Do you enjoy waking up to a berry smoothie in the morning? How about the delicious aroma of a fresh blackberry pie cooling on the window sill?
If you enjoy berries, consider planting some canes in your garden this growing season.
Blackberries are one of our favorites, and in this guide, we’ll be walking you through everything you need to know about raising blackberries in your garden.
Most berries are a rich source of ellagic acid, a polyphenol nutrient that has strong antioxidant properties. By adding blackberries to your diet, you benefit from a strong antioxidant effect that scavenges free radicals out of your bloodstream. Free radicals oxidize healthy cells, leading to the signs of aging, such as wrinkles and lines in your face.
The ellagic acid found in blackberries prevents the oxidative damage from pollutants entering your body. Cigarette smoke, brake dust, gas fumes, and other forms of air pollution are all around us. By eating more berries, you reverse the oxidizing damage to your body.
Fortunately, most berry varieties are easy to grow, and blackberries are ideal for the novice garden to get their feet wet with planting berry varieties. When your blackberry plant starts fruiting, you’ll be picking berries every day, and enjoying them fresh off of the stem.
There are three varieties of blackberry.
- Trailing thornless blackberries
- Erect thornless blackberries
- Erect thorny blackberries
Trailing blackberries have long canes that require trellising for support, lean them up to a wall and weave them through the trellis as the canes grow. Erect blackberry varieties grow as a bush, and the stems are strong enough to support the plant during fruiting season.
All blackberry varieties are perennial plants, and the roots keep growing year after year. It’s common for both varieties to take two or three seasons to start [producing berries that are plump and juicy. So, don’t stress yourself if the bush or canes don’t give you amazing berry’s for the first few harvests.
Planting Your Blackberries
Trailing blackberries are the most common type found in private gardens across the United States. Trialing varieties produce long canes that you weave through a trellis. You can grow these plants outdoors, or in a greenhouse for best results. Unfortunately, growing blackberries from seed is a very challenging exercise, especially for novice gardeners.
It’s for this reason that we recommend you visit a nursery and purchase blackberry canes that are already at least 6-months old. All you need to do is take the canes home and plant them in your desired site. Plant your canes in the early spring, right after the last frost falls on the ground.
You can also plant in the late fall, and then overwinter the canes for the following season. This strategy allows your canes to root properly before the next fruiting season, accelerating growth when the weather changes.
It’s essential to ask your nursery about how your variety does under colder conditions. Some hybrid blackberry canes may be sensitive to cold, and low temperatures might kill the canes. Blackberry plants are self-fertile, so there’s no need to add additional plants to your garden to get them to fruit.
Preparing Your Planting Site
When preparing your blackberry planting site, it’s essential to select an area of the garden or greenhouse that gets the most amount of sunlight during the early morning and afternoon. The canes do enjoy a bit of afternoon shade to help them cool down on a hot day.
Make sure that your soil has good drainage, and till at least 18 to 24-inches deep to aerate the soil before planting. By tilling the planting site, you promote natural root growth for the canes and higher yields. Tilling also improves drainage, moving water away from the roots. Roots that sit in waterlogged soil with develop “wet feet,” and start to rot.
Caring for Your Blackberries
Mulch around the base of the canes once or twice during the growing season. Adding mulch around the bottom of the canes helps to reduce evaporation, leaving more moisture in the soil. As the mulch biodegrades, it releases nutrients into the ground to support the fruiting phase.
Give your canes at least one-inch of water every week, and double it when the plant starts fruiting. Fertilize in the early spring using 10-10-10, or 16-16-8 fertilizer.
Pruning Your Blackberry Canes
After the canes finish bearing the fruit, you need to prune them at the base to inspire new growth next season. Not all the canes will fruit in the first two or three seasons. However, as the plant matures over the years, it will steadily increase the quantity and quality of the berries it yields.
By removing old canes, you allow the plant to divert nutrients to other canes and improve its fruiting efficiency. More canes will end up shooting from your pruning efforts, and always make sure that you prune the cane at a 45-degree angle.
Train the primocanes into the trellis as you prune away the other dead canes. You didn’t need to prune the primocanes, and in colder regions, leave the canes on the ground for the winter. Cover the canes with mulch and burlap for winter protection, and them dig them up the following season. Avoid working with your primocanes in cold weather, as it increases the risk of snapping the canes.
Erect blackberry varieties grow stiff, short canes that come from the crown of the roots, and they often start to form a hedgerow. Mid-summer is the best time of the season to prune your erect varieties, and you can remove the top two inches of the plant when they are around 4-feet tall to inspire new growth.
Your plants will need several pruning sessions over a few weeks to ensure that you tip all of the new primocanes that start rising to the 4-foot limit. Prune away any new primocanes that begin to grow outside of the hedgerow. In the winter you can shorten the branches to around 2-feet in length, and remove the old dead floricanes from the plant.
If you’re growing semi-erect blackberry varieties, it far easier to manage the growth using a double-T trellis. Using a 6-foot post, attach four-foot cross-arms across, parallel to the ground. String some high-tensile wire down the rows, connecting it to the cross-arms.
Semi erect blackberry plants require pruning in the mid-summer as well. When the primocanes reach 5-foot tall, remo0ve the top 2-inches of the canes, and remember to cut at a 45-degree angle. You’ll need to repeat the process over a few weeks during the peak of summer to enhance growth and improve fruit yield.
Remove the dead floricanes when the winter arrives, and spread the remaining primocanes out along the length of the trellis. You don’t need to shorten the canes unless you’re having issues with training them into the trellis.
Overwinter your canes by covering them with mulch and burlap, and then dig them up in the early springtime.
Pests and Diseases Affecting Your Blackberries
When raising your blackberry canes, you’ll need to be on the lookout for pests and diseases. Common pests affecting your canes include raspberry borers and fruit worms. The borers arrive on the canes and burrow their way into the joints at the base of the plant. As a result, the canes start to weaken, and the leaves will wilt. You can expect your blackberry plant to stop producing berries as well.
If there’s a run of cold, rainy weather during the summer, check on your blackberry caners after the weather clears. Grey mold is a problematic fungus affecting blackberry canes. The disease covers the foliage and berries of the plant, causing it to suffocate and wilt.
Mosaic virus is also a concern for blackberry canes, and if this disease gets into your canes, it could migrate to the roots, and overwinter in the soil. Another prominent disease affecting your blackberry canes is Blackberry Calico, and it causes faint yellow blotches on the foliage.
Harvesting Your Blackberries
It’s essential that you only pick berries that are entirely black in color. Picking and eating under-ripe berries may upset your tummy. Ripe blackberries ready for picking are plump and pull away from the plant without yanking.
The berries need no further ripening, and you’ll need to keep picking the canes as they start to produce. Leaving your blackberry plant alone during fruiting season results in all you hard work landing on the floor.
When picking blackberries, unlike raspberries, keep the central plug intact. Try to harvest your plant in the morning before the sun gets too hot. This strategy yields the tastiest and juiciest berries from your canes.
Storing Your Blackberries
We prefer to eat our blackberries fresh after picking each day. However, if you have too many to eat, store some in the fridge, and freeze your surplus. Blackberries freeze well and last for up to six months if you store them at optimal temperatures.
Purchase a raspberry cane next season and start growing your berry mix at home!