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All About Blackberry Bushes (Rubus spp.)
Botanically classified as brambles, Blackberry bushes are a super-easy, super-healthy backyard fruit to grow.
As a member of the Rose family, Blackberry bushes can take varied forms. They may be thorny or thornless, and they may be trailing or upright. The brambles are covered in white or pale-pink flower clusters, from which the berries develop.
Blackberry plants are a versatile summer berry. But if picking from thorny wild blackberry bushes is too treacherous, the Thornless Blackberry Bush and Triple Crown Thornless Blackberry Bush won’t cause any pricked fingers. Plus, cultivated blackberry plants are often tastier and better-looking than their wild counterparts.
Benefits of Blackberry Plants
There are many benefits to planting cultivated blackberries in your yard. For one, most of these blackberry bushes don’t have any thorns, so you won’t have to worry about pricking yourself.
Cultivated blackberries are also developed to have a tastier flavor than wild blackberries. For instance, the 3-in-1 Blackberry Bush was bred at the University of Arkansas to offer sweeter and firmer berries than wild blackberry plants.
Wild blackberries can look unkempt in unruly brambles. With cultivated blackberry plants, you have more options for what you want your plants to look like. These include dwarf varieties you can grow in a container, larger options that can be trellised for a classic look, or even upright-growing bushes that you can plant in rows.
Cultivated blackberry plants are also easy to grow and require minimal maintenance. They typically don’t attract many pests, and can resist drought.
The obvious reason for growing Blackberry bushes is the sweet fruit they produce. But did you know that Blackberry flowers attract butterflies, like the Zebra Swallowtail? Although the flowers are not showy enough for Blackberries to be grown purely as ornamental plants, they’re attractive to many butterfly species.
Uses for Blackberries
Because blackberries don’t “hold well” long after they’re picked, you may not see them at your local grocery store. That's the perfect reason to grow them in your own garden!
Eat them fresh for snacking, and make blackberry jam, jelly or preserves for your kitchen cupboard or as homemade gifts for your family and friends.
Planting Your Blackberry Bush
Once you've decided where you’ll plant your bush, determine the size and depth of your root ball. Your hole needs to be at least as deep as the root ball and three times as wide. Also clear the hole of debris, like roots and rocks.
If you plant more than one blackberry bush, make sure your plants have at least five or six feet of space between them. If you’re developing rows, then ensure that they have at least five to eight feet between them.
If you’ve chosen a type of blackberry plant that grows in canes, make sure to install a trellis for support.
- Blackberry bushes produce best when they receive at least 6-8 hours of sun each day.
- Slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.0-6.5 is optimal for growing Blackberries. Hint: Have a soil test performed to determine which, and how much, of a soil amendment (such as dolomitic lime) may be necessary to adjust the pH.
- If the site you’ve chosen doesn’t drain well, you can grow Blackberries in raised beds or berms that are at least 6 to 10 inches above the natural soil level.
- Use a 3”-4” layer of mulch around plants to conserve moisture and keep weeds at bay.
- The first year after planting, fertilize each Blackberry plant with 2 ounces of 10-10-10 (or an organic equivalent) in April and again in July.
- If you’re growing trailing Blackberries, support them by tying the canes to a trellis.
- Avoid growing Blackberry bushes on the same site where you’ve grown tomatoes, peppers, potatoes or eggplants in recent years to minimize transmitted diseases.
- Typically, you only need to plant one Blackberry bush to get fruit, but plants often produce more berries if you plant more than one.
Blackberry Bush Care
After you’ve planted your blackberry bush, it’s important to mulch and fertilize it. Mulching around your blackberry keeps the soil hydrated and prevents weeds from springing up around it.
In order for blackberry plants to thrive, they need a moderate amount of water. If your plants are getting about an inch of rainfall each week, that should be sufficient. If you have a dry spell in your area, make sure to water your bushes.
Blackberry plants also do well with competing roots or weeds that can deplete their water supply. Make sure you’re diligent in weeding around your plants.
- Water: Blackberry bushes are reliably drought-hardy, once established. In periods of high heat or drought, water deeply once a week, particularly during the fruiting season.
- Fertilizer: Because different soils have different fertility levels, perform a soil test each year and follow the recommendations for applying fertilizer in late winter and again in early summer to maximize your berry harvest.
- Pruning: You won’t need to do any pruning during the year you plant your new Blackberry bushes. In subsequent years, immediately after harvest, prune out the canes that produced fruit. In the dormant season, cut back the other canes by one-third to one-half their length.
- Harvesting: Blackberries are juiciest in the morning, after the dew has thoroughly dried from the plants.
Blackberries: The Quintessential Summer Fruit
When you picture summer, it’s hard not to imagine the taste of blackberries. But harvesting wild blackberries can be difficult and time-consuming, not to mention more challenging than bringing in bushels from your back yard. If you’d like more-consistent, tastier berries, get a blackberry plant today!