Blackberry plants are a welcomed addition to every fruit garden! The plants are highly productive producing masses of succulent berries. The fruits are surprisingly versatile and can be eaten straight from the plant, cooked into pies, jams and crumbles or even frozen for use another day. We commonly think of wild blackberry plants rambling and growing out of hand but the good news is that much work has gone into breeding varieties which are suitable for the home gardener.
How to grow Blackberries
Blackberries prefer free draining yet moisture retentive soil. Although much more productive in a sheltered and sunny site, plants will still grow well in partially shady areas. A single plant can be extremely productive, however we recommend trying a couple of varieties to ensure you have a plentiful supply of fruit. If growing more than one plant, ensure plants are spaced with sufficient room between to allow for maximum growth.
Blackberries can be grown effectively against a boundary wall or fence. Otherwise plant in rows 1.8-2.1m (6-7ft) apart, each running north to south to catch maximum sunlight and supported on a system of posts and wires about 1.8m (6ft) in height. If you’re not looking to set up a full fruit garden you can choose compact varieties which will preform well in large patio pots!
We recommend annual pruning of your blackberry plants. This will not only neaten up your blackberry plants but encourage fruit production. It can also help to prevent any fungal diseases due to the increase of air circulation between the plants.
Before planting it is important to ensure the ground is as free of perennial weeds as possible. Trying to remove them after planting often results in root damage to the raspberry plants. The incorporation of well-rotted organic matter into the soil a few weeks before planting will be beneficial, as will the application of a good quality, granular, general purpose fertiliser immediately prior to planting.
Floricane or Primocane?
Floricane varieties produce fruit on wood which grew last season. Although they vary a little in vigour and habit, the training and pruning is the same. In the first season after planting new canes will be produced from the plant base and these should be tied in to your support by weaving them horizontally around the wires (fruiting canes for next year). Meanwhile, new vigorous young canes (which will produce fruit in the third year) will grow from the plant base. Train these straight up the wires, vertically, in the centre of the bush. The finished effect at cropping time should be of a central growth of erect, young replacement stems tied into the wire, with older fruiting stems on either side.
When the older canes have finished fruiting, cut them out and replace them with the young vigorous stems until now bunched together in the centre. Untie these from their vertical position and weave them horizontally around the wires.
Primocane varieties produce fruits on current season growth. They usually do not require support and are fruiting late in the season. Spent canes can be cut down each year. Primocane varieties fruit on current seasons growth and are all pruned in the same way, cutting the old canes back to soil level each year. However, since these fruit on the current season’s wood, prune the canes in February. The strong growth made during spring and summer will carry fruit in the autumn of the same year.