Blackberries, a Thorny Delight by Diana Sidebottom.
Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!! If you are a gardener, you know that can mean only one thing; it’s time to prune the Blackberry vines! Well, it may actually mean several things…. like you have been sitting on the couch all winter and after a few days of working in the garden, every muscle in your body is screaming, ‘Are you crazy?’ Yes, as most gardeners know, you have to be a little crazy to do this. After all, you can purchase most of these fruits and vegetables at the grocery store or farmers markets. But, it is so satisfying to know that you battled Mother Nature and her crazy weather and you beat the odds. You were triumphant against all of those insects, and diseases. You are now actually able to reap the rewards of your labor by eating something you grew! Victory is sweet and so are those blackberries. But first, you have to know how to prune and care for them, in order to have a bountiful harvest. So, put on your protective gear: wear the thickest gloves you can find (preferable leather), don those jeans, a long sleeve shirt, a coat, (a suit of armor would be nice), grab your pruners, and let’s get started.
Blackberries are hybrid of the dewberry. Dewberries are able to tolerate our high summer temperatures, and are seen growing wild in Texas along fence rows and in pastures. Hybrid varieties are available today which bear large-sized fruit, have an extended period of harvest, and can be thorny or thornless.
Blackberries are biennial plants. You need to know this to determine which canes to prune. Current season canes (new growth) are called “primocanes.” Fruit is set on one year old canes (last year’s growth) and are called “floricanes”. Floricanes die after fruiting and those are the canes that should be pruned out and removed each year.
Trellising or supports are helpful in harvesting and weed control: but should be very simple in nature so they do not interfere with floricanes removal.
Blackberries may produce for 15 years, but the optimal production is usually during years 3 through 8. They grow best in sandy soil, and prefer a pH of 4.5 to 7.5. As always, test your soil, or have it analyzed for pH, nutrient deficiencies and percolation, then build and amend your beds accordingly.
Remember, fruit production is directly related to primocane growth and vigor. By keeping your plants their healthiest, they will reward you with plenty of Blackberries for years. Nitrogen is the most important nutrient and is best applied in split applications, one in spring as buds begin to swell , and then in summer after the harvest. Keep your plants watered, preferably with a drip irrigation system to help prevent fungal diseases. Also, apply a thick layer of mulch.
If you only remember one point from reading this article, remember this: applying a thick layer of mulch is probably the most beneficial thing you can do. Mulch reduces evaporation thereby decreasing the necessity for frequent watering, and with our current drought, that is a real benefit. It helps prevent fungal diseases by protecting the plants from soil borne organisms. It reduces heat stress during the peak of summer. It minimizes and almost eliminates problem weeds. As it decomposes, the mulch fertilizes and amends the structure of the soil. Mulch can be made from anything: leaves, grass clippings, hay, shredded bark, any plant based materials.
If you haven’t decided which varieties you are interested in planting, go to the Texas A&M website where you will find numerous varieties and details of the characteristic of each. If you are just starting to garden, Blackberries are probably a good place to begin. They are relatively easy, and let’s face it, the original varieties still grow wild. You can’t say that about too many other fruit. So as always….. happy harvesting.