Blackberries are not as demanding as some small fruits like blueberries, and if conditions are favorable, they are rather prolific – in fact some varieties can get out of control if not kept in check. I currently have 12 blackberry bushes, and planted both the thorn-less and the thorned variety. Pictured on the left is the thorned erect variety ‘Chickasaw’ developed at the University of Arkansas – and thought to be the largest berry size. I am wondering though if this comes with maturity as my plants were only planted from bare root 1 1/2 years ago. The other varieties that I have include another thorned ‘Kiowa’ and the thornless varieties of Apache, Navaho, and Natchez.
I am always inspired to grow fairly easy edibles, and especially when I visit the local supermarket and see the outrageous prices (for example a small shallow plastic of blackberries at four dollars!). Fortunately, we also have a nature preserve greenway nearby, and wild blackberries can be picked abundantly when in season. In fact, I find many of the wild berries – though smaller – to have superior taste and plant vigor to the commercial varieties. It’s probably because they are native and have adapted more favorably to the local soil and diseases.
Blackberries are perennial and have biennial canes or shoots. The shoots of blackberries are non bearing during the first growing season. These first year canes are referred to as primocanes. But the following years, these (now) ‘floricanes’, produce fruit and then die. Blackberries produce new canes from buds located on their crowns. Some also produce root suckers.
Blackberries (thorned or thornless) can be erect, semi-erect, or trailing. The trailing usually require support or trellising. The former are more winter-hardy than the other types and have large, usually sweet berries. Semi-erect blackberries include cultivars that are thornless and thorny and produce higher yields than the erect type.
Erect floricans should be cut to the ground immediately after last harvest. The cuttings should be removed and disposed of to prevent disease. With the semi-erect and trailing varieties, prune out the dormant floricans in late winter or early spring and only leave 5 or 6 canes remaining per plant. Blackberries should be planted in full sun if possible, and at the very least, exposed to semi-sun. The soil ph should be 6-6.7, and well drained soils are required because blackberries are rather sensitive to soil borne diseases. In fact, I had a little battle with cane die back and had to do some drastic pruning and fungicide application.
I still look with envy at how well those native blackberries do without any care, mulching, spraying, fertilizing or watering (in fact they out perform mine). Must be a native thing!