Growing Blackberries the Easy Way.

     Blackberries, part of the Rubus family, are one of the most nutritious berries in nature. The blackberry is not a true berry but an aggregate fruit of smaller fruits. It is rich in antioxidants greater than that of the now famous acai berry. Not only are they good for health but they also taste great! They are used in pies, smoothies, ice cream, and many other recipes but are also great eaten fresh. A tea can be made from its leaves to cure dysentery, a potentially fatal form of diarrhea. So then, why are they not a larger part of our diet? It is a common misconception that blackberries are hard to grow and take care of. It might also be the price which is usually around eight dollars per quart in supermarkets and seven dollars at farmers markets. It’s easier just to buy a blackberry pie for ten dollars instead of buying two quarts of fresh blackberries only to have to bake the pie at home. Blackberries are not only easy to grow but if they are left alone will take over an area.

     For all its wonderful uses and benefits, it is largely taken for granted. When most people contemplate starting a berry patch, they usually think of things like blue berry, raspberry, or many of the other types first but usually not the blackberry. Why? It might be because blackberries take up a lot of room or have thorns. This would be the case if they are found growing naturally. In Northern Washington State, for example, wild blackberries of different types are easily found and harvested. The ground, vine like, type has small thorns and requires the harvester be in a hunched position most of the time. A more accessible type of black berry, known as the evergreen, grows up to ten feet tall which makes it easier to harvest, although it does have larger thorns; it also has a sweeter berry that lacks the bitterness of the ground type of blackberry. These are not the types of berries that belong in the garden or yard.

     There are much easier and painless varieties that can be grown. They are thorn less and grow off of the ground so it can be easily put on a trellis, fence line or wire. It also deters deer from grazing on the bushes. The berry size is generally larger than that of the ground type of berry but not quite as large as an evergreen type, just somewhere in the middle. The same can be said for the flavor. This most common thorn less blackberry that is available is the Rubus canadensis which can be picked up at a local Home Depot, Lowes, Wal-Mart, or any place that has a garden center at about ten dollars. Many plants can be bought and planted or cuttings can be taken from a few and planted as new plants. A rooting hormone can be used but is not necessary as blackberries are very prolific; in fact they are considered to be a “pest” in most parts of the United States. Blackberries will root if a stem, known as a “cane” touches the ground, much like how a Strawberry sends out a “runner”.

     Blackberries will grow in almost any soil condition and fertility level so there is no need to add compost, till the soil, or even water after roots have been established. However, they are best grown in zones five through nine. The world is divided into climate zones designated with a number ranging from one to eleven. If the zone is not known, one can easily find a map from an Internet search or their local county extension office. Blackberries do like sun, so a suitable location is required for best production. Although blackberries are low maintenance, they do require some pruning during the winter, otherwise a thicket will form. Fruit will grow on “second year” canes meaning that the canes with fruit this year will need to be pruned and the non-fruiting canes are to be left for next year. Fruiting canes will produce a cluster of white flowers and once pollinated will start to form green berries. After the initial growth has occurred in the berry, it will change color to red and then turn black when fully ripe. The berries will not all turn black at the same time so frequent trips out to the patch will be required during harvest time.

     Once a type of blackberry has been selected, dig a hole a little larger than that of the container it’s in. Select a location that gets eight hours of sun. Blackberries won’t bloom in the shade. Water the hole until it starts to form a pool. At this time, compost can be placed in the bottom of the hole if desired but again, it’s not needed. Root growth is very important to the survivability of the plant in the next year but if abundant “food” is available close to the roots, they will not grow as much to search for nourishment and may require a little more watering and care. Some suggest that food scraps can be placed in the hole before planting but since decaying plant matter will heat up, it may cause root damage so it is not advisable to do this. Remove the plant from the container and place it in the watered hole. Place the dirt that has been dug out and pack around the base firmly. Lightly scratch the surface dirt to allow air and water to easily penetrate the soil. Spread mulch around the base of the plant to help retain moisture and water well. Water the area for the next few days to help the plant establish its roots and to remove air pockets in the soil that can cause roots to dry out. A good time to water would be in the morning before the sun is hitting the plant directly, using air temperature water, never cold. Always water the soil directly under the base and not the leaves as the water droplets will act as a magnifying glass and burn leaves.

     If planting more than one, space them out about two feet apart. Cut third year canes down to six inches after planting to encourage branching and new growth. If a fertilizer is too be used, a balanced verity of 8-8-8 in the spring is best. As the canes grow, use garden ties to secure them to a trellis, fence, or wire suspended between two posts. Blackberries will not be bothered by the usual garden pests like Aphids or Japanese Beatles so there is little else to do but sit back and wait for the harvest. To harvest the berry, grasp the berry and pull, it will come right off. Place the newly picked berry in a basket or eat it right then.