Growing Crops: Blackberries

Do yourself a favor and go to your local nursery that specializes in organic fruits and vegetables, and purchase blackberry canes that have already been propagated from seed. How many canes you buy depends on how fond you are of blackberries. You could also visit Nature Hills Nursery, as they have a selection of live blackberry cane varieties; click on the banner below to see your choices:

Blackberries are biennial plants – they will develop canes the first year, and with proper pruning will produce fruit the second year, after which the canes will die. However, you do not have to rip out your blackberry canes every other year. As old canes die, new ones grow, so that you will be able to harvest blackberries every year. It is an ongoing process. For that reason, you will want to pick your planting spot carefully, as your blackberry bushes/brambles will be there for many, many years.

There are a number of varieties available for purchase. They come in two main types of plants – trailing and upright.

Trailing varieties: Boysen, Loan, Lucretia, Thornless Boysen, and Young.

Upright varieties: Comanche, Darrow, Ebony King, Ranger, and Thorn-free.

Be sure to read Growing Fruit 101 in conjunction with this post.

Best Climate to Grow: The Trailing varieties grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 through 10. Of the Upright varieties, the Ranger and Thorn-free grow best in Zones 7 through 10, while the Comanche and Darrow can handle the colder climates of zones 5 and 6. Your local nursery should only supply blackberry canes that grow well in your area.

Light Requirements: Full sun.

Soil Requirements: Blackberries grow well in soil that has a pH level on the acidic side – from 4.5 to 6.5. Deep-till and amend your soil to ensure proper pH and so it is moist but drains well.

Feeding and Water Requirements: Dress your soil prior to planting with a good all-purpose organic fertilizer. Add more fertilizer a month after planting, and then add more again before mid-Summer. Keep the soil moist, using a combination of drip irrigation and thick mulch.

When to Plant: Starting in USDA Hardiness Zone 5 and moving north, plant your canes as soon as you can work the soil during early Spring. Starting in USDA Hardiness Zone 6 and moving south, plant your canes either in the Spring, Fall, or Winter.

Planting Depth and Spacing: Make sure your trellises or stakes and wires are in place before you plant! Trailing varieties need to be planted every 5 feet with at least 8 feet between the rows. Upright varieties need to be planted every 3 feet with at least 6 feet between the rows – they don’t take up quite as much space as they grow. No matter what variety you plant, be sure that the root tops are just beneath the soil (any deeper and they might suffocate before taking hold), and prune the canes to 6 inches tall as soon as they are in the ground.

Pruning: The first year will be spent training your canes along wires or a trellis. They will not fruit. Prune for shape. During the second year, the first-year canes should fruit while new growth canes should be pinched off at approximately 3½ feet. This will encourage side branching and thus a larger harvest from these new canes during the third year. Once the second year canes have finished producing berries, remove them. Train the second-year new growth canes as you did the first-year canes, pruning for shape and not allowing them to fruit until the third year.

You will repeat this process every year, always harvesting and then removing the current year’s fruiting canes while pinching and training the new canes for next year.

Container Requirements: Not recommended for container gardening. They do not make attractive container plants and can be extremely invasive while growing. They need to be outside, in the ground, trellised or wire-trained.

Harvesting and Storage: Make sure to harvest the berries when they are fully ripe – they don’t continue to ripen after they are harvested, and can be extremely sour if harvested too soon. Once harvested, get them out of the sun as quickly as possible and gently rinse them to remove any bugs or other vegetation.

Blackberries will not keep fresh for long – less than a week in the refrigerator and less than that if they are stacked deep. They are ideal for baking into pies or tarts, or canning for preserves. They freeze well. The best way to freeze them is to set them out in a single layer on kitchen towels to dry. Then freeze them in small batches to be thawed and used later.

Pests to Monitor: Birds, Cane Borers, Cutworms, Earwigs, Grasshoppers, and Nematodes. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.

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