There are over 400 species of blackberries in North America


Humans have enjoyed the fruits of the blackberry for over 2,000 years. Besides their sweet taste, the fruits are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants.

Blackberries were used during the Civil War to treat dysentry. Both sides would call a truce so troops could go “blackberrying”. The Greeks used them to treat throat and mouth problems, as well as gout. They have even been used as a dye to turn hair black. In North America blackberry species number over 400, wild and cultivated.

The blackberry has been commercially cultivated since 1880 when Judge Logan released the Loganberry in California. These days a multitude of cultivated blackberry varieties are available.

In our area bare root plants can be put in the ground in February and March. By spring they will begin to have their flush of primocanes, which is the fruitless vegetative growth that occurs first. These canes have large green leaves.

The second year the blackberry will begin to produce floricanes, which are the branches that bear the fruit. The floricanes live long enough to bear fruit, then die.

The plant continues in this cycle, producing the primocanes, then the floricanes. This requires vigilance by the gardener, as pruning is necessary to help the plant produce a quality crop of fruit. They can produce for up to fifteen years, however, most sources agree the best fruiting time occurs when the plant is between three and eight years old.

Despite the pruning required to tame the branches, blackberry bushes are easy to grow. They are self-pollinators, and require minimal fertilizing.

They need at least ten hours of sunlight and moderate watering once established. They prefer sandy soil, but it you have at least a foot of loose, well-drained soil, they will do fine. They are an excellent choice as a privacy hedge.

Texas A& M has developed several blackberry varieties to fit the diverse soil and weather conditions in our state. The recommended varieties for our region ripen from late May into June. The very first cultivated variety for Texas, and still most popular, is the Brazos, which A& M released in 1959. It has a high yield of large fruit. However, the fruit is more acidic and best used in cooking.

The Rosborough has a sweeter fruit and is recommended as a companion to the Brazos. It has lovely lavendar flowers. If you have very deep, sandy soil, try the Womack. This also has a lavendar colored flower. Those with Blackland clay soils should try the Brison. It has a large fruit and is a good producer.

While I am not a fan of the University of Arkansas, I feel obliged to mention three blackberry varieties they have developed that will grow well here. They are all named after Native American tribes.

The first is the Shawnee. It is highly productive, but its fruit is soft and doesn’t store well. The Kiowa has very large berries and ripens in June. You could probably pair this with one of the A&M varieties, since those ripen in May.

The last one is the Arapaho, which is a thornless variety. It makes a small, sweet berry from late May through early June. During fruit production, prune the primocanes once they begin to overtake the fruit-bearing floricanes. As soon as the floricanes die, cut those branches out. Your goal is to have a multi-branched, rounded hedge about four feet tall and three feet wide by October.

You can consider trellising the bushes, but that is a lot of work in training the branches and tying them in place. I’m going to try growing the Rosborough and Womack, and possibly the Arapaho.

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2011-01-27 digital edition

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