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Another super fruit! Garden blackberries are glossy, purple-black, tart berries, each with dozens of separate seed-containing fruit pockets surrounding a cone-shaped core

How to grow blackberry plants

Like raspberries, they are very easy to grow. Wild or cultivated, there are basically two types of blackberry bush: upright and thorny or thornless, and trailing and thornless. All perennial. There is one more distinction, and that is between primocane-fruiting varieties, which produce fruit the first year (fall-bearing, or ever-bearing), and floricane varieties, by far the majority, which produce fruit the second year (summer-bearing). There are lots of healthy reasons to eat blackberries, but don’t forget how good these native berries taste!

Growing blackberries is very much like growing raspberries. The blackberry bush is a small suckering shrub, with or without spines, which can be grown in the garden, vertically on a trellis, or for dwarf varieties, in containers.

Exposure: sun and partial shade
Soil: loose, rich and well-draining

Steps for planting in the garden

Bare-root blackberry bushes are planted in early spring (May), or in the fall (October), while the plant is dormant.

  1. Choose a sunny location, sheltered from the wind.
  2. Verify the acidity of your soil (pH between 6 and 6.5) and whether it is fresh, rich in organic matter and well-drained. Add a soil mix or fertilizer according to the results of your soil analysis.
  3. Turn over the earth and pull out weeds where you intend to plant and around the planting location.
  4. Loosen the soil and dig approximately 50 cm to be able to set the plant so that the crown is level with the soil.
  5. Add an organic soil amendment with mycorrhizae. 
  6. Spread out the roots.
  7. Cover with earth and pat down.
  8. Water thoroughly, since the roots are very sensitive to dryness.
  9. Space plants 1 to 2 m.
  10. Cut back blackberry plants to 15 to 20 cm from the ground after planting.
  11. Put down straw or mulch.

Steps for planting in containers: 

Container-growing is suitable for smaller, hardy varieties with an upright habit. Unfortunately, these varieties have thorns!   

  1. Choose a sunny location where plants will receive 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. 
  2. Plant when there is no longer any risk of frost.
  3. Choose a dark and well-draining container at least 30 cm deep. Geotextile pots, such as Smart Pots, are excellent options.
  4. Prepare a half and half mix of soil and compost.
  5. Delicately spread out the roots.
  6. Cover with earth, pat down, and water thoroughly.
  7. In the fall, either leave your plants in their geotextile bags or transplant them into the garden.

Maintaining blackberry plants

The maintenance tasks for garden blackberry plants are similar to those for raspberry plants. Annual pruning promotes fruit production and stimulates new growth. Watch out for thorns, they hurt! 

Watering: Ensure regular watering throughout the first year. 

Mulching: Spread a natural mulch, such as ramial wood or buckwheat hulls, to discourage weeds. Use contact herbicide during the summer.

Protection

  • In the summer – put netting over your plants to keep the birds from feasting on your crop, then remove after harvest. 
  • n the winter – install fencing to protect your plants from the wind, rabbits and deer. You can also place the canes on the ground. Put a winter cover over container plants and set them in a protected area.

Fertilizing: Once per year, spread compost or natural fertilizer at the base of your plants. Add mycorrhizae.

Pruning

  • Upright varieties – remove (tip) the tops of new primocanes canes when they reach 1 m high. After the harvest, prune out the old fruiting canes (floricanes). Early in the spring, remove all dead or damaged canes. 
  • Trailing varieties – in the spring, train new growth to the trellising and prune the offshoots to 10 cm. After the harvest, prune out the old fruiting canes (floricanes) to the ground. Early in the spring, remove all dead or damaged canes.

Trellising: The intention is to keep the fruit-laden canes of trailing varieties from collapsing. Canes should be maintained in a vertical position on a trellis using ties or twine, and they should be tied up, or trained, as they grow. 

Diseases: Anthracnose, spur blight, verticillium wilt, orange rust, powdery mildew, blackberry fruit rot.

Insect Pests: Girdlers, raspberry fruit worm, spotted wing drosophila, blackberry leaf miner, raspberry sap beetle, raspberry crown borer, raspberry sawfly.

Blackberry harvest and health benefits

The picking season stretches from August to October, when berries are truly ripe. Wait until fruits have achieved their full colour and they pull freely from the plant. Pick carefully, and keep the central “plug” within the fruit (unlike raspberries). And get ready, because when they start to ripen, you’ll have to pick every few days! Blackberries do not continue to ripen once picked. 

Blackberries are very antioxidant and full of vitamins and minerals such as iron, manganese and Vitamins C and K. Recommended for people suffering from anemia. With very few calories and a very good source of dietary fiber, people on weight-loss programmes love them! Excellent for treating diseases such as arthritis since they are a natural anti-inflammatory. Blackberries are full of water (85%) and thus an effective diuretic. 

There are several ways to enjoy blackberries:

  • Fresh (in a fruit salad, with cheeses, in yoghurt)
  • Prepared (coulis, jam, sauces)
  • Cooked (desserts, cakes, muffins)
  • Processed (liqueurs, wine)
  • Dipped in chocolate!

Preserving blackberries

Fresh blackberries are amazing. Really! But they are deceptively fragile when ripe. Pick carefully, choose the firmest berries and freeze them to be enjoyed at a later date.

Refrigerated: Approximately 7 days. Place them in a single layer between two sheets of paper towels in a sealed container.
Frozen: Rinse berries then allow to dry. Spread berries out on a cookie tray and put in the freezer. Put frozen berries in sealed bags or containers.
Dried: Use a strainer to rinse your blackberries with lemon juice. Spread out evenly on the dehydrator sheet. Set to 60oC and dry for a minimum of 10 hours.

Varieties to discover

Blackberries are traditionally less popular than raspberries because people find they taste a little sour. If you’re looking for a sweeter blackberry, give these varieties a try! 

Columbia Giant Blackberry:

Very big yields and probably the largest blackberries anywhere. Juicy and flavourful. Thornless and trailing variety.

Black Satin Blackberry:

Thornless variety and prolific producer of beautiful dark purple-black fruit on vine-like canes, in two-year growing cycles (floricanes). Sweet and delicious. No serious disease or insect problems. 

Chester Thornless Blackberry:

A great, all-round hybrid blackberry, and the hardiest of the thornless varieties. Very productive, with firm, extra-long, sweet-tasting jet-black fruit that are suitable for eating fresh, or in jams and pies. 

Thornfree Blackberry:

Late variety with variable hardiness and good productivity, as long as canes are protected during the winter. Canes are long and thornless, with average suckering – a bonus when picking with children! Berries are large, very firm, sweet-sour, extremely juicy and flavourful. Generally a gorgeous shiny black, some berries will remain red for a long time, even when ripe,