I have to admit that I love a great yard and plants but I am a LOW maintenance kind of gardener.
That is why I love my blackberry bush. I tend to it and do what is necessary, but it does not require a vast amount of effort to thrive. Whether you are the type of gardener that likes to get out in the yard often or you are more like me and consider yourself low maintenance the blackberry shrub is a plant for you. Blackberry bushes produce beautiful blackberries that are packed full of vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and taste delicious.
My blackberry bushes are thriving and growing so tall and the vines are growing so long!
How to Grow Blackberry Plant
My blackberry bushes are a treasured gift from a friend who is a master gardener. She gave me two blackberry bushes in two small pots. You need to check and see if the variety you choose is self-pollinating, meaning you will only need one to produce fruit or if it needs another plant for pollination. I also found that having the two plants produces more blackberries. You only need to have one plant if it is self-pollinating. If you do not have a master gardener for a friend you can order your blackberry bush online. Another thing to check when ordering your blackberry shrub is to make sure your area is in a zone where your blackberry shrub will grow.
I always look at the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to see if the blackberry plants I want to buy will grow in my location. The soil has to have good drainage for your blackberry bushes to thrive. The soil is important but blackberry bush plants are adaptable and hearty. You will just want to avoid soil that has a lot of clay. If it does you can add peat moss to loosen the clay for better drainage.
Near a fence is always a good spot to plant your blackberry bush.
Where to Plant Blackberry Plants
A blackberry shrub must have full sun. I chose the spot close to my fence with full sun on the advice of my master gardener friend. She says that the vines of blackberry plants love to crawl up the fence. Blackberry bushes spread out so you are going to need some space for them to thrive. I have a trailing thornless blackberry shrub. There are different varieties of blackberries. They can be trailing, semi-trailing and erect. I prefer the thornless variety because they are so much easier to prune. The vines can spread 10-20 feet across. My plant spread about 6 feet the first year and about 10 feet the next year and now they have spread about 20 feet. They keep on looking for places to go.
The long vines will work their way past anything. The vines grow in any direction but can be led in the direction that you would like them to go. The problem with the vines is they did not just lay on the fence.
I chose a wood trellis on my first attempt. It works well when the plant is young but as my plant developed I knew I was going to have to put a bit more thought into how I was going to maintain my ever-growing vines. The more vines you have the more berries you will get.
Blackberry bush vines growing along the fence with some help from nails and plant twist ties.
We put the nails on the fence to keep the vines in place. I also use garden ties to keep the vines in place. It works well if you want the vines to trail on your fence.
I have two Shepard’s hooks to help keep the blackberries up and off the ground. If you want your blackberry bush to be more contained to one spot I recommend a vertical trellis or an archway trellis. Depending on your space you can use any type of trellis or fencing as long as the vines can attach to it.
Shepard’s hooks to allow blackberry bush vines to grow up rather than just out on the fence.
How to Plant Blackberry Bushes
Timing is a huge factor when it comes to growing your blackberry bushes successfully, especially when you plant them. You should plant these bushes in the early spring months. When your plants arrive, ideally, you’ll plant them straight away. If you can’t plant them right away, you’ll want to put them in a place that is cool while keeping the roots moist. To ensure that they’re cool enough, you should store them in a refrigerated setting or in a cool place.
To start, when you get your plants, unpack and soak them. You’ll soak them for three to six hours in cool water before you plant them. This will help the roots absorb a lot of water and remove the packed in dirt from around the roots. If you see any broken roots, you want to cut them off with a sharp pair of shears.
Next, you’ll cover the roots once they are soaked. They should be covered and protected from the sunlight when you plant them because blackberries have a very high mortality rate when you accidentally expose the roots to sunlight during the planting process.
When you dig the hole for your plant, the hole’s width should be large enough to allow the roots to spread out. If you want to plant several blackberry bushes at once, the holes should be between two and four-feet apart. For creating rows, the holes should be between 6 and 12-feet apart.
Make a point to amend the soil to allow for good drainage while increasing how much water it holds. You could add peat moss or gravel, depending on your starting soil’s composition. When you amend it, you should spread the plant’s roots into the hole. Carefully put the dirt back over your plants until you reach the soil level.
You’ll have to water the plants with one to two-inches of water when you finish filling in the hole around the roots. The bushes are routinely shallow rooted, so you need to have moisture at the surface of the soil. The soil should never dry out past six-inches, or the bush will start to die.
When you plant it, you can apply a weaker liquid fertilizer straight away. You should keep it three to four inches away from the base of the plant to stop it from burning it. The first year that you plant the bushes, you’ll apply a layer of mulch. This will help to keep the weeds down around the plant to avoid competition for nutrients and increase crop yields. Don’t mulch the second year or any year going forward unless you have extremely sandy soil.
Blackberry Bush 2 by Matthew Hurst / CC BY-SA 2.0 Planting the blackberry bushes can be a challenge since the roots are so sensitive to sunlight. However, keeping them covered can help ensure you have healthy plants.
Blackberry Plant Care – Watering
You do not have to water a blackberry bush very often. They are usually just fine with the amount of rain that falls in your area. I live in the humid south so in the summer it can get very hot. If it has not rained in quite some time I will water. When I water I try to do it in the early evening to avoid evaporation. I also water when I first plant the blackberry shrub and when the fruit is about to come in. I make sure that I water because it makes the blackberries juicer and tastier.
- First Three Weeks After Planting – Make a point to water your blackberry bushes during the day. You’ll water much more frequently for the first two to three weeks after you plant to help them establish their root systems. As a general rule, you’ll want to keep the top inch of soil moist during this time at all times.
- After the First Three Weeks – Just like the first three weeks, you’ll water your blackberries during the day. During the growing season, they’ll take between one and two-inches of water every week. During the harvest time, you can increase this to four inches of water a week. Never allow the soil to dry out to a depth of six inches to avoid damaging the root system.
The thought of pruning blackberry bushes can be very daunting, but it’s not a huge thing to worry about. The main thing you’re trying to accomplish here is to get rid of the old canes that already produced fruit so new ones grow in. In turn, this will ensure that you get more blackberries. How you prune will depend on the type of blackberry bush you have, and you’ll want some long-handled shears to help you.
It’s also good to note that your blackberry bush will grow on a three-year cycle. The first year will see shoots coming up out of the ground without any fruit production. THe second year will see the shoots come back with flowers, and the third year will lead to fruit. Once they produce fruit, they’ll turn a grey color and not produce any more fruit or flowers. These are the things that you need to prune. THe cycle will repeat so there are always new shoots coming in and older shoots dying out. So, your blackberry bush is both a perennial and a biennial.
Trailing Blackberry Bushes
After you go though the full fruit harvesting period each year, you’ll remove the old canes down to the ground. However, unless the bush has a large problem with disease, you want to hold off on removing the old canes until they die back a decent amount. Doing so will allow the dying canes to push nutrients back into the bush’s roots and crown. When you remove old old canes, you should train the primocanes using wire. Take one or two canes at one time and gently spiral them around trellis wires, and any canes from adjacent plants could overlap a little bit. Don’t prune these primocanes.
If you live in an area with lower winter temperatures, you should leave the primocanes on the ground for the winter. Add a layer of mulch over them to protect them from the colder temperatures. In the spring months after the frost recedes, you should train the primocanes (now floricanes) up on your wires. Don’t work with the canes in colder weather because it’s very easy to snap and break them.
Erect Blackberry Bushes
These plants produce very stiff, short canes that grow directly from the crown using root suckering. This typically results in a hedgerow. Erect blackberry bushes do wonderful with summer pruning. You want to strip off the top inch or two of your new primocanes when they reach four feet tall. Doing so will cause the primocanes to branch out, and this increases the amount of berries you get next season.
Your plant will need several different pruning sessions to tip every cane when it reaches four feet tall. If you grow your primocanes outside of a hedgerow, you want to remove them. During the winter months, you should remove the old floricanes from the hedgerow and shorter any lateral branches to between 1.5 and 2.5-feet.
Primocane-Fruiting Erect Blackberry Bushes
This type of bush is generally very easy to prune as all you have to do is cut your canes off just about the ground in the late winter months to get the best fruit yield. During the summer months when your canes reach 3.5-feet tall, prune away the top six inches. This will cause them to branch out, and you’ll get more fruit to harvest in the fall.
Semi-Erect Blackberry Bushes
For the best results, put this fruiting cane on a Double T trellis. You should install four-foot cross arms on the top of a six-foot post. Then, install a three-foot cross arm around two feet from the top and string a high-tensile wire down the rows to connect your cross arms. This will give you something to support your bushes.
You should prune during the summer months. When your primocanes reach around five-feet tall, you want to remove the top two inches to encourage them to branch out. You’ll need to do a few different pruning sessions as the different canes reach the correct height. During the winter months, remove the dead floricanes and spread the new growth out along your trellis. You shouldn’t need to shorten them unless they’re difficult to train on the trellis.
Pruning the shoots that will not produce blackberries next year.
New shoots that will not produce fruit this year but will next year.
Blackberry Plant Care – Harvesting
As most fruits and vegetables do, the blackberry shrub produces a flower that turns into the beautiful blackberry. Your blackberry shrub will not produce blackberries until the second year.
I got excited and started to harvest my blackberries too soon. They were the correct color, very dark, almost black but were still hard to the touch. So I gave them a few more days and they were ripe and tasted delicious.
How to Wash Blackberries
Blackberries are one fruit that is more delicate. If you wash them too soon before you’re really ready to use them, you can have issues. Washing your blackberries too aggressively will lead to crushing them. If you don’t wash them, you could end up with bacteria exposure. So, how should you wash them?
To clean blackberries, all you’ll need is cool running water. You should only clean as many berries as you’re going to use at one time because having any moisture on them can cause them to go bad quicker. Put your blackberries in a colander and run cool water over them. When you finish, gently pat them dry with a clean towel or paper towel. You’re now ready to use or eat them.
If you want to go a fancier route, you can use a berry spinner to dry them better. Pick out a spinner that has a smaller basket on it and don’t spin it as fast as it can go. Spinning it too quickly will crush the blackberries. You’ll keep them whole if you spin slower in a smaller basket. After spinning, the blackberries may not be totally dry yet. Pat them with a towel or paper towel, or you can lay them out on a towel to air dry.
Blackberries do not last long in the fridge but I found if I put them in a container with some ventilation they last longer. I wash them right before I eat them. Very ripe blackberries need to be eaten within two days. If I pick the blackberries and I know that I will not eat them in the next few days I put them in a water bath with about a tablespoon of white vinegar. I make sure to rinse them very well so that I get rid of the vinegar smell and then dry them off with a paper towel. I then put them in a container with ventilation. This helps to preserve the blackberries for a few more days.
How to Freeze Blackberries
Blackberries do freeze very well, and you can easily freeze them for months at a time to use for smoothies or thawed out and used in sauces or for baking. When you thaw them out, blackberries tend to lose their shape and some juice, so you should put your bags of berries in a bowl or on a baking sheet to help avoid a mess as they thaw out.
To freeze them, you should wash them as we outlined above and pat them dry. Arrange your whole berries on your baking sheet and freeze them until solid or for a few days. This will help to keep your berries loose, and it makes measuring them out or thawing them much easier.
Transfer your frozen blackberries to a freezer bag or freezer container. You want to leave a small amount of space in the top of the bag or container because your blackberries can expand slightly. Label everything with the amount, date frozen, and the type of berry. This will make it easier to pull the correct ones later if you freeze more than one type of berry.
- Tip: Measure your frozen blackberries with a measuring cup when you put them into your containers or bags. Write the amount on each bag or container. So, if you need to pull blackberries for a recipe, you’ll know how much you’ll use out of each container.
Lay your bags flat in the freezer. You can also put the bags on a tray or baking sheet to ensure they’re flat. Add your containers or bags of berries to the freezer in batches to ensure they freeze very quickly. Make sure you leave room around each one for air circulation. Once it freezes, you can stack them without damaging any of the berries.
Freezing Blackberries with a Sugar Pack
You can sweeten your blackberries up before you freeze them too. All you have to do for blackberries is leave them whole, put a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle them with sugar. Allow them to freeze and transfer them to a container or bag and sprinkle another small amount of sugar on them. The sugar can bring out the juice content, so it’s a good idea to layer your baking sheets with parchment paper to make cleaning up easier.
- Blackberries should never get washed until right before you want to use them. Gently dry them with a towel or paper towels if you notice that they’re damp to make them last longer.
- Cultivated blackberries that are thornless don’t always produce a lot of juice when you bake them in cobblers or pies. If you want to get a juicy filling, you should crush around ⅓ of the berries and gently mix them in with the whole berries and other ingredients before you pour them into your cobbler pan or pie shell.
- Orange, nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon all go very well with blackberry flavoring.
- Puree your blackberries with other fruits or fruit juices and freeze it to use it in recipes. You can add yogurt to the mix before freezing it to boost the nutrients and add extra flavor.
- Sort your blackberries and remove any that are very soft, and remove any insects, leaves, or stems you see. You want to use damp and soft berries as soon as you can.
- Store your blackberries in the refrigerator without a cover for up to two days.
- Wash the blackberries using a strainer or submerge them in water and gently remove them from the water. Pick out any stems and put them on a single layer on a paper towel to dry.
There are many benefits that come with eating blackberries regularly aside from how good they taste. They may be a summer staple, but you can easily eat them all year-round to get the following benefits:
- Fiber – Blackberries have a high fiber content, and a single cup of blackberries has as much as eight grams of fiber. A low-fiber diet links to digestive issues like stomach pain, bloating, and constipation. So, adding blackberries can help reduce your cholesterol levels, ease your digestive problems, make you feel fuller after you eat, and nourish the good bacteria in your digestive tract.
- Manganese – This is vital for a healthy immune system and bone development, and it can help your body metabolize amino acids, carbs, and cholesterol. One cup of raw blackberries will give you 0.9 milligrams of Manganese.
- Vitamin K – This vitamin is the reason why your blood clots after you cut yourself. It also helps with bone metabolism. A deficiency in this vitamin can lead to bone fractures and thinning, bruising, blood in the urine, or heavy menstrual bleeding. One cup of blackberries has 28.5 micrograms of vitamin K.
Growing a blackberry bush is an excellent use of the space in your yard, but they can be more needy until they establish themselves. If you get healthy bushes, you’ll get blackberries all summer long well into the fall months, and they have many benefits as well as uses.