Blackberries by PJ LaRue Smith.
Blackberries of the wild type (sometimes referred to as ‘dewberries’ or brambles) are typically considered a curse to those who seek to cultivate the land for livestock forage. Even the home gardener will struggle with this plant when attempting to tame the landscape into the garden of their dreams.
These native perennials (of which there are ten listed species) can either be ground hugging or upright and thicket forming like Rosaceae oklahomus. Spread of these plants happens not only via natural seed dispersal, but through the creation of “daughter” plants when the stem tips come into continued, close contact with the soil. Typically, the white, one inch, five petaled blooms can be seen during April and May, with the dark purple, ¾ to 1” berries ripening by mid-June. Wildlife enjoy these fruits, but they have little/no value for livestock; overtake hay meadows and rangeland quickly; and will cause access problems if left to develop into large thickets.
Eradicating blackberries from the above-mentioned areas can be quite difficult. Proper timing of herbicide application tends to be one of the most significant factors in controlling blackberry plants. Spraying with the proper herbicide (at the proper rate) early in the spring just after the plants leaf out produces better control in areas where these plants are not desired.
At this point, it bears mentioning that these berries are a perfectly edible and tasty treat for humankind as well. If they are producing this spring, and you’ve not had a chance to spray for control, then why not enjoy the fruits? (Not to mention it will lessen the seed dispersal!) After they are done with production, mow them down and keep them mowed until the time next spring when spraying will be more successful.
Cultivated blackberries and raspberries, while similar to the native varieties, have been bred for the specific purpose of human consumption. Many of the cultivated varieties are thornless, some are not as prone to suckering, and almost all of these hybrid varieties will bear larger and more storage tolerant berries than their wild relatives.
Of the recommended varieties for the northeast area of Texas those with thorns are as follows: Brazos, ‘Rosborough’, ‘Womack’, ‘Kiowa’, ‘Choctaw’, and ‘Chickasaw’. For those who prefer the thornless blackberry, the ‘Arapaho, ‘Navaho’, ‘Ouachita’, ‘Apache’, and a relatively new variety ‘Natchez’ (released in 2007) are top contenders.
Blackberries, being part of the Rosaceae (rose) family, do have a few disease issues, namely rust and leaf spot. Insect pests such as aphids and spidermites are common amongst all varieties. For those who grow these plants a word of caution – the same birds that eat these berries also eat poison ivy berries (as well as hackberry, juniper, etc.). When picking berries, or working with the vines, pay close attention to the leaves and wear gloves.
A couple of notes on picking. 1.) Wear a latex-free glove on your dominant hand (the one that you write with) to maintain the necessary dexterity for collecting the berries. On the other hand, use a thorn proof, leather glove to move aside any canes in the way of the berries. 2.) As with most fruit, picking early in the morning will net the better flavored yield. 3.) Get the berries into a cool environment as quick as possible for the best taste and longer lasting crop.
For those of you who love the flavor of blackberries, but do not care for the seeds, use of a juicer can render what is desired for the making of jellies and jams. (My favorite way of preserving the taste of these sweet, delicate, fruits into the months ahead.)