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Growing Blackberries

Read through the document below to learn tips and tricks for the care of your blackberry plants! Click here for more gardening care instructions.

HOW TO GROW: Blackberries grow best in a moist but well-drained soil of pH 5.5 to 7.5 that has
been supplemented with compost or manure. From Zone 5 north, plant blackberries in the early
spring as soon as the ground can be worked; from Zone 6 south, set the plants out in the fall,
winter, or spring.

The culture of bush and vine types differ considerably, primarily because of their habits of growth. Set bush-type plants 4 to 5 feet apart in the row and space rows 6 feet apart. Cut back the canes of newly planted bushes to 6 inches from the ground. During the summer, mulch with 4 to 6 inches of old hay or 2 to 3 inches of wood chips, sawdust or ground bark. When the new shoots that grow during the summer reach a height of about 3 feet, cut off the tips of the stems to force the development of side branches.

Late in the following spring after flower buds become visible, remove weak canes and thin others to stand about 10 inches apart. Then reduce the length of the side branches to about 18 inches; the buds on the remainder of the side branches send out stems that produce white flowers which are then followed by fruit in mid-summer. While the previous season’s growth is producing fruit, new stems are growing for
another season’s crop. Cut off the tips of these canes. Late in the summer after the fruiting season has passed, cut out and destroy all canes that have borne fruit.

Vine-type blackberries should be planted 6 feet apart in rows 8 feet apart; cut back newly set plants to 6 inches from the ground and mulch as described above. During the first season, allow the vines to creep along the ground until they are 8 feet long; then cut off the tips to force the development of side branches. During the summer or early in the following spring, install posts at 15-foot intervals along the rows and nail two strands of galvanized-iron wire from post to post at different heights. The vines can be tied to the wires during the summer where winters are mild. However, frost damage is less likely if the canes are allowed to lie on the ground through winter in Zone 7. It is also a good idea to cover them with mulch. In spring cut off all but 16 canes from each plant, and tie them in bunches to 12 inches, and as with bush-type plants, remove fruit-bearing canes after the season has passed.

Feed both bush and vine type plants each spring by scattering 5-10-5 fertilizer around them
at the rate of 1 cup per 16 feet of row.

Blackberries should be harvested in mid-summer when the berries are so ripe that they drop off at the slightest touch. Unripe berries or those allowed to sit in the sun after picking have a
bitter taste. To avoid loss of fruit to birds, cover the plants as they ripen with plastic netting.

Bush type blackberries are propagated by digging up and replanting suckers, fast-growing stems that arise from the roots. Vine type plants are propagated by tip layering; cover the tips of the canes with 2 inches of soil in mid-summer. Roots and latent stem buds will develop under the covered area during the fall and winter; cut off the tips of the canes and transplant the new plants in early spring.

Support systems can be used to advantage with brambles to minimize loss of crop due to wind damage and to facilitate harvest and other cultural practices. Thornless blackberries will have higher yields when supported.

A wire trellising system is most practical where the hedge row type of culture is used. The cross arm, two-wire system is common. Posts are set above every 20 feet with 31/2 to 5 feet remaining above the ground.

Near the top of each post is nailed a cross-piece about 18 inches long. A wire is attached to the ends of the cross-piece and run along each side of the row. The canes are trained between the wires or tied to them. Wire clips, used between the posts, will keep the wires from spreading.

A two-wire (one above the other) trellis may also be used. It is most useful with red raspberries and trailing blackberries. Posts are set in the same manner as for the cross-arm trellis, but no cross-pieces are used. One, two or three single wires are strung between the posts. The individual canes are tied to these wires following dormant pruning.

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