Thanks to John Harrison of Allotment & Gardens
The humble blackberry has much to offer: it is high in vitamin C, crops heavily, is easy care, can be eaten fresh or cooked, and blends very well with apples for jams, crumbles and other side dishes.
Blackberries, as well as most blackberry hybrids, can be vigorous growers to the point of being rampant if not kept regularly in check with heavy pruning. There is even a thornless variety for those who prefer comfortable picking, so if you have the space blackberries might be for you. And there are some varieties that will grow in smaller spaces and trained up a wigwam of canes in a large container. Once established, blackberries are good croppers even in poor soil conditions.
- Cultivated plants generally produce larger fruit and crop more vigorously than their wild cousins. There are thornless varieties which make pruning and harvesting easier.
- There are varieties which need less space: Loch Ness 1.8 m (6 feet), Oregon Thornless 2.5 m (8 feet).
- Blackberry-like fruits include tayberries, loganberries, boysenberries (noted for a similar flavour to the wild blackberry) and Japanese wineberries (well-flavoured small berry).
Pests and Problems
- Birds can be a serious problem when fruit ripens so netting is highly recommended
- All blackberries can suffer from mildew. Good airflow by pruning helps to prevent this.
Sowing & Growing
- They are self-fertile so you’d need only one plant. Each flower makes one berry.
- Bare-rooted blackberries are best planted during their dormant season in November-December before the ground becomes frozen or too wet. Or, as late as March in non-soggy soil Container plants can be planted any time.
- Full sun is an ideal location
- For ground plants, space about 2 m (6 ft) minimum between plants to allow for the inevitable suckering. Along fences is ideal to better deal with the vigorous growth. Wherever a cane touches the ground, it will immediately root.
- Dig a hole larger and deeper than the container, add a handful of bonemeal and some rotted manure and mix into the soil. Blackberries aren’t too fussy about their soil but some manure will aid a good crop as they prefer slightly acidic soil
- Fill in with soil or soil mixed with some compost, firm soil in so it’s at the original pot growing point, and water well. Once established, blackberries easily survive with little water but do best with regular watering, particularly at fruit ripening times. In drier areas, drip lines are ideal.
- Prune the existing shoots/canes to about 22cm (9 inches)
- Immediately add a large, strong support system to keep the rampant canes under control.
- The fruit develops on one-year-old canes (shoots). Tie the shoots to wires to keep them easy to crop, to make pruning easier and to ensure a good flow of air around the fruit.
- An easy method of training the fruit is a sort of alternating cordon method; train this years’ canes to one side, the next year’s growth on the other side. After fruiting, the first side is cut off at ground level. In this way the fruiting side alternates each year.
Harvesting, Eating and Storing
- Ready towards the end of summer into early autumn. Pick when the fruits are soft, sweet and a dark colour. Avoid picking the red ones that are still too tart.
- Picked berries must be refrigerated immediately, and will keep only a few days. They also freeze very well individually on a baking sheet and when frozen packed into freezer bags
- Jams, jellies and baked goods