One of the simple joys of summer is eating fresh blackberries. Anyone who has picked wild blackberries in the woods would be hesitant to grow them at home.
You may envision tangled brambles full of prickly thorns that yield a few handfuls of fruit. The key to growing blackberries yourself is to start with 'domesticated' thornless varieties; they will be the easiest and most productive fruit you have ever grown.
Blackberries thrive in most soil types and tolerate a wide range of moisture conditions. They can handle a little shade but prefer full sun for best bloom and fruit potential. Most varieties have little to no disease issues and the only pest problems are birds stealing the berries.
Unlike wild blackberries, the thornless varieties grow long straight vine-like branches called canes. You can trellis the canes to keep them off the ground, conserving space in the garden, and making fruit harvest easier. Install plants at least three feet apart to allow sun exposure and airflow to the canes, as well as room to spread.
Proper can pruning can be intimidating, as you don't want to risk removing canes you will need for next year. Follow our guide for adequate care of your blackberry plants.
When you get your plants, tie the canes to your trellis. When these canes are fruiting, usually during the summer, the plant will start growing new canes that do not have blooms or fruit production. Just ignore these and let them grow. After fruit production is done, cut the old fruiting canes down to the main plant or ground. Be careful not to cut the new non-fruiting canes as these will need to be trellised to produce next year's crop.
Throughout the rest of the year, the plant will produce random cane growth, which can be tied to the trellis or cut. Don't be afraid to remove excess canes if your trellis is full. Typically take off a quarter to half of the canes that the plants produce.
You can't go wrong with any of the thornless varieties that are available and here are a few of our favorites:
Arapaho- This variety produces early and is very productive. The fruiting period is not as long as Ouachita, and the fruit is slightly smaller, but the seeds are small as well.
Apache- An erect thornless blackberry similar to Arapaho with larger fruit and seed, ripening 15 days later than Arapaho. The Apache Blackberry is very productive and selected because of its great flavor, good yield and very large fruit. Once established, Apache Blackberry plants do not require the support of a trellis or fence to grow; the canes that bear fruit are very strong and stand erect.
Natchez- Another early fruit-ripening date, like the Arapaho, it has high fruit quality, consistent high yields, and large fruit size. Superior plant characteristics include thornless, erect to semi-erect canes and good vigor and health.
Navaho- This erect, heat-tolerant, blackberry earns high praise for its exceptionally sweet, late-June-to-August berries. The fruit's 11.7 percent sugar content is the highest among all blackberry cultivars.
Ouachita- This variety produces copious quantities of large berries over a month to a mont and a half. The flavor is good and fruit size and quality improve throughout the season. The only downside is that the fruit has larger seeds.
Article by: Jennifer Magavero
Leon County Extension Office