It's a thorny situation for berry lovers -- in the world of brambles, many more varieties of thornless blackberries (Rubus ursinus) are available than thornless raspberries (Rubus idaeus). But a handful of spine-free raspberry varieties do exist, giving intriguing choices for containers, the berry patch and ground cover. Choose a thornless raspberry plant that best suits your climate and your sun conditions.
"Raspberry Shortcake" was bred for ornamental and edible container gardening, so it grows only 2 to 3 feet tall, and features a rounded silhouette and handsome, glossy leaves. The thornless canes produce fruit on second-year growth, which should be removed after the growing season. Give "Raspberry Shortcake" full sun, and check its water daily if you grow it in a container. This thornless cultivar grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 to 9. Thornless blackberries grow in USDA zones 5 through 10, depending on cultivar.
Like many raspberry varieties known as everbearing, cold-hardy "Joan J" actually produces two distinct flushes of berries -- one in summer and one in fall. The thornless second-year canes produce their summer bounty toward the bottom of each cane, while the first-year canes, also thornless, bear fall fruit at their tips. "Joan J" has been rated high for both yield and flavor. It does best in full sun, and is perennial in USDA zones 3 to 8. It grows to about 5 feet tall.
Cold-hardy "Nova" is one of the earlier of the summer-bearing raspberry varieties, and bears medium-sized berries. It is considered thornless, but you may find a spine here and there. Grow it in full sun or part shade. "Nova" grows in USDA zones 3 to 8. Hardy in the same growing zones is "Canby," another thornless summer-bearing raspberry. "Canby" produces large berries in June. Like "Nova" it grows in full sun but can tolerate some shade. Both of these summer-bearing raspberry varieties grow 4 to 6 feet tall, but "Canby" spreads more.
Fruit at Your Feet
While you won't get high yields from a raspberry ground cover, a spreading plant does offer an extra berry-producing layer for your thornless raspberry patch. A different species from the common raspberry, "Emerald Carpet" (Rubus calycinoides "Emerald Carpet") produces yellow-orange berries in mid-July. The low-growing plant is about 6 inches tall and spreads about 12 inches each year. It will grow in sun or shade, and grows in USDA zones 6 to 10. "Emerald Carpet" also produces reddish autumn foliage. Grow it on slopes, at the edges of your traditional raspberry patch, or as a lawn replacement for areas that receive light foot traffic.