Why should blueberries, raspberries and strawberries get all the berry love? Blackberries are one of the easiest berries to grow in the home garden. They are beyond delicious and pack a potent nutritional punch that includes invaluable antioxidant support.
They require a bit more care than a strawberry but less than blueberries and growing them can be more fun than chore. Here are some tips on how to grow blackberries in the backyard or garden.
HOW TO GROW BLACKBERRIES
Blackberries come in two main types: erect and trailing. Erect blackberries produce self-supporting canes. Trailing varieties have vining canes that must be supported by a trellis or else they’ll sprawl across the ground. Erect blackberries (sometimes called upright blackberries) tend to be more hardy than trailing types. If you want to grow a trailing blackberry cultivar above zone 7, you’ll need to lay the canes on the ground and mulch them over for winter. Some erect blackberries are also thornless.
Some of the best trailing varieties of blackberries are also hybrids: boysenberry, loganberry, marionberry and youngberry.
Erect varieties include ‘Shawnee,’ ‘Navaho’ and ‘Choctaw.’ Try ‘Prime Jan’ or ‘Prime Jim,’ which produce berries on new canes each year making care and pruning much easier.
Semi-erect varieties are also good and produce a higher yield than most trailing or erect blackberries. Try ‘Triple Crown’ or ‘Chester Thornless.’
WHERE TO GROW
Blackberries are suitable for USDA Hardiness Zones 5-10, depending on the variety. As mentioned above, erect varieties tend to be more suitable to colder areas, while trailing types are best for zones 7-9. If you live in zone 10, be sure to choose a cultivar that is resistant to the heat.
Blackberries should be planted in full sun (they will tolerate partial shade if necessary but yields may be diminished) with good drainage and ample room to grow. Plant them in raised beds if you live in an area with lots of rainfall or have poor soil. They’ll need 3-8 feet between each plant, depending on the type. Some erect varieties may grow up to 10 feet tall and just as wide if not carefully pruned. Trailing varieties will need a trellis to support their vines, which can grow 20 feet long. Be sure to install the trellis prior to planting.
Keep blackberries away from your vegetable garden. They can become invasive. Do not grow them near other berries, especially wild berries, which often harbor disease.
WHEN TO PLANT
Blackberry transplants should be set out in the fall. Give them several weeks to become established before the cool of winter starts to set in. In the coldest regions, set them out in the early spring so they have more time to get settled before enduring a harsh winter.
BEST SOIL FOR GROWING BLACKBERRIES
Blackberries grow well in fertile, fast draining soil. Slightly acidic soil is best but they should be fine with a neutral pH (6.0 – 7.0). For best results, enrich your garden soil with compost and rotted manure prior to planting.
Blackberries are best started from high quality transplants purchased at a reputable nursery. Blackberries are highly prone to viral infection, so it’s important to buy a disease-free cultivar. Don’t let them dry out between purchase and transplant.
Dig a hole that is large enough so the roots can spread out and don’t need bending to fit. Set erect blackberry plants at 3 feet apart. Semi-erect plants should be given 5-6 feet and trailing blackberries will need 5-8 feet. Transplant them fairly shallow in the soil. They should sit only an inch or so deeper than they sat in their nursery pots.
Blackberries can be grown from seed but require 1-month stratification before planting and very particular conditions to survive.
WATERING & CARE
Blackberries need about an inch of rain per week. Give them a good long soak when rainfall is not present. Water at the base of the bush and try to keep the foliage as dry as possible. This will limit the risk of fungal infection.
Mulch with 2-3 inches of straw, wood chips, bark or grass cutting. Mulch will kill any pesky weeds and help maintain good soil moisture.
PRUNING & SUPPORT
Blackberry roots tend to send up lots of shoots, more than you need. Prune them off. This will help the ones you keep produce more vigorously while maintaining a tidy, easy to manage berry patch. Prune off old canes (floricanes) each winter. This will allow the new canes to thrive and produce delicious berries.
Train new canes (primocanes) of trailing varieties to grow on the trellis. A trellis can be easily constructed by placing a sturdy post at each end of the blackberry patch. String hefty wire or rope between the two posts, starting 3 feet off of the ground.
DISEASE & PEST CONTROL
Remove all wild berries from the vicinity of your blackberry patch. Do not plant blackberries near strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes or bell peppers, all of which can carry diseases to which blackberries are susceptible. Keep an eye out for gray mold and other fungal diseases. Give your blackberries good air circulation by keeping them well pruned and spaced. Try to keep the foliage as dry as possible. Remove infected areas immediately.
Raspberry Dwarf Virus can infect blackberries. Look for yellow blotches on the leaves and bleached vines. Destroy disease or infected plants or contact your local extension office about treatment. Never compost diseased plants.
Fruit worms and Raspberry borers are just a couple bugs that may cause a problem, but pests usually aren’t a huge threat. Organic sprays can be helpful but try to keep a healthy, tidy blackberry patch as the first line of defense.
Most blackberries will ripen at mid to late summer, but this will vary based on climate and cultivar. They will turn their deep, dark color (purplish black) but the surest way to tell if they are ripe is to have a taste test. Harvest them regularly and don’t leave them on the vine too long or else pests and birds may beat you to the harvest. Don’t leave them to rot, which invites more pests and disease. Unlike raspberries, be sure to include the central plug in the berry when you pick it.
TIPS & ADVICE
All blackberries and their hybrids are self-fertile.
Blackberries are a potent source of ellagic acid and many other important vitamins and antioxidants.
Attract bees to your garden to help pollinate your blackberry bushes. Large crops may require a nearby beehive to ensure they are properly pollinated.
Do you have questions or tips on how to grow blackberries? Let us know in the comment section below.