Blackberries: Discover the keys to a successful crop

Lee Rouse  |  6/20/2018 4:05:10 PM

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Blackberries are by far one of the easiest fruit crops to grow in south Louisiana, but a lack of understanding keeps some gardeners from incorporating this wonderful fruit into their landscape. Some gardeners avoid planting these easily controllable crops because they tend to have a reputation for getting out of control; creating a bramble jungle.

Understanding the growth cycle and proper pruning of blackberries is critical to increasing the yield of your crop. Blackberries have crowns that produce biennial shoot. These shoots live for two years and then die. The shoots that emerge the first year are called the primocanes. In the second year of growth, the shoots are called floricanes. These floricanes will produce flowers that mature into fruit.

Understanding that blackberries produce their crop on the last year’s growth and that canes only live for two years will help to explain the pruning procedure. After harvesting the fruit in early summer from the floricanes, you should prune out these old woody floricanes at ground level. At the same time, primocanes are beginning to emerge, often growing above the existing floricanes. Prune off the tips of the primocanes at the same time you are removing the old floricanes. This will promote branching and encourage additional new growth.

If you do not have blackberries in the landscape yet and you are considering planting them, hold off until the cool of fall arrives. Planting blackberries in the heat of summer will only cause stress to yourself and the plant. This crop ought to be planted in fall to early spring.

In the meantime, you can begin to find the perfect spot in the yard for blackberries and prepare the soil for a fall planting. Blackberries prefer full sun and a well-drained soil. A great soil for blackberries is one that is high in organic matter and has a pH of 6.0-6.5. As a general rule of thumb, blackberry roots cannot tolerate wet soils, so consider plating uphill or creating a “pitcher’s mound” to plant on.

In a good blackberry soil in most cases, nitrogen will typically be the only limiting nutrient. Required rates of phosphorus, potassium and other elements will vary from soil to soil and should be based on a soil analysis. Submitting a soil sample to the LSU AgCenter will indicate the precise supplemental fertilizers to be used. An early spring and midsummer application of a complete garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, is recommended in most situations.

Many great varieties are available to choose from at your local independent garden centers. They include Freedom, Brazo, Arapaho, Apache and Natchez. Feel free to plant as many varieties as you desire, but only one variety is required to produce fruit. Unlike blueberries that require two different varieties to cross pollinate in order to bear fruit, the blackberry is a self-fertile fruit — just another characteristic that makes blackberries an easy addition to your landscape.

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