Growing Blackberries

Blackberries are easy to grow. A diverse array of blackberry varieties are native to almost all of North America. They are especially abundant in areas with warm summer days, cool nights, and plenty of moisture.

An aggregate fruit composed of many tiny fruits known as drupes, blackberries are similar in taste and growth habit to raspberries. Blackberries bloom in profusion beginning in late June. The fruit is ripe by mid-July.

The flavor of blackberries is dark and rich with a unique combination of tart and sweet for a delicious summer treat. Blackberries are perfect as a topping for ice cream, added to desserts or smoothies, or preserved as jam or jelly to enjoy throughout the year. For each cup of crushed blackberries gathered from the home garden, you will end up with a half-pint of jam, jelly or syrup.

Grow Blackberries For Profit

The goal of both rural and urban homesteaders is to develop self-sufficiency by growing our own fruits and vegetables.

If properly planted and managed, a blackberry patch can produce an abundance of fresh and flavorful berries; more than enough for canning, preserving, sharing with family and friends, and selling at the farmer’s market.

Just three or four blackberry plants will more than supply the needs of a family of four. Commercial growers can anticipate a yield of 6,000 pounds per season from a well-managed one-acre blackberry bramble.

Types Of Blackberries

Divided into three main groups, blackberries are distinguished by a difference in the growth habit of their canes: trailing, semi-erect, and erect. The difference between raspberries and blackberries is whether the fruit retains its white core. With blackberries, the receptacle or core stays with the plant. With raspberries, the core stays with the fruit.

blackberries on trellis

An abundant blackberry crop that is easier to harvest on the Rotating Cross-Arm Trellis. Fumiomi Takeda, ARS, via USDA

Blackberries have a perennial root system with biennial canes. The new shoots, known as primocanes, develop during the first growing season. The primocanes are retained through the winter. During the second year of growing, primocanes are referred to as floricanes. As the floricanes mature, they bloom, bear fruit, and then die off after flowering. Read this excellent primer from Colorado State University for more information.

Training Blackberries

Training blackberries produce vigorous primocanes from the crown of the plant rather than roots. Second-year floricanes produce long shaped fruit with relatively small seeds and a highly aromatic, intense flavor. They are not hardy in northern climates, experiencing damage at temperatures of 13 degrees Fahrenheit in mid winter, and in the 20 degree Fahrenheit range in late winter and early spring.

Erect Blackberries

This type of blackberries has stiff arching canes that are somewhat self-supporting. However, they are much easier to handle when trellised and pruned. Summer prune or tip primocanes to encourage branching and increase fruit production on the second-year floricanes. Plants can become invasive to an area as it can produce new primocanes (suckers) from the roots.

Erect blackberries which produce fruit with relatively large seeds. Flavor and aroma are not considered as intense as in the training blackberry cultivars. They are semi-hardy in climates with rapid springtime temperature shifts, like Colorado.

Primocane-fruiting cultivars of erect blackberries produce fruit on the new canes. This makes management easier as the canes can be cut to the ground each winter.

Semi-Erect Blackberries

Semi-erect blackberry plants are thornless and produce vigorous, thick, erect canes from the crown. No primocanes are produced from the roots. Prune primocanes in the summer to encourage branching and increase fruit production on floricanes. A trellis is required to support the canes. Semi-erect blackberries generally produce a higher yield than trailing or erect types. Fruit quality is similar to that of the erect blackberries.

Blackberry/Red Raspberry Hybrids

These are generally natural crosses between blackberries and raspberries. Because the receptacle (white core) comes off with the fruit, they are generally considered a type of blackberry. Popular cultivars include Boysen (Boysenberry), Logan (Loganberry), and Tay (Tayberry).

For most homesteaders, orderly rows of blackberry bushes present the easiest harvesting opportunities. However, you can cultivate blackberries mixed with other fruit-bearing shrubs.

Best Varieties Of Thornless Blackberries For Homestead Cultivation

  • Apache – This variety, developed by the University of Arkansas, produces large conical fruit with excellent quality and flavor. Apache ripens mid-July with high production. Sunburn can be an issue after rain. Erect, sturdy canes are self-supporting. Canes are vigorous and prolific: fruit is well presented for picking. Apache is resistant to orange rust and winter hardiness is similar to other thornless varieties.
  • Arapaho – Another variety developed at the University of Arkansas dependably produces medium sized, firm and flavorful berries with smaller seeds than most varieties. Arapaho produces berries early in the season for a concentrated harvest. Canes are vigorous and erect with reported good hardiness.
  • Black Satin – A late ripening variety developed by the United States Department of Agriculture, Black Satin produces a large, firm, dull blackberry with a tart taste. A vigorous producer, Black Stain is one of the most winter hardy varieties available. Because the berries remain firm after picking with little breakdown, it transports well to sell at farmer’s markets.

Site And Soil Preparation For Blackberries

Blackberries do not grow well in heavy clay soils. Compacted soil makes it difficult for the roots to spread out and grow, and clay soil does not drain well. Blackberries will not grow in areas that collect standing water when it rains.

Choose the site for your blackberry bramble the year before planting. Blackberries should not be cultivated in soil that has previously grown tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, strawberries, or any other type of berry bush or bramble.

Break up the soil well, incorporating two parts organic garden compost or aged herbivore manure (e.g. poultry, sheep, goat, cow, horse, or lama) and one part sand. When mixed with topsoil, organic compost and manure work wonders with water, allowing good drainage through compacted heavy soil while it retains moisture in sandy soil.

Blackberry bushes do best in nutrient-rich, loamy, well-drained soil in a full sun location. Soil with a pH of 6.5-6.8 is ideal.

Because a blackberry patch, once established, will produce for more than 30 years, it is important to make sure that the soil in the space allocated for blackberries provides the necessary growing requirements. Take a sample of the soil to your local county extension office for testing or pH level soil test kits are available for purchase from local home and garden centers.

blackberries for sale

Blackberries for sale at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers Market in July 2016. Lance Cheung / USDA

Make sure compost and manure are well worked into the soil, Rake the ground, breaking up dirt clods and removing rocks, weeds, and debris. You will want to give your blackberry bushes the best start possible, so it is worth it to put extra effort into preparing the patch.

Planting Blackberries

  • Remove blackberry bushes from packaging, trimming off any broken or damaged roots.
  • Soak the roots in water for 6-8 hours. Protect roots from direct sun exposure until they are planted. Blackberries exhibit a high mortality rate when roots are exposed to sunlight during the planting process.
  • Dig holes twice as wide and deep as the blackberry root mass. Spread the roots out in the planting hole, fill with soil and water well. Blackberries require two inches of water a week. Blackberry roots are quite shallow, so do not allow the surface soil to dry out completely between water applications.
  • Plant young blackberry bushes in rows spaced 2-4 feet apart. Rows should be spaced from 5-8 feet apart for ease of harvesting. Unless you are planting blackberries as a living fence, most experienced blackberry growers highly suggest choosing a thorn-free variety of blackberries for ease of cultivation, pruning, and harvesting.
  • Mulch heavily around the base of each blackberry bush to help retain soil moisture, control weeds, and increase fruit yield. Use straw, pine bark, grass clippings, or untreated sawdust or wood chips.

Companion Planting For Blackberries

Companion planting, or the gardening practice of locating plants close to each other that benefit each other, helps boost fruit yield when cultivating blackberries. Low-growing groundcover plants, including any variety of mint, lemon balm, bee balm, hyssop, borage, thyme, or chives, are excellent companion plants for blackberries.

They attract bees for pollination and help repel foliage and fruit predators, keeping beetles and mice away from your blackberry crop. Planting beans or peas near the base of blackberry bushes helps impart nitrogen into the soil of the blackberry patch. Tansy, blueberries, and rue are also excellent plant companions for blackberries.

References

Blackberry Variety Review, Cornell University

Making Jams And Jellies, National Center For Home Food Preparation

Growing Blackberries In Colorado, Colorado State University

Growing Blackberries In Missouri, Missouri State University

Growing Blackberries And Raspberries In Kentucky, University of Kentucky

Growing Blackberries For Profit, Gardens All

Growing Blackberries In Your Home Garden, Oregon State University

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Author: Marlene Affeld

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