How to prune blackberries?

Berries That Look Like Blackberries

Blackberries (Rubus spp.) belong to an extremely broad genus of plants that contains hundreds of species, many of which are commonly found in residential gardens and landscapes. Many of those species produce fruits that looks much like the fruits produced by the plants commonly called blackberries. Each of the fruits is an aggregate, a cluster of very small individual fruits called drupelets that form around a central core. Although it can be difficult to differentiate blackberry plants and their fruits from similar species and their fruits, variations in the form of the plants and fruits can provide clues that help with identification.

Blackberries

Blackberry plants produce multiple stems called canes that have either an upright, arching growth habit or a trailing habit, in which the canes are somewhat vinelike and grow along the ground. Blackberry canes are also typically thorny, although thornless cultivars have been developed. In general, blackberries are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 8.

Blackberry fruits are usually a very light color when unripe. As they ripen, they turn a very deep purple that is nearly black. Blackberry drupelets are shiny and smooth, and when a ripe fruit is pulled away from its cane, the fruits takes its central core with it.

Raspberries

Raspberries produce canes and fruits that appear very similar to those of blackberries. American red raspberry (Rubus idaeus), which is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 7, is distinguishable from blackberries because its ripe fruits are red, but black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis), which is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 7, produces dark purple-black fruits.

Certain differences between raspberry and blackberry fruits make it possible to tell the distinguish the two kinds of plants. Raspberry drupelets are hairy and not as shiny as those of blackberries, and a raspberry fruit separates from its central cores when picked, leaving a hollow space in the center of the fruit.

Dewberries

Dewberry is the common name for several Rubus species that produce fruits that look like blackberry fruits. Dewberry species include the southern dewberry (Rubus trivialis), which is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9; the Pacific dewberry (Rubus ursinus), which is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9; and the northern dewberry (Rubus flagellaris), which is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 7.

These species can be differentiated from blackberries mainly by their growth habits. While blackberry canes often reach a height up to 6 feet, dewberries remain low to the ground and may form thick mats less than 1 foot high.

Blackberry Hybrids

Some Rubus cultivars are referred to by common names other than blackberry, but their fruits very closely resemble those of the blackberry. One such plant is loganberry (Rubus loganobaccus), which may be a hybrid of Pacific dewberry and red raspberry. Loganberry produces dark-red, but otherwise blackberrylike, fruits. It is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10.

Mulberries

Mulberries (Morus spp.) are unrelated to blackberries, but they produce aggregate fruits that look somewhat like blackberry fruits. Mulberries, however, are trees that, depending on the species, can become more than 50 feet in height. Mulberries are generally hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8.

Blackberry Plant

Blackberry Bush – Rubus fruticosus For Sale Affordable, Grower Direct Prices Tennessee Wholesale Nursery

Blackberry Bush is a favorite fruit producing bush that can be grown in zones 5 through 10. This plant is known to very hardy, surviving in the poorest of soil conditions. The plant has broad green leaves and tree-like stems that possess thorns. The bush can be somewhat unruly and requires pruning. These thorns can be quite sharp and can wear jeans. It has white flowers before producing the fruit. Many people add them to their landscape for eating the fruit.

The Blackberry Bush comes from the family Rosaceae and the subgenus Rubus. They are considered a bramble type of plant growing in a dense thicket. They do have thorns like a rose bush, but newer hybrids that have been made without barbs. They become in the eastern and western hemisphere; they are perennial plants. When the berry fruit is not ripe, it has a red or white color, when ripe they are a thick, black color and are very sweet to eat.

Wild Blackberries Bush is a large plant that grows in almost every weather condition. It does not require lots of skills to maintain and care for the plant. This plant has been in life for over thousands of years, and it has been eaten by humans as well as animals. Its leaves have been a nutritious food for particular types of caterpillars too. It takes about three to four years for the tree to attain maturity and produce fruits. However, the first year of its germination, it forms a new stem called the primocane. During this time, it does not provide any flowers, but it grows some leaves called palmately compound leaves. The leaves have at least five to seven leaflets. During the second year of the tree’s growth, the cane becomes stronger hence move from the primocane state to the floricane although it does not grow any longer. It is the second year that the plant’s lateral buds break and start to produce flowering laterals with smaller leaves. Each flower is about 2-3cm and is commonly formed during early summer or late spring on short racemes. They have at least five pale pink or white petals. The first and the second year of the trees usually have many little curves with sharp prickles that react as thorns. Wild blackberry bushes are at their best germination around hillsides, colonizing wasteland, hedgerows, vacant lots, and ditches. It is because the plant tolerates poor soils. The berries are red before they are ripe and black when ripe. It is to say berries are red when green.

How to Identify Blackberry Plants

Blackberry plants are woody shrubs with both erect and trailing varieties. Here are some tips for identifying this plant.

A blackberry plant is mainly known for its black-colored fruits, that are used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. These fruits are either consumed fresh, or used in preparing jams and jellies. Blackberries are produced by bushy shrubs. These shrubs come in two varieties – erect or trailing. They belong to the genus Rubus, in the Rosaceae (rose family). The members of this family are called brambles, which have thorny stems. A basic understanding about the features of blackberry bushes may prove useful for you in identifying them.

  • There are around 375 species of blackberry, which are found in almost all parts of the world. The commonly found species are Rubus fruticosus (common blackberry), Rubus ursinus, and Rubus argutus.
  • Some of them have arching stems, whereas others have stems that trail on the ground. The stems of the erect blackberry bush grow as arching canes and so, these plants are also called caneberries. The erect variety of the blackberry plant grows to a maximum height of six to ten feet.
  • Even though they love moist soil, blackberry bushes are found in almost all soil conditions; and they grow abundantly on roadsides, thickets, meadows, and trails. The green stems have numerous thorns on them, but you may find thornless blackberry varieties too. In some species, even the leaves may have prickly hair.
  • Their leaves are alternate and palmately compound. Each leaf consists of three to five leaflets. The leaflets are roughly oval, with pointed tips. They have serrated margins, and a light green color on the underside.
  • One of the characteristic features of blackberry plants is their strange growth pattern. During the first year of growth, these plants produce stems that do not develop flowers or fruits. These stems are called primocane that transform to floricane in the second year of growth; during which, the flowers and fruits are produced.
  • Flowers develop during the late spring (or early summer), and are found as racemes (long cluster of flowers). They have five oval petals that are light pink to white in color. Each flower has a diameter of around three-fourth of an inch.
  • Fruits develop only if pollination happens. In some varieties, pollination happens within the same species, but others require different species for this purpose. Blackberry fruits develop during late summer, and the immature ones are reddish in color. They turn purplish black, when they get ripe.
  • These fruits are not real berries, but are ‘aggregate fruits’ that consists of several drupelets. Blackberries are small and round, with a distinct core at the center. This is not present in raspberry, which has a hollow center. This is one of the factors that distinguish blackberries from raspberries.

Identifying blackberry plants would not be a difficult task for those who have a basic know-how about the features mentioned above. While blackberry bushes are found to grow wild in various regions, they are also cultivated commercially, for the fruits. You may also grow a blackberry variety, that is best suited for your premises. However, make sure to prune it regularly, so as to prevent uncontrolled growth.

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Blackberry Bush Care

If you are looking for something easy to grow and have a little space, blackberries are for you. Sweet tasting blackberries, grow wild in the woods and along trails in many parts of the country. They successfully compete with a wide variety of weeds in the wild. When you plant a few in your yard or garden, they will easily thrive. With a little care and attention, you will you will be rewarded with a big and juicy crop.

View in Plant Library Blackberry

Growing Conditions

Blackberries are self-fertile and so will produce fruit even if only one plant is grown.

The best berries will be produced when they are in full sun. However, where space is at a premium, a blackberry cane will produce good crops even when grown in deep shade none of the other common fruits will survive in these conditions.

Blackberries produce their flowers very late in the season so frost will never be a problem. Low lying land or frost pockets are quite suitable for blackberries.

Blackberries will grow reasonably well in almost all soils. Blackberries will produce of their best in medium, well-drained soil which contains plenty of organic matter. They like the soil to hold a good supply of water, especially when the fruits are developing in summer. The worst soil for a blackberry is light chalky soil – lots of well rotted compost will help to improve these conditions.

Planting

Plant erect varieties 2 to 4 feet apart, and trailing varieties 5 to 6 feet apart. Prune heavily at planting to encourage new plan the growth. The roots are very sensitive to sunlight, so plant on a cloudy day.

When planting the canes, keep the crown of the roots level with the soil surface. This normally means digging a broad hole about 12cm (5in) deep. Spread the roots out into the hole and cover them in crumbly soil, firming it down with your hand. When planted, water well to provide moisture in the initial stages of growth. Cut the plants back to a good bud about 30cm (12in) high.

Immediately after planting (before if you want), trim the canes to a length of 25cm (10in). It’s tempting to leave the canes longer, hoping they will produce fruit next year, but this does not pay off in the long run.

Harvesting

The berries are produced on the previous year’s growth, and for this reason, no blackberries will be produced during the first year. Most varieties can be harvested from early August up until early October if the weather is good.

There are two methods to determine if blackberries are ready for harvest.
First look at the color, the berries should be deep purple or burgundy (almost but not quite black) and look plump.
The second method is to pick a test blackberry. Grasp a berry between your thumb and finger then gently twist. If the fruit comes off easily leaving the stalk behind then it’s ripe. Eat the blackberry to taste it! Some trial and error is required but if you start the harvest process from late July onwards you will soon be able to judge the correct time for harvest.

It’s best to pick the fruit little but often to encourage the formation of more fruit.
Frequent picking will also reduce the risk of the fruit over-ripening and rotting which will only encourage disease. The best time to pick blackberries is when the weather is dry, wet blackberries do not keep longer than a day before they begin to rot. As soon as the berries are harvested place them out of direct sunlight in a cool area.

Blackberries do not ripen when picked and they should be eaten within a day or so of harvest. If you want to keep them longer then place them in the refrigerator and they will be good for three or four days. Keep them slightly moist in the refrigerator for the best results.

Propagation

It is an easy job to propagate a blackberry. The best time is around mid-September. Select a stem which is in perfect condition (growing vigorously with no blemishes) and bend its tip to the ground. Where it touches the ground, dig a small hole about 15cm (6in) deep and bury the tip of the stem into the hole. Cover with crumbly soil to the surrounding soil level. If the stem looks like springing out of the hole, place a few largish stones over the soil to keep it in place (remove them two months later). Water well if the conditions are dry.

The stem tips will root in a couple of month’s time, and can be dug up and moved to their final position early Spring next year. To do this, cut the parent stem about 30cm (12in) from the new plant. Dig up the new plant, trying to avoid any root disturbance and plant in their new positions.

General Pruning Care

Blackberries have only three main needs that make support and training important – light, circulating air and removal of last year’s fruiting stems.

As soon as the blackberries have been picked, cut the stems which have produced berries this year to ground level. Don’t prune any stems which have not produced fruit this year, they will be the ones which produce blackberries next year. With thorny, strong growing varieties a good pair of gardening gloves (strong trousers and shirt as well, if you have them!) are essential. If you have the time, during mid-April have a good look at the new stems and cut back maybe 25% of those which are growing very vigorously.

Supporting blackberries is not essential with the stronger growing varieties, although all blackberries like a bit of support. The idea behind supporting them is to permit a free circulation of air within the plant, thus helping prevent disease in general.

The best way to do this is to put wooden posts into the ground every 2m (6ft) and run wires between them at 70cm (2ft) heights up to 2m (6ft) high. As the new stems grow, tie some of them into the wires. The result will be that some stems will be unsupported and form a natural arch over the ground, whereas others will be tied to the supports and grow slightly higher. This will result in less congestion at the center, promoting greater circulation of air and exposing much of the plant to the sun.
If you have the time to support all the stems, so much the better.

(A) Train trailing plants to a two-wire trellis.

(B) Train erect blackberry plants to a one-wire trellis.

Blackberry Care & Harvesting

Each year blackberry plants produce new canes from the crown just below the soil surface, and from roots that extend some distance out. Each cane lives for 2 years. The first year a cane produces only leaves, the second year it bears fruit. It won’t fruit again, so old canes should be pruned out as soon as possible after the harvest to prevent disease from attacking the plant. Pruning reduces stress on the plants. Keep enough fruiting canes to have a good crop and remove the rest along with undesired root suckers each year. There are two different types of blackberries, upright and trailing, and each requires a different pruning method. The upright ones produce arching canes that can just support themselves. Included in this group are the semi-uprights, which flop a bit but can be treated just like the uprights. The trailing types sprawl and must be supported on wires.

The two groups also bear their fruit differently: upright kinds have fruit at the tips of the canes, trailing kinds have berries all along their length. The trailing types tend to be less hardy than the uprights, but they are usually more productive. Your choice depends on where you live, how much space you have, and the variety of fruit you prefer.

Post System

If you want to support upright-growing blackberry plants, you can train them to grow neatly around posts. Space plants 3 feet apart in rows. Each plant should be attached to a 6-foot post about the thickness of a wrist or to a 2- by 2-inch board sunk about 1 foot into the ground. When the new canes (the leafy ones) are about hip high, pinch back the growing tip of each one; this encourages the canes to branch out during the rest of the season. The next summer the leafy canes become fruiting canes, bearing amazing clusters of fruits at a height where they’re easy to pick. Later in the summer, immediately after you’ve harvested the blackberries, cut off the fruiting canes close to the ground.

Wire Trellis System

Give trailing plants a wire trellis or fence to grow on instead of a post, and spread the canes out as much as possible. How much the canes will grow in 1 year varies; one way to handle the very long ones is to wrap them around two strands of wire. The fruit dangles within easy reach, minimizing scratches while harvesting.

Wintering Over

In northern areas, where winter protection is necessary, set the canes on the ground for the winter, cover them with clean straw or leaves if you don’t get much snow, then carefully place them up on the wire in early spring before they start growing again. In milder climates, train the new canes on the wire as soon as you’ve cut out the fruiting canes and leave them right there through the winter. Each year remove the canes that have fruited and allow several leafy canes to replace them. In areas with long growing seasons, the vines may get extremely long and require a dormant-season pruning. Cut them back to about 8 to 10 feet in late winter. Fruiting is heaviest near the base of the canes, so you won’t be losing much of the crop and the resulting berries will be larger.

Harvesting

Berries will ripen over a period of several weeks and should be harvested every 2 to 4 days. Pick berries in the cool of early morning and avoid bruising them. Refrigerate the berries immediately; they’ll keep for 4 to 5 days at 35° F if picked when warm, berries don’t keep as long.

Blackberry Pruning – How To Trim Blackberry Bushes

Pruning blackberry bushes will not only help keep blackberries healthy, but can also help promote a larger crop. Blackberry pruning is easy to do once you know the steps. Let’s take a look at how to trim blackberry bushes and when to prune blackberry bushes.

When to Prune Blackberry Bushes

One of the most common questions about blackberries is, “When do you cut back blackberry bushes?” There are actually two different types of blackberry pruning you should be doing and each must be done at different times of the year.

In the early spring, you will be tip pruning blackberry bushes. In late summer, you will be doing clean up blackberry pruning. Keep reading to learn how to trim blackberry bushes both of these ways.

Tip Pruning Blackberry Bushes

In the spring, you should be doing tip pruning on your blackberries. Tip pruning is exactly what it sounds like; it is cutting off the tips of the blackberry canes. This will force the blackberry canes to branch out, which will create more wood for blackberry fruit to grow on and, therefore, more fruit.

To do tip blackberry pruning, use a sharp, clean pair of pruning shears and cut back the blackberry canes to about 24 inches. If the canes are shorter than 24 inches, simply prune off the top inch or so of the cane.

While you are tip pruning, you can also prune off any diseased or dead canes.

Clean Up Blackberry Pruning

In the summer, after the blackberries are done fruiting, you will need to do clean up blackberry pruning. Blackberries only produce fruit on canes that are two years old, so once a cane has produced berries, it will never produce berries again. Cutting these spent canes off the blackberry bush will encourage the plant to produce more first year canes, which in turn will mean more fruit producing canes next year.

When pruning blackberry bushes for clean up, use a sharp, clean pair of pruning shears and cut off at ground level any canes that produced fruit this year (two year old canes).

Now that you know how to trim blackberry bushes and when to prune blackberry bushes, you can help your blackberry plants grow better and produce more fruit.

Wood, wire, and eyelet screws are all you need to build a simple blackberry trellis. This is an inexpensive way to grow thornless blackberries in the vegetable garden. There’s a video showing how I built mine at the end of this piece.

As the garden winds down for another year you might be thinking about jobs for the winter. You might also be thinking about adding some new soft-fruit to the veggie patch while you’re at it. The two go hand in hand if you’re planning on growing thornless blackberries. I’ve had some people ask why would you bother growing blackberries when you can pick them wild. There are two reasons really. First of all, no thorns, and secondly the berries on the cultivated bushes are bigger and sweeter than those in the wild. Did I mention that they’re not invasive either? Unlike wild brambles, they don’t grow where they’re not supposed to. However, their long trailing canes do need support which is why you’ll need to build a trellis for them.

The blackberry trellis after almost a year

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Build a Blackberry Trellis in winter

If you’re ordering plants online, your blackberry bushes will likely arrive in the winter dormant and bare root. Before you have them in hand you should set aside an afternoon to install a simple blackberry trellis. It will give the canes something to grow on, make harvesting the berries easier, and can create a nice boundary fence. I have mine running along the bottom of my veggie patch.

Once you have the trellis built, you can plant a bare root berry bush near each post. As the canes grow, you can tie them onto the wires with string. Thornless blackberries fruit on second-year wood and then those canes brown and wither after summer ends. They’ll need to be pruned over the winter and removed from the wires. New growth is then tied on for the next year’s harvest.

Each post is about 6-7 foot apart

What you’ll need

To create your own trellis you’ll need just a few DIY materials that you can get from any hardware store. If you have the posts already, you can just order the other items on Amazon if you’d like. I’ve left the links below.

  • 4×4 wooden posts about 60″ long
  • Two Vine (or eyelet) screws for each post
  • Heavy duty garden wire

Painting the wood is optional but it may extend the life of the posts if you take the time to do so. The eyelet screws you use should be suitable for outdoor use and have an eye big enough for two wires to fit through. If you don’t have them on hand and want to save money, you can use ordinary screws and wrap the wire around them. I go over this in the video you’ll find at the bottom of this piece.

Vine (eyelet) screws keep the training wire away from the wooden posts

You might ask what the benefits of eyelet/vine screws are vs ordinary screws. They keep the wire a distance away from the wooden post creating more growing space for the canes between each. If you use screws then the canes will be tied up against the post and could rub against it in windy weather. It’s not a deal-breaker though and you can choose to use either.

As for the wire, I’d recommend that you use 2mm (14 gauge) garden wire or thicker. If you use thinner wire then you risk the wire sagging or breaking when the canes are in full leaf, flower, and berry. 14 gauge is what I’m using and it’s easy to pull tight and to twist the ends. Thicker wire is probably better if you have more distance between posts than I do but it can be a little harder to work with.

In May the vines are beginning to fill in

Build the Blackberry Trellis

To construct the trellis, measure out the length that you’re building the entire structure. Each blackberry bush will need at least six feet on either side to stretch out its canes. That’s why I have my posts spaced out about seven feet apart. Any more than this and I think the wires would sag too much.

Sink each post two feet in the ground and firm it in really well. If you want really solid posts then you might want to consider concreting them in. I’ll be doing this over the winter since my posts have moved quite a bit this summer. Those leaning posts have caused the wire to sag in some places.

When all the posts are in, screw in the eyelets. Two go in each post and they should all be placed on the same side of the posts. My bottom eyelet is 12 inches off the ground and the top one is 3 inches from the top.

Thornless blackberries are big and juicy

Attaching the wire

Each stretch of wire between posts on mine is a separate piece. There’s a six-inch overlap with the screw head so that I can pass the wire through and twist it back on itself.

You could string a long length all the way down your trellis but make sure that you wrap it around each screw all the way down. Forget this step and that wire will likely sag. The reason I didn’t do it this way was that the wire was too cumbersome to wrap around the eyelet screws as I went along. If you use ordinary screws it will be much easier though.

Free Blackberry Bushes

I need to pass on a tip if you’re like me and like to get plants for free. If you have a friend who already grows thornless blackberry bushes, it’s EASY to create new plants from it. From late spring to mid-summer, take 12-18″ cuttings of fresh new growth and propagate them like this. By the next spring, you’ll have loads of blackberry bushes to plant out without having to hand over cash for them.

Growing Thornless blackberries

Once the trellis is built and the blackberries planted, you can look forward to many years of berry harvests. The blackberries I grow don’t intrude into the ground too much so aren’t competing with my other garden veg. They’re also growing in a space that probably wouldn’t be used, create a bit of a windbreak, and give my plot a bit of privacy. Best of all, I do a little maintenance and mulching and they produce countless juicy blackberries. I do love an easy harvest.

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Pruning and Training

Erect Floricane-Fruiting Blackberries

Skip to Erect Floricane-Fruiting Blackberries

During the first year, plants establish root systems and a moderate number of canes. Their growth habit in the first year can be trailing, like a dewberry. Attach these flexible canes to the trellis by wrapping the canes loosely to the wire and then tying them to the wire. Growth of the primocanes in the second and subsequent years will be erect. To properly train erect types, allow the primocanes to develop in a row approximately 12 inches wide at the base during the growing season. Most newly emerging primocanes will grow in the center of the row. While these primocanes are still flexible, encourage them to grow up in between the two sides of a T- or V-trellis by pushing them into the center of the row before they reach the trellis’s bottom wire. When the new shoots of erect blackberries reach 8 to 12 inches above the top wire, they should be tipped. Tipping encourages the growth of laterals on which fruit is produced. Use your fingers to pinch off the tender new growth at the tip of the cane—known as soft tipping (Figure 12). Later on, use loppers or a mechanical hedger capable of making a clean sharp cut, known as hard tipping (Figure 13). Tipping or hedging can lead to cane blight disease, Leptosphaeria coniothyrium, especially if the cuts are made just before a rain event (Figure 14). Soft tipping early by pinching young growth invites less disease than hard tipping. After tipping, apply a preventative fungicide to protect cuts from cane blight. The Cane Blight of Blackberry factsheet contains more information about this disease.

Tipped canes will grow stout and be more capable of supporting a heavy fruit crop the following year. In southern Georgia, many thornless cultivars produce only one to three large primocanes each year. In this case, tip the canes during the summer when they attain a height of 2 to 3 feet to encourage branching.

After fruiting, remove dead floricanes and thin out weak primocanes as time permits. In late winter, prune the laterals to 12 to 18 inches if needed. Pruning will increase air, sunlight, and spray penetration within the row and make harvesting more convenient and result in larger berries. Where large-diameter pruning cuts are made, stem disease has been severe in some years. A fungicide application after pruning is recommended. At the same time, remove any remaining dead and weak wood. Leave only about six to eight healthy, vigorous, evenly spaced canes spaced per linear yard (3 feet) of row. Erect blackberries must be trellised for additional support and for ease of harvest. Follow the trellising guidelines for trailing and semi-erect types using one of the trellises described in the Trellis Systems section of this publication.

Figure 12. Small diameter tipping can easily be done by hand. The resulting wound is smaller and is less susceptible to disease infection.

Phil Brannen, Univeristy of Georgia

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Figure 12. Small diameter tipping can easily be done by hand. The resulting wound is smaller and is less susceptible to disease infection.

Phil Brannen, Univeristy of Georgia

Figure 13. Larger diameter cut made with pruners. The wound is larger and the cane is more susceptible to disease infection.

Phil Brannen, University of Georgia

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Figure 13. Larger diameter cut made with pruners. The wound is larger and the cane is more susceptible to disease infection.

Phil Brannen, University of Georgia

Figure 14. Cane blight of blackberry.

Gina Fernandez, NC State University

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Figure 14. Cane blight of blackberry.

Gina Fernandez, NC State University

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