a diseased raspberry plant
  • Root Rot – a root fungus that causes leaves, blossoms, and fruit to droop, yellow, brown, and drop. Typically occurs in waterlogged soil and those with poor drainage. No chemical control is available. Repotting my potted Kaffir lime tree with fresh potting soil treated its root rot.
  • Verticillium – a fungal disease in soil that causes leaves to yellow and brown, and can lead to the raspberry cane dying. Already weakened plants from drought, over-watering, and other stressors are more likely to become affected.
  • Cane Blight – a fungal disease that wilts and browns leaves, and kills part or all of a raspberry plant. Usually starts from a wound on the plant. Treat by promoting airflow and sunlight, and pruning infected canes. Sprays are rarely necessary.
  • Fire Blight – a bacterial disease that appears as scorched leaves (hence the name). Affects the rose family (apples, pears, berries, and more). Treat with pruning and sprays including essential oils and vinegar. Some chemical sprays may be effective.
  • Rust – a fungal disease that turns raspberry leaves a splotchy red-brown. Treat by pruning and using organic sprays.

To learn more about the pests and diseases raspberry plants get, check out these resources:

As always, reach out to your local nursery, professional orchard, or cooperative extension service for more specific information about the issues raspberry plants get in your region.

A Note on Pesticides, Fungicides, and Herbicides

My parents recently had an issue with caterpillars eating their basil plants and they were about fed up. Every time they’d plant basil, the caterpillars ate it.

Fortunately, they found an organic spray at their local nursery that’s made from fermented rum. The day after spraying, they’d find dead caterpillars on the soil.

my moms basil plant and a tent worm caterpillar
Captain Jacks deadbug spray

If you’d like to find out more about this organic spray, you can find it here on Amazon.

So, what’s my point here?

Even though chemical sprays and fertilizers are an easy way out, like all easy and convenient things, there are usually long-term costs. Namely to the plants, soil, and surrounding beneficial life.

Before using conventional sprays, weigh the pros and cons and consider trying organic or permaculture-based treatments first.

To give you a head start, Stefan Sobkowiak – The Permaculture Orchard has a great video on a safe, homemade, and most importantly—effective fungicide (hint: the secret ingredient is whey).

Also, check out how Mark Shepard uses a method called STUN (Sheer-Total-Utter-Neglect) to help his berry plants, fruit trees, and nut trees THRIVE.

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