March 4th, 2009
Digging Holes for Raspberries

2009-02-27. The frame is 3’x5′. The hole itself is 2’x4′ and about 20″ deep. Less than 2 feet! If you expected me to dig my own grave before you killed me, we would be here for several years.

The north boundary of my back yard was one of those areas I used to ignore. A waist-high chain link fence divided me from my neighbors and the previous owners had planted a nandina hedge. I left it because it provided a nice green backdrop with no effort and it blocked the view of my neighbor’s back yard. When someone new moved in he immediately erected a 6-foot tall privacy fence and completely changed my garden.

Now the north bed is protected from cold fronts moving in from the north. The low winter sun shines against the fence all day creating a warm micro-climate. Last year I had a chinaberry and hackberry cut down and planted two roses and made a little herb garden here. This winter I decided to tackle another section.

2009-02-06. The requisite “before” photo.

First I had to remove the nandina. You can cut it to the ground and nandina will come back because it has thick fibrous roots. While I was doing this, I happened across some raspberries at The Great Outdoors. Now raspberries are our favorite fruit. When we visit AJM’s parents in England, I go out every morning and graze at the raspberry patch. But raspberries don’t grow in central Texas. Central Texas is too hot in the winter, too hot in the summer, doesn’t get enough rain, and the soil is limestone clay. Raspberries prefer a sandy, well-drained, slightly acidic soil with plenty of humus.

Are you laughing yet at my folly? Or are also you one of those gardeners who can’t resist a challenge? The nurseryman assured me that these ‘Dorman’ red raspberries could stand our southern heat. If that’s true, then I’d do my part to provide them with the kind the soil they like.

So to digging.
Roots, limestone and flint, and a vein of red clay.

Actually, you can’t really call it digging because that implies putting a shovel into the ground and scooping dirt out. What I did was break up clods of clay with my post hole digger (Vertie, can explain why this is preferable to a pick-ax), and then use my pruners to cut away roots. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

This took almost two weeks, working a few hours a day until I collapsed from the back pain. Thank science for ibuprofen. After the first week, I thought the hole was pretty well dug. I put some water in to check the drainage. It didn’t drain. The water sat there for an hour over solid clay. By the next day it had seeped and the clay was softened enough that I was able to dig it out.

I pile a wheelbarrow load of red clay by the driveway.

Job 2: Fill in the hole. It’s a little more than a cubic yard (see photo at top). With some planning I suppose I could have had some garden soil delivered. Maybe next time. I line the hole with weed-blocking cloth. I have poured tons of manure and bought soil into my yard and learned that without weed-blocking cloth the tree roots quickly invade and suck all the life out of the garden soil. If I didn’t use weed-blocking cloth, the hole would revert to the root-infested muck it was before I spent two weeks digging it out.

A neighbor of mine with a goat has given me a wheelbarrow load of goat pellets mixed with straw and juniper needles. I pour that into the bottom of the hole.

Unfortunately, the compost from the compost tumbler is not quite ready yet. But I can turn the open compost pile and sift out the good stuff from the bottom. I use the plastic trays from the nurseries to sift compost.


I mix the homemade compost with free coffee grounds from Starbucks. I also sift the rocks, roots, and clods out of some of the better black soil that came out of the first five or six inches of digging.


As the hole fills in I begin to mix in some premium store-bought compost: Lady Bug Hill Country Garden Soil and Lady Bug Farm Style Compost (cow manure from grass-fed cows). Fancy schmancy, I thought until I compared it with the cheaper cow manure from the big box store. The latter was filled with clay and rocks and did not have the light fluffy texture that the Lady Bug brand has.

I moistened the planting mixture every few inches soil that everything in the hole would be evenly moist (like a damp sponge). Since I did this over several day it also helped it to settle a bit. I place the still-pottedplants where they’re going to go and fill in around them.


AJM built the raised bed from pieces of the failed garden house.

Finally planting takes all of two minutes to pull the pot out of the hole, slip the plant out of the pot, and put it right back in the hole. (They are very young plants and not pot-bound so the roots didn’t need spreading out.)

The “after” picture. I sifted some of the red clay to put around the outside. It almost has the consistency of decomposed granite–which it might be given that I pulled out quite a few red rocks.

The raspberry planting project is not quite finished. AJM is going to build some supports. I still have to add a layer of mulch. I don’t know if raspberries will grow in Austin but I’ve given it my all. If it doesn’t work out, this will be a great bed for potatoes or other root crops.

Project Cost

$29.97: plants: 3 raspberry canes @ $9.99 each
$ 5.99: 1 cubic foot of Lady Bug Hill Country Garden Soil
$ 6.99: 1.5 cubic feet of Lady Bug Farm Style Compost
$ 4.96: 2 pack 4″ mending plates @ 2.48 each (building the raised bed)

Note: We already had the lumber and the weed block cloth.

by M Sinclair Stevens

25 Responses to post “Digging Holes for Raspberries”

  1. From P.Price San Antonio:

    I’m really eager to see how this turns out. Raised beds are our only option here, and I was wondering how raspberries might work. We’re further south, so…well, I dunno.

    Also, I recall vividly our digging a rock out of the hard ground in NW Austin years ago. Because I just had to have a shade garden and that was the only spot. The rock was 3′ x 1.3′. A small bench, basically.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. One reason I chose this spot (besides the fact that it was empty) is that the soil on this side of the yard is less rocky than the other side. On the other side it’s just rocks with a bit a clay glueing them together. — mss

  2. From Diana - Austin:

    What a labor of love — of raspberries. You certainly gave it your all. I imagine those canes are going to think they are living at the Raspberry Hilton! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you … there’s nothing like a gardening challenge!

    Raspberry Hilton, indeed! The way I’m pampering these raspberries I’m almost in the league of Robin @ Bumblebee and her chickens in the Palazzo di Pollo. Almost. — mss

  3. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    What a great project! Good luck with the raspberries. FYI-if you have any projects in the future that require more digging, make it easier on yourself and rent a Makita digging hammer–you could have dug all that in about a half hour or less. That was the first tool I ever bought for my landscaping business in California and it saved untold hours of time and back problems.

    I looked up a Makita digging and found Makita demolition hammers from $500 to $1500. That’s a bit pricey for me–someone who wouldn’t even pay $50 for a cubic yard of garden soil. But I should look around and see how much they are to rent. Maybe I could find some male help with the hole digging if power tools were involved. — mss

  4. From vbdb in austin:

    Love learning from other people’s experiments. I’d probably have dug a much smaller hole, certainly not have imported goat manure, and all in all done a much poorer job of getting the plants off to a good start. Then, I’d be saying how you just can’t grow raspberries in central Texas. It’s good to be reminded that a good foundation is important for all living things. If this is successful, will trade Lemon Ginger Marmalade for raspberries …

    It’s a deal but we’ll have to wait until next year to see if the experiment is a success. I haven’t been notably successful with my perennials in the past and I know it’s because I haven’t invested the necessary prep work up front. When I went on the Master Gardeners tour last year, I got a better idea of what one must be willing to do if one wants to press the limits on zone, or soil type, or in order to get really productive plants. Raspberries have very deep roots and a two foot hole, however deep it seemed when I was digging it, isn’t really very deep by most garden standards. — mss

  5. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    That looks great! I wouldn’t worry too much about your soil. A friend who lives near me grows raspberries. Her soil is not acidic, but is clay. She has beautiful, productive plants about 4 feet tall. Good luck with them.

  6. From Vertie:

    Wishing you the best luck on the project! If it works for you, I may plant some next year.

  7. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    I’m in awe at the effort you’ve gone to in preparing this planting bed for your raspberries. Complete awe and a lot of admiration. I’m looking forward to additional reports. Those raspberries are sure to grow, they MUST grow!

  8. From ESP, Austin:

    Worse case scenario: if the raspberries don’t succeed, that bed is totally prepped and ready to roll with lots of other planting options!

    Good luck with this project… I will follow with interest. In Scotland we used to pick wild raspberries by the bucketload, usually the bushes were tucked in tightly with young fir trees. The jam was amazing. It is staggering how long it takes to fill a container with picked raspberries though – some brand-new gardening law of physics is definitely involved with this activity!

    That’s my theory of consolation, as well. If the raspberries don’t work, I’ll plant potatoes or garlic there. — mss

  9. From Lori:

    Wow, I’m not looking forward to digging the new rose bed in the front yard after reading this. But at least you’ll have a useful bed if the raspberries don’t work out. I hope they’re miracle raspberries and defy all odds!

  10. From Dawn:

    Your bed is extremely impressive MSS. What a lot of work you put into this project. I hope your back has recovered. Hey, should you include the ibuprofen in your Project Cost list? 😉 I hope your raspberries flourish.

  11. From angelina:

    It looks great! I am going to hope these raspberries understand just how much work went into providing them with a lush home and that they will give lots of fruit! How exciting.

    Yes, I find myself taking on garden challenges frequently. I’m going to try growing lemons in pots here even though they don’t like our area or our winters.

  12. From Jenny Austin:

    The lengths some gardeners will go to! I think you may be just about ready to tackle the pavers! Seriously though, I look forward to hearing all about your success. I tried growing blackcurrants when I first moved in but they were an abysmal failure. There were some advantages to living in a northern climate ( currrants, gooseberries and fewer bugs)

  13. From Marilyn Kircus, Dripping Springs, TX:

    Sounds like you need the Ugly Tool Spade & Cultivator Combo Tool. My daughter and I own about 4 of them between us. I have neck and shoulder problems and can no longer lift heave tools. I use this tool for weeding, chopping out caliche, getting heavy clay out, digging out rescue plants on rocky slopes, etc. It is my most used tool. I found caliche in one of my 4 X 12 garden beds. A shovel wouldn’t touch it so I chopped it out with this tool over several days and removed three wheelbarrows of rock. I buy mine at Home Depot but there are better made tools on line. It makes digging in the this area MUCH easier.

  14. From Layanee:

    The finished bed is a work or art and that soil, well, that soil in the bed looks like the black gold that you mined so carefully.

  15. From Jan:

    I’ll be interested to see if your raspberries flourish. We tried some two years ago, but they died during the winter. Please keep us posted on yours.

    Always Growing

  16. From Annie in Austin:

    Like Carol, I find the only appropriate response has to have the word “Awe” in it. And probably “tenacious”.
    May your raspberries succeed and the AWE’s turn to AAAAWWW’s.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  17. From Lee, Pasadena CA:

    I grew Dormanred raspberries when I was still living at home in South Austin in the early ’80s. They grew and produced just fine. The berries are kind of small, but they are true raspberries and unlike the blackberries and dewberries I grew, they didn’t have those tiny hard seeds. They weren’t the most flavorful raspberries I’ve ever tasted, but they *were* raspberries. After I went off to college, my mother didn’t really take care of them (and she preferred the blackberries and dewberries anyway), so they eventually dwindled away. I think if they had been watered and fertilized regularly, they would have continued growing well.

    One other variety I learned about later and always wanted to try in Austin is the Bababerry raspberry. It’s supposed to be larger and better tasting than Dorman red, but will grow in the South, too.


    Thanks for the encouragement. I will look for the Bababerry, too. I love raspberries. — mss

  18. From Kristi, Davis California:

    The bed looks great, thanks for the information on your soil choices. Most people I know have great luck with raspberries but sadly mine never took off.

  19. From Sue - Milan:

    I have the same love/hate relationship with pink. Sometimes it just surprises you.

  20. From Kathy:

    I went through similar trouble for my peonies. Except I cheated and drafted a son to do the digging. And while it was hard digging, yeah, he could use a shovel. But I hope you haven’t made a pit that will just hold water. Not sure what else you could do except make a 2 foot high raised bed. Interesting how much that fence has changed your microclimate.

    The drainage WAS shockingly bad. I always fill a hole with water twice after digging both to test the drainage and to get some water down to where the roots will be. However, even barely two inches of water took an hour to drain. This motivated me to dig more clay out and making it muddy made that possible. With the raised bed, the raspberries have 3 feet to sink their roots in. They might on the rare occasion of hard rain get wet feet but it rains so infrequently that the least of my worries. — mss

  21. From Stephen Palmer, Round Rock, Texas:

    Any update on this? I’d love to plant raspberries here, too.

    Not yet. The raspberries have survived the heat and drought and one even spread and self-rooted. However, you are supposed to wait a year to harvest berries so that you are harvesting them on last year’s growth. We’ll see what happens this spring. I’ll update then. — mss

  22. From Christine, San Antonio:

    I’ve been here 3 yrs (from the Pacific NW)and STILL miss raspberry freezer jam. Am planting raspberries Monday. YOUR work is amazing! How many berries did you harvest and from how many plants the Spring of 2010?

    I planted three plants. I harvested several cups of raspberries but the birds ate a lot because the raspberries began to ripen when I was out of town. — mss

  23. From Nat, Sugar Land, TX:

    Nice documentary! How are they doing this year? I take it with the drought you are having to water them fairly often. I am looking at raspberries or tifblue blueberries or both, and want to see how they do for others…

  24. From Crystal, Pflugerville:

    Would love to have another update after this years drought. Thanks.

  25. From Tara, Spicewood, TX:

    How are your raspberries now??? Can’t wait to hear~