Blackberries can be likened to other berry fruits, such as the raspberry plants, in the sense that they are also very easy to grow. If you want to have a happy gardening experience, then consider growing blackberries and raspberry plants.
The good thing about blackberries is that once they ripen, you will enjoy a fruitful and abundant harvest. You can also pick the ripe blackberries every two days or so.
If you plan to grow blackberries in your own garden but don’t know how to do it yet, then this article will serve as your guide.
Quick Facts About Blackberry Plants
- Common name: Blackberry
- Botanical name: Rubus Fruticosus
- Type of plant: Perennial
- Sun exposure: Full sunlight
- Size: 3 to 5 feet
- Type of soil: Well-drained and rich loam
- Soil pH level: A bit acidic to neutral – Blackberries grow well when the soil pH is around 5.5 to 7.0.
- Native area: North America
- Hardiness zones: USDA zones 5 to 8
Plant Blackberries Defined
Blackberries belong to the Rosaceae family together with other incredibly looking and amazing plants, like apple trees, roses, and black raspberries. They have similarities to other berry plants, like raspberries, in the sense that they can also be classified as brambles. This means blackberries often grow tangly, thick, and thorny.
However, unlike raspberries and other berry plants, blackberries also tend to grow sprawling or upright. It is crucial to note that all blackberry plants are considered perennials. Established plants have roots that are capable of surviving one year after another.
Note, though, that the topmost part of the plant, specifically above the soil, is referred to as biennial. In other words, its fruiting canes can be expected to have vegetative growth for one full year then bear fruits again the next year. After that, these biennial canes will die.
The good news is that each year, this plant also replaces the fruiting canes that died with new ones. To guarantee a bountiful and abundant fruit harvest of your blackberry plant and prevent it from getting too messy, pruning may be necessary.
Blackberry Types and Varieties
Blackberries are often categorized based on their growth habit. In this case, here are this plant’s most common types and varieties.
Erect Thorny Blackberries
This type has upright growth, which is also the reason why it does not need any additional support for its canes. Erect thorny blackberries can also be easily recognized because of the sharp spines that you can find on their canes. These spines are sharp enough that they can tear on clothing.
Erect Thornless Blackberries
This type has similarities to the erect thorny variety. However, it is also different in the sense that its canes do not come with any prickly thorns. Moreover, erect thornless blackberries do not require any trellis support.
Trailing Thornless Blackberries
This type features sprawling canes, prompting the need for a trellis. You may also use a system of wires as a means of holding the trailing thornless blackberries above the ground.
Aside from these three types, you also have to familiarize yourself with the other blackberry varieties, including:
- Shawnee – It can resist the cold while having reliable and self-supporting thorny canes.
- Natchez – This erect and thornless blackberry variety can create a hedgerow while being spread by suckers.
- Semi-erect thornless varieties – Among the examples of semi-erect thornless varieties are the triple crown and Chester. Expect these varieties to grow in the form of clumps. They are the ones that can greatly benefit from using a trellis.
There is also what we call the prime-ark traveler, a blackberry variety with the ability to produce fruit on either old or new canes the entire season.
Cultivated Versus Wild Blackberries
It is crucial to note that cultivated and wild blackberries have several differences. Generally, wild varieties are smaller compared to cultivated ones. In most cases, they are not also as sweet as the cultivated berries.
The reason behind this is that humans are the ones that breed the cultivated berries. With that, you can expect them to be created in a way that they will produce sweeter and larger fruits.
In addition, the way they are bred is also the reason why they are less nutritious than wild varieties. Cultivated berries have this additional size and sweetness that make them lose the antioxidant and fiber content of the fruit.
Wild berries are also different from cultivated ones in the sense that the former has several prickly thorns. The cultivated varieties have none or only a few thorns. This is the reason why you can now also find thornless varieties that are gaining more popularity.
As for the taste, it all boils down to personal preferences. You may be one of those who say that wild fruit varieties have better taste because of their wildness. However, you may also be one of those who prefer the sweet berries of the cultivated varieties.
When Should You Plant Blackberries?
Now, it is time to learn about the basics of planting blackberries. One crucial thing to know about growing this type of berry is the best time to do so. The perfect time to plant blackberries is actually the early spring, the time when you have dormant canes.
It would also be great to do it during the late fall. However, if you are living in a place that is extremely cold, you have to delay it until the early spring. The reason is that some hybrid blackberry varieties may die because of the low temperatures.
Blackberry plants, along with their hybrids, can also be defined as self-fertile. This means that it is not necessary to use multiple plants for the production of sweet and ripe fruits.
Picking the Best Planting Location
The best location for planting blackberries is one that gets full sunlight. This will guarantee the best yields for your berry. It is also crucial for the spot to have fertile soil with great drainage to promote better growth and fruit production.
It should be enriched with organic content, too. One more thing that you have to make sure of when it comes to the location for planting blackberries is that it should be away from wild berries. The reason is that those may carry and spread diseases that could result in weaker plants.
Planting and Growing Blackberries
The process of planting and growing blackberries is actually very simple. If you have a semi-erect cultivar, then you just have to space the plants at around five to six feet apart. As for erect cultivars, the spacing should be around 3-feet apart.
If you are growing the trailing blackberries, the spacing should be around five to eight feet. Each row should also have a spacing of around 8 feet apart. Another important tip is to plant the blackberries shallowly, specifically around an inch deeper compared to when they were grown and cultivated in nurseries.
Do you plan to grow blackberries in a pot or container? Then pick a compact cultivar, such as the baby cakes, so you no longer have to prune it. It is also crucial to pick a large pot or container, one that is capable of holding a minimum of 5 gallons of soil so it will not dry out.
How to Propagate Blackberries?
You can also easily propagate blackberry plants. You just have to use their stem cuttings. What you should do is to cut a piece of around four inches starting from the stem’s end during the late spring, the time with plenty of rainfall and mild temperatures.
You should then plant the stem cutting in moist soil. Expect the roots to develop and form within 2 to 4 weeks. You can then plant these newly grown roots during the fall. Alternatively, you can choose to keep them in a sheltered and secured spot, so you can plant them the next early spring.
Caring for your Blackberries
Once you have successfully planted your blackberries, the next thing you ought to do is to give them the kind of care they specifically need. Proper blackberry plant care is the key for them to grow successfully. In that case, focus on the following areas:
Ensure that the area where you plant your blackberries receives full sun. This is necessary for ensuring that the blackberry bushes stay productive. Blackberries can also tolerate some afternoon shade, specifically if your location has really hot summers.
Blackberry plants are also in need of a moderate supply of water, specifically around one inch every week. You can supply your blackberries with this kind of water from ground-level drip irrigation or rainfall. You also need to be extra careful as blackberries can’t survive wet soils that well.
The correct selection of planting site will guarantee a longer lifespan for your blackberry plant, allowing it to live for even a decade or more along with proper care. With that said, you have to really give it the perfect soil. To be specific, it needs slightly acidic soil that has good drainage.
Avoid using clay soil as you can’t expect blackberries to survive in there. It is also advisable to use raised beds or elevated planting spots for your blackberries. The reason is aside from improving drainage, raised beds can also prevent frost during the late spring to cause damage to the flower buds.
The soil also has to remain weed-free. Get rid of every weed that grows in the soil as it may only compete for nutrients or take away water from your berries. Keep in mind that blackberries usually have shallow root systems vulnerable to competition.
The fact that it indeed has a shallow root system means you also have to remove and control weeds. One more thing that you should do is to put a nice layer of mulch on top of the root zone all the time.
This should help in feeding your blackberry plants while growing in the soil and preventing weeds from growing. This is also a big help when attempting to conserve moisture from the water.
Humidity and Temperature
You also have to provide your blackberries with enough humidity and temperature to ensure that they receive proper care as you grow them. One fact about these types of berries is that they need a certain period of cold dormancy for germination purposes.
The problem is that they have kind of shallow roots, which means that they can’t do that well when planted and cultivated in areas with temperatures that are lower than zero degrees.
In this case, you should be able to provide them with the perfect environments when grown in USDA zones 5 to 8. Also, keep in mind that combined with wet soils during the spring, the cold temperatures, especially during the late winter may also kill the plant.
Dry and hot winds are not also ideal for blackberries as such may only lead to seedy fruits and stunted growth. Keep all these things in mind, so you can continue providing your blackberries with the appropriate humidity and temperature for them.
The best time to fertilize your blackberries is during the spring – the time when these plants emerge after being in the dormant stage. Use a balanced formula (10-10-10) for its fertilizer.
You should also fertilize blackberry plants once more during the fall using compost and manure application. This should help you control weeds as aside from suppressing their growth of weeds, it also helps improve soil tilth.
A trellis may not be extremely necessary when growing blackberries. However, it is also common for you to find erect blackberry plants being maintained using a trellis together with the semi-erect and trailing varieties.
In several cases, the trellis is useful when you decide to grow erect plants as it can help you maintain their height at over three feet. This also helps the lateral shoots get longer than 18 inches. You can also use the trellis to have an easier time picking berries.
You can also use the trellis in ensuring that the taller plants continue to grow or the erect plants will not get blown over by strong winds. Moreover, it ensures that the heavy fruit load will not lay the plants down.
If you intend to use the trellis, remember that you have to tie the canes to it while they are growing. You can often find a trellis that has a top wire around five feet over the ground and another one around three and a half feet over the ground.
Alternatively, you can install the top wire at around five feet over the ground and the wire at the bottom at around twenty-four inches over the ground. You should also install the middle wire at around eighteen inches on top of the bottom wire.
Take note that the ones provided are only samples, which means you can use your own trellising system based on your preference and need.
Pruning Blackberry Bushes
Pruning also plays a crucial role in managing your blackberries. The good news is that this entire process does not have to be completely intimidating and difficult. The only thing that you have to do is to get rid of dead canes once the growing season ends.
In most cases, these exact canes produce fruit during the entire growing season. If you are growing trailing blackberries, the best way to do this would be to cut down old canes to ground level after the completion of the harvest season.
Erect varieties have to be pruned during the late summer once you are done picking the berries. Aside from cutting old canes, pruning around four inches from the top of the first-year cane called the primocanes is necessary.
This summer pruning is essential in ensuring that the new canes of your own blackberries will branch out, boosting their productivity the next season. If you are growing the primocane variety, you have an assurance that the process of pruning will be quick and easy. It just involves mowing down the canes after you have completed the harvest.
After that, you have an assurance that they will start to produce additional first-year canes that aid in producing berries the following year.
During the harvest season, you have to pick only those berries considered fully black. Also, take note that mature ones are usually firm and plump berries. These plump and firm berries have deep black colors that you can freely and effortlessly pull out from the plant without yanking them.
Once you have picked the plump fruit berries, you can no longer expect them to ripen. If you notice the blackberry plant starting to ripen, pick them often, preferably every two days or so. As you pick them, ensure that the central plug stays within the fruit.
The best time of the day to harvest blackberries is when it is already cool. Put the blackberries in the shade after picking and refrigerate immediately. Take note, though, that blackberries tend to perish fast.
It can’t last long after harvesting them even if you refrigerate them. In that case, you can store them and make them last longer through canning and freezing, though, it would still be best to eat them fresh.
Common Diseases and Pests
Blackberries are at risk of experiencing crown gall, stem blight, and anthracnose. You can prevent such diseases if you buy a plant stock free of any disease. You can get them from reliable and reputable nurseries.
Ensure that the planting area for your blackberries is also away from those that have wild brambles as these carry such diseases. As for pests and insects, the ones that usually affect blackberries are raspberry crown borers and stink bugs. To prevent the attack of these insects, ensure that your blackberries stay vigorous and healthy.
There are also viral diseases that may affect blackberries. Among them are the blackberry calico virus and the raspberry bushy dwarf virus. These two viruses can make the leaves of your blackberry develop bright yellow splotches. You need to remove and destroy the plants affected by any of these viruses immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Are blackberries easy to grow?
Yes. Blackberries are among the easiest fruits to grow, provided you give them the specific elements they primarily need.
How long does it take for a blackberry bush to bear fruit?
It often takes around three years for the blackberry to bear fruits. The blackberry bush often makes this happen during the fall.
Do blackberries need a trellis?
It is necessary for trailing and semi-erect blackberries to use a trellis. There is no set design for trellising, though. You can use your creativity based on how you want your trellis to be designed.
Blackberries are indeed among the most rewarding fruit you can grow in your garden. Growing blackberries will eventually give you an abundant harvest that you will enjoy for a long time. You will also surely like the sweet fruit or the tasty berries produced by this plant.