ABOUT BLACKBERRIES: Rubus spp.

ROSACEAE

Relatives: Pacific Dewberry

Blackberries vines tend to head in two separate directions: one group is fairly upright and actually needs something like a trellis to grow on, and the other group tends to flop over and is referred to as prostrate. Blackberries can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica. They probably started (who knows for sure) in North or South America, Europe, and/or Asia. What we do know for sure is that they are everywhere in the wilds and under cultivation.

DESCRIPTION

Vines, as mentioned above, tend to be either upright or falling down. Many of the wild Blackberries are heavy with thorns and are a pain to pick. Which is why some smart soul kept at it until he developed a thorn-less variety. Of which we (and you) should be grateful. None of the cultivated varieties can hold a candle to the taste of a wild blackberry, or maybe it's just me that figures if I'm going to get all scratched up picking them, then they better be the tastiest.
Leaves: Deciduous and compound, they aren't much to look at; serrations on the margins of the leaves. Some cultivars have small thorns on the leaves.
Flowers: White to pink, rather smallish but seldom fragrant. Pollination is by bees and insects, although there are several self- fertile varieties available. I imagine the wind would also help pollinate.
Fruit: A rather hard to describe berry, with each individual 'fruit' containing a bunch of drupelets (which look like grains of sand on steroids). The fruits range in color from a deep purple to a black black.

CULTIVATION

Blackberries are very easy to grow and are especially well suited for the beginning small fruit gardener. They are most forgiving of soil types but not so tolerant of maritime conditions or very windy areas.
Location: Simply put, they grow best in full sun and will benefit from constant moisture, particularly as they begin fruit set.
Temperature: Blackberries grow best in warm areas but can actually survive freezing temperatures. Late season frosts do not seem to overly hurt the flowering and berry production.
Chilling: Chilling refers to the number of hours, 45 degrees F and under, during the dormancy period. All fruit and nut trees need a specific amount of chilling hours before they will produce fruit. The amount varies with each variety and the hours need not be continuous. For example as listed: (500 hours).
Soil/water/nutrients: Blackberries grow best in deep, well drained, loamy soils, although they are remarkably tolerant of even sandy and clay soils. They are not deeply rooted, so a layer of mulch will help keep the roots from overheating in the summer. Not a big nutrient hog, Blackberries none the less will benefit from an twice yearly addition of nutrients in the spring and again in late summer. Any balanced fertilizer such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 would probably be fine.
Pruning: Don't expect any fruit the first year- instead prune back the canes to three or four strong ones. The semi-erect (trailing) types will fruit and die back on their second year's canes and that cycle will continue on in future years. These can either be removed after fruiting or in the winter, being sure you are only removing the second year canes. Or you can do what we do: wait until the following spring and prune out anything that does not come back green with growth.
Pests and diseases: Blackberries are fairly disease and pest free, but there are some things to keep your eyes on: there are several fungal diseases that can attack both the leaves and the canes, and anthracnose can cause fruit loss. Prune out and diseased canes and burn, if possible. There are some pests that will target only the fruit, but the home gardener does not need to be overly concerned.

CULTIVARS

There are several Heirloom Blackberry cultivars as well as some hybrid Blackberry varieties that you can chose from. Rabbit Ridge Nursery currently offers the following cultivars, which will do quite nicely in our area: All Blackberries that we sell are self fertile and do not require another Blackberry for a Pollinator.

Upright means that it can grow without a trellis but can be trellised for more control and a neater appearance
Semi-Upright means that is needs a trellis to grow and fruit properly

(Click on Blackberry Variety to link to that Blackberry)