“When the blackberries hang swollen in the woods, in the brambles nobody owns, I spend all day among the high branches, reaching my ripped arms, thinking of nothing, cramming the black honey of summer into my mouth; all day my body accepts what it is. In the dark creeks that run by there is this thick paw of my life darting among the black bells, the leaves; there is this happy tongue.” — “August” by Mary Oliver
If you have ever picked blackberries from the wild, those days likely conjure many good memories. We are now beginning to enter blackberry harvest season for some early varieties. Dewberries are in full swing, and blackberries will follow shortly. Most folks find these growing in the wild and enjoy an afternoon picking berries to make pies and jams or just eat them as they are.
Blackberries are shiny, black fruit bursting with sweet juice. Low in calories and fat and high in fiber, one cup packs 50% of the daily recommended vitamin C and manganese. Not to mention they contain a great deal of anthocyanins that are an excellent source of antioxidants full of disease-fighting power.
It may also be a comfort to know that blackberries are easy to grow and can be readily incorporated into your home garden or landscape. Once this native berry is ripe, get ready for an abundant harvest, picking every couple of days. It is sure to keep you busy.
You can find three types of blackberries: erect thorny, erect thornless and trailing thornless. The erect are bush form and can support themselves while the trailing berries will need to be trellised for support.
All blackberries are perennials and self-fertile. That’s good news for us lazy gardeners. We only need one plant to be successful, so long as it is healthy. The top of the plant above the soil is biennial — the canes grow vegetatively for a year, bear fruit the next year, and then die. However, every year the plant sends up new canes to replace those that died.
Prune by removing the old canes that already bore fruit and let new ones take their place. Pruning is an important part of blackberry culture. For detailed instructions on pruning, consult the LSU AgCenter publication “Blackberry Growing Guide” that’s available online at https://bit.ly/lablackberries.
The easiest way to grow blackberries is in a row trained like a hedge, with the plants spaced 3 to 4 feet apart. If you plant several rows, space the rows about 5 to 6 feet apart. Trailing blackberries need a trellis or other support.
It’s best to plant blackberries when the canes are dormant, preferably in early spring, but plants can be planted into early fall. Be careful of planting late in the fall when temperatures could drop, damaging some hybrid varieties. Plant in areas that receive full sun for the best yields. Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce weeds. Make sure plants are well watered but also ensure good drainage. Fertilize in early spring with an all-purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 16-16-16.
Now for the good part: the harvest. Pick only the blackest berries. Mature berries are plump yet firm with a deep black color and pull freely from the plant without a hard tug. Berries do no ripen after being picked, and once blackberries start to ripen, they must be picked often — every couple of days.
Blackberries are highly perishable and will only last a few days once harvested, even with refrigeration. They can be saved by canning, preserving or freezing, or eat them fresh for the best flavor.
A few of the recommended erect varieties include Brazos, a large-fruited variety that sets the standard for blackberries. It produces very large, fair-quality, tart fruit that make wonderful pies, cobblers and jelly. Cheyenne, an Arkansas release, produces large, sweet fruit that have a slight raspberry flavor. Brison is high-yielding and well-adapted to south Louisiana with fruit that’s firmer and sweeter than Brazos. Rosborough produces high yields of fruit with smaller seeds and is firmer than Brazos. Shawnee produces its large fruit heavily for several weeks.
Several thornless varieties that are erect include Navaho, Arapaho, Ouachita and Apache.
The trailing types are boysenberry, youngberry and dewberry. Boysenberries produce soft, large, tart, reddish fruit. Youngberries produce a very large, wine-colored, sweet berry and are of Louisiana origin.
Blackberries are easy to grow and enjoy. They are one of the most reliable and productive of the fruits we grow in our home gardens and landscapes here in Louisiana. They can be used in many home recipes or eaten fresh for their delicious, nutritious and power-packed fruits.
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist