How to grow blackberries

Blackberry cultivars have come a long way since the days I picked wild blackberries - Rubus fruticosus from the roadside with my grandparents. No longer do we need to put up with small fruit and variable flavour as modern hybrids are more productive, more controllable and can even have thornless stems for safer harvesting.

Blackberries illustration
There are plenty of excellent varieties to choose from but if you are growing blackberries in a northern European climate then stick to 'Loch Ness', 'Silvan' and 'Oregon Thornless'. Both 'Loch Ness' and 'Silvan' have received the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society, but it is blackberry 'Loch Ness' which has proven to be a firm favourite with gardeners and allotment holders alike.

Blackberries are usually purchased as canes in the autumn but pot grown examples can be obtained and planted any time of year. Choose a sunny, sheltered position that has had plenty of well-rotted farm manure dug in, preferably 6-8 weeks previously. Plant each cane between 2 and 3 metres apart depending on the variety and try and avoid the temptation of planting any closer, it really isn't necessary. water well and cut down all the canes to a healthy bud as this will ensure that your blackberry plants will produce plenty of vigorous, healthy shoots in the spring.

Blackberry lines
Blackberries will benefit from the support of a study frame or fixed wires and it is far easier to have these in place before planting than trying to struggle around cumbersome, mature plants later on in the year.

Luckily, blackberries are not particularly fussy about the soil they are planted in just so long as it is rich in nutrients. In poor soils top-dress blackberries with 3 oz per square yard of general-purpose fertiliser in mid-spring and cover with a 3 inch dressing of organic mulch annually. Just make sure the mulch is kept a few inches away from any new canes and the crown to prevent rotting.

Young plants will need watering every week or do in their first year, especially during the heat of the summer. the new shoots will be surprisingly vigorous and these will need to be regularly tied in to try an maintain some kind of control. These will not produce fruit in their first year and come the winter will need their side shoots cut back to 2 inches to the main canes. These will be next years fruiting spurs from the flowers are formed.

Blackberry harvest
In its second year the blackberry will produce another set of new canes from ground level. Keep them together by loosely bundling them together and tying some sturdy twine around them to keep the new canes in place and separate to the old canes.

In the winter the original canes will be classed as two-year-old wood and will not be as productive if left in place for another year. Remove these two-year-old canes using secateurs and replace them with the new seasons canes which can be trained along the wires. Repeat this operation every year forward.

The blackberry fruits will ripen from midsummer onwards and will continue to produce viable fruits until October. For the best flavour blackberries are best picked when fully ripe, but you may need to have some protective netting in place to avoid competition from birds.

For related articles click onto the following links:
How to Grow an Apple Tree from Seed
How to Grow Blackberries

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