In this article, we will go over everything you need to know about growing blackberries. Blackberries (Rubus spp.) are fruiting plants belonging Rose (Rosaceae) family. They produce small, sweet, black fruit, known as ‘aggregate fruit’ because they are made up of a cluster of drupelets.
Blackberries are native to Europe but have become widely naturalized to most countries in the temperate region. There are two types of Blackberry plants, trailing and erect. Your choice of Blackberry type depends on what you are looking for and how much space you have to work with.
Health Benefits of Blackberries
Blackberries may be eaten fresh, frozen, preserved in jams and jellies or cooked tarts pies and desserts.
They’re at their most nutritious when eaten fresh are packed with beneficial antioxidants and phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals.
They’re known for their incredible health benefits:
Blackberries are high fiber, low carb, and low fat. With a Glycaemic Index (GI) of just 4, they’re considered to be a low GI food, which will not disrupt blood sugar levels. Sweet fruit is seldom low GI and is therefore associated with spikes and crashes in blood sugar. Unstable blood sugar levels are associated with insulin resistance, inflammatory conditions, pre-diabetes, and Type 2 Diabetes.
Blackberries are full of potent antioxidants called anthocyanins and ellagic acid. Antioxidants protect against oxidative stress, inflammation, and cell damage caused by free radicals, offering anti-aging and even anti-cancer benefits.
Blackberries are a nutrient-dense ‘superfood’ containing fiber, amino acids, antioxidants, manganese, Vitamin, and Vitamin K. This potent combination provides numerous health benefits including improved absorption of nutrients from food, improved immunity, improved bone health, and more stable blood glucose and lipoprotein levels, which are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and metabolic disorders like obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.
Growing Blackberries to incorporate into your diet is a great way to reap these tasty benefits!
Broadly, there are two different types of Blackberry bush – trailing and upright/arching varieties. There are many, many cultivars of each, so rest assured that you will be able to find one just right for you.
Cultivars have been developed to combat a variety of different challenges, and there are thornless, cold hardy, primocane fruiting, floricane fruiting, and even cultivars that fruit twice a year.
Trailing Blackberries are sometimes called Brambles, because they spread quickly, taking over any area available to them and forming a dense, thorny hedge. They need plenty of space, and unless they are carefully managed early on, they are difficult to harvest. Grow them on a fence or trellis.
Erect Blackberry varieties do not need to be trained along a fence or trellis. They grow upright, with tall, arching canes. These are better suited to smaller spaces and for growing in containers. Thornless, erect, varieties are ideal, as they’re easy to work with and require less space.
There are thorny and thornless varieties of both trailing and erect Blackberries. Thorny types grow more vigorously and tend to produce tastier fruit, but the disadvantage of working around their sharp, curved, thorns often outweighs this.
Blackberries can be bought as small, established, plants, or they can be propagated from seeds or cuttings. Mature plants can be divided and transplanted.
Before planting blackberries, consider the climate, amount of space you will need, how much sun the area gets, and the soil’s quality. The following growing conditions are ideal for Blackberries:
Blackberries do well in temperate conditions, with cool summers and mild winters. However, some cultivars have been developed to withstand more extreme conditions. In the US, Zones 5 to 10 are considered temperate. Erect types are generally hardier to the cold. Many cultivars can withstand -20 to -25 F. All Blackberry varieties prefer to be protected from heavy wind and grow better in sheltered or protected areas.
Upright Blackberry varieties vary widely in size. Smaller varieties will grow 3 to 4 feet wide and just as tall. Larger varieties are up to 5 feet wide, with canes as tall as 8 to 10 feet. Pruning will keep upright varieties in check and promote bushy growth, which is good for fruiting and harvesting. Be sure to allow enough room between plants to be able to maneuver around them to prune and harvest.
Trailing types spread rapidly, along the surface of the ground, with long rambling canes. Plants should be planted 6 to 8 feet apart. If you have planted rows, prune along the sides often and mow often. This will keep the spaces between the rows open and prevent shoots or suckers from growing in the aisles.
Blackberries need 6 to 8 hours of full sun a day. Adequate sunlight is essential for plant growth and bountiful fruit. Too little sun will result in poor yield and poor-quality fruit.
Blackberries need neutral to slightly acidic (ph 5.5 to 7.0) soil, which drains well and is rich in organic matter. As a general guideline, the soil should be 40% compost, 30% potting mix, and 30% sand or perlite.
If you are planting out in the ground, amend it as needed with compost and/or sand as needed.
Wide, shallow pots/containers work well for Blackberries as are not particularly deep-rooted plants. Their roots tend to spread horizontally, so width is more important than depth. Generally, containers need to be at least 5 gallons in volume to support the size of an average upright Blackberry variety. They must also have excellent drainage.
Planting in a container will prevent the trailing varieties from spreading rampantly. Just remember that they will need a trellis to support them.
When to Plant Blackberries
Blackberries are dormant during the winter. Planting should take place in autumn, while the plants are still dormant. This gives them time to settle and acclimate before the growing season begins. However, in colder climates, it may be necessary to wait until it is warmer, and there is no frost before you plant into the garden.
Planting indoors can be done at any time of year if you have a warm and bright location for your plant. Blackberries need at least 6 hours of bright light a day. This can be sunlight or light from a grow light.
Plants moving from indoors or from greenhouses into the garden will need time to harden off, so give them a week or two in a location where they’re still somewhat protected but are not as exposed as they will be outside.
How long does it take to grow Blackberries?
In the first year of growth, Blackberries will focus on vegetative growth and do not bear fruit. The stems or branches of a Blackberry plant are called canes. The first year’s canes are called primocanes and generally do not bear fruit. In their second year of growth, primocanes become fruit-bearing floricanes.
How to Care for Blackberry Plants
Blackberries are shallow-rooted plants and rely on the water close to the surface of the soil. Established plants (more than a year old) require very little watering unless you are in a particularly dry climate.
However, in the first year of growth, frequent and consistent watering is necessary:
- In the first three weeks after planting, keep the soil consistently damp, up to 1 to 2 inches below the surface.
- From the fourth week up until midsummer / first harvest, water less frequently but maintain consistent moisture in the soil around the plant’s base.
- During harvest, water more thoroughly to wet the soil as deep as 4 inches below the surface. This improves the texture and flavor of the fruit.
- After harvesting and as the season cools, reduce watering back to 1 to 2 inches below the surface and ensure that the plants are not standing in water / do not become waterlogged, as this will encourage fungal growth.
Blackberries will need more nitrogen in the first year to encourage leaf and stem growth. Once the plants are established, they will require feeding once a year, at the end of autumn/beginning of spring. Balanced nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous (10: 10: 10) fertilizers will promote growth, strength, and fruit production.
Blackberries are prone to fungal infections, so organic fertilizers are better than chemical ones because organic fertilizers promote soil health and combat fungal infections. Chemical fertilizers tend to kill off the healthy bacteria and microbes in the soil.
Blackberries require tip pruning (snipping off the tips, just above the second or third node /leaf joint) throughout the growing season to encourage growth and fruit production. Pruning also promotes air circulation and light penetration, which improve plant health and fruit quality.
Blackberries need to cut right back to the primocanes once a year, after harvesting. Once the fruit-producing floricanes have died off, that must be cut away completely. This reduces the risk of disease and ensures that the plant can put all its resources into new growth in the next growing season.
Common Pests and Diseases: Prevention and Treatment
Pests can be controlled by weeding the surrounding area, pruning regularly, watering with a jet of water from the hose to dislodge them or with natural insect repellents, like neem oil. Soap sprays made from dish soap and water can also be used. The most common pests that affect blackberries are:
Raspberry Crown Borers
Red-necked Cane Borers
Blackberries are also susceptible to fungal infections, including:
Cane and Leaf Rust
To prevent fungal infections, maintain healthy growing conditions:
- Do not over water or allow the plants to sit in waterlogged soil.
- Water around the base of the plant rather than onto the plant itself.
- Prune regularly cut away dead wood that can rot and improve air circulation.
- Space plants out adequately to prevent the spread of pests and fungus between plants.
- Weed around the plants and remove any wild blackberry bushes close by
- Make sure that there is enough sun and that the sunlight penetrates the plant well
- Plant in areas with good airflow and low humidity.
- Use a natural, organic fertilizer to improve soil health and combat bacteria and fungus in the soil
To treat fungal infections:
- Remove any affected plants / individual stems or leaves and dispose of them away from other plants (burning them will ensure that there no spread to other plants in the area)
- Treat with on organic fungicide (organic is preferred as it will not harm the plants or fruit and will not have any adverse effects on those who consume them).
When to harvest
The fruiting season is generally about 28 days long and takes place in mid to late summer. Different cultivars will ripen at different times, so planting different varieties can extend your fruiting season.
Ripe Blackberries are fat, dark and firm. They will be shiny and then become dull when they’re ready to pick. Only pick them once they are fully ripe, as they will not ripen after being picked.
It is best to harvest on cooler days or at the coolest time of day, to improve the shelf life (4 to 5 days out, longer if refrigerated) of your harvest.
How to harvest
To harvest Blackberries, pick them gently off the plant and place them in a thin layer in a shallow container. Avoid putting too many into the same container, as they are easily bruised and crushed. Keep harvested fruit in the shade and refrigerate as soon as possible.
Growing Blackberries is easy and rewarding! There are 100s of varieties of Blackberry to choose from, so you can find exactly what you are looking for! With good basic care and minimal fuss, they grow prolifically and bear fruit in the first or second year, depending on the variety you choose.