The Blackberry is the most popular fruit grown in American gardens because it is hardy and very easy to grow. The fruits are excellent in pies and crumbles; either alone or with apples. They are also easy to turn into jams and jellies so they can be enjoyed in the darkest days of winter, and the berries can be frozen and then used in pies and crumbles in winter. The plant is a shrub with long branches that need some kind of support, so it is ideal for growing on trellis and fences, producing a crop while taking up very little room. Because the fruit must be hand-picked, it is always expensive in stores, but you will be amazed how productive a few bushes are and how simple it is to pick plenty of berries for you and your family to enjoy in a few minutes.
Many gardens have a surrounding fence, or a fence dividing one part of the garden from another, for example around a pool area. Often we plant hedges to hide these fences, or grow vines on them and that can look terrific. However, these structures can also be made useful and productive by covering them with suitable fruiting plants. With some skill and work fruit trees can be trained onto walls and fences, but scrambling plants like Blackberry bushes are much easier to train in this way and make great, productive covers for unsightly fences and walls on your property.
If you have a fruit garden area, then Blackberry bushes can be trained on wires in rows like their close relatives, Raspberry Bushes. That way you can turn a relatively small area into a highly productive garden to grow healthy, vitamin-rich fruit for your family.
A novel way to grow Blackberry bushes is to plant them at the top of a wooden or stone retaining wall and pull the stems down the wall, so as to make a living curtain of berries at the perfect height to be easily picked.
The Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) is a part of the rose family, along with other fruits like Strawberry Bushes and its close relative Raspberry Bushes. Different kinds of Blackberries grow throughout the cooler regions of the world and most have edible fruits but the Blackberry, which originated in Europe but is now found all around the world, has the best fruit for all-round eating and cooking. The plant is a shrub that produces long stems that are typically 6 to 15 feet long. These grow in the summer but do not flower in their first year. However, the next year the stems, called canes, send out side shoots 6 to 15 inches long, which have flowers on them.
The flowers have five white or pale-pink flowers and are about 1 inch across. Some other species of Blackberries have larger flowers in pink or purple and are sometimes grown as ornamental plants, especially in natural gardens. These flowers develop into the fruits. At the same time the plant will produce more long, non-flowering canes. After the fruit is ripe these flowering canes may die, or they may send out more canes from along their length. Growers call the canes that do not fruit a primocane, which then becomes a floricane the next year when it produces those flowering side-shoots.
One big problem with Blackberry bushes is that the canes have sharp thorns on them, which makes them hard to work around. However, plant scientists have come to the aid of gardeners and bred the Thornless Blackberry, which as the name suggests has no thorns and is therefore very easy to work with. So if when you think Blackberry you think thorns, that is no longer true and you can enjoy these fruits without suffering the thorns. Now many more people can grow this great fruit bush and enjoy the beautiful fruit it gives.
Blackberry bushes are hardy in most of zone 5 all the way to zone 8, so except in the coldest and warmest parts of America, almost everyone can grow and enjoy this easy and delicious fruit. The plant is very easy about the kind of soil it grows in and can be grown in almost any conditions, although of course berries will be larger and your harvest bigger if the plants are grown in richer soil and receive enough water during the growing season.
To grow your Blackberry plants on a fence or trellis, plant them 10 feet apart. If you need to make a support system for them, put in posts 20 feet apart and stretch two wires between them, one 3 feet off the ground and the other 5 feet off the ground. The primocanes are attached to these wires as they grow, spreading them out along the wire so that most of the growth is horizontal. Horizontal shoots will produce more fruiting shoots than vertical ones, so also spread them out that way if you are growing your Blackberry bushes on an existing fence or trellis.
Another way to grow blackberry bushes is to cut off the primocanes about 4 feet off the ground. This way the side-shoots will be produced lower down and it is not necessary to have a support system. The crop will probably be a little smaller this way, but less work is needed to grow the plants. With this system the plants should be planted 3 feet apart.
Blackberry bushes can also be grown in pots. Choose a wide pot, rather than a tall one as the roots are shallow and prefer to spread sideways. Wooden boxes and half-barrels also make suitable containers to grow them in. Varieties with shorter canes are best for pot growing, or a Thornless Blackberry can be planted in a large pot and grown on a terrace so the fruit is nearby and easy to pick without having to worry about thorns getting in the way.
Because the Thornless Blackberry is so easy to handle, it is even possible in colder areas to take down the canes from their supports and lay them on the ground so that the snow will protect them from the cold. This way the canes will survive the winter. They can then be re-attached to the supports and will produce fruiting side-shoots. This means that even if you live in zones 3 and 4, you may be able to produce a good crop of Blackberries and enjoy this delicious fruit where it would normally be too cold for them to grow.
Before planting your Blackberry bushes, prepare the soil well by adding organic material like garden compost, rotted manure, rotted leaves or peat-moss to the soil and digging it well in. Place your plants at the chosen distance apart and dig a hole twice the width of the pot. Remove the pot and place the root-ball in the hole so it is a couple of inches deeper than it was in the pot. Replace most of the soil and firm it down well. Fill the hole with water and when it has drained away replace the rest of the soil. Water your new Blackberry bushes once a week, soaking them well.
Once established your Blackberry bushes will need watering when the soil becomes a little dry. Apply a general-purpose fertilizer or mulch them with rich organic material each spring. In the first year the plants should make some good primocanes for you to tie to the support system. If the plant had any flowering shoots on it, as soon as you have picked the fruit cut these off at ground level, or just above any new primocanes that may have grown from them. The next season, the primocanes will now be floricanes and will give you your first harvest of delicious blackberries. Once you have picked the last of the fruit, cut the old floricanes off at ground level.
As new primocanes develop, tie them into the support system. Some gardeners prefer to just loosely tie the new canes to the supports until the old floricanes have been removed, and then organize and tie in the new primocanes. As your plants become more established they will produce more vigorous primocanes each year. If shoots emerge a distance from the roots that cannot be easily tied in, just take a spade and chop them off below ground, to encourage your plant to send up its canes close to the support system.
Blackberry bushes are vigorous, prolific plants that are easy to grow in almost any type of soil. They are a great fruit for the beginner fruit-gardener to learn the basic techniques of growing Berry Bushes. This versatile berry is always welcome in the kitchen and since it can even be grown in pots, if you have a small garden, or just a balcony, terrace or patio, you can have your very own home-grown berries so easily you will be amazed.