7 tips for growing, pruning and harvesting blackberries

Easy to grow and always productive, blackberries seldom have problems with pests and diseases.

7 tips for growing, pruning and harvesting blackberries

Several varieties are thornless, although many of the best-tasting blackberries grow on canes that are well-defended with stickers.

  • All blackberries bear fruit on one-year-old canes. In other words, the new canes that grow one summer and bear fruit the next.
  • Try blackberries in a place where they can grow into a robust hedge that deters unwanted visitors — including hungry deer. Here are some tips for maintaining healthy blackberry plants.

1. Simplify pruning and maintenance

Prune annually after the final harvest.

  • Cut to the ground any canes that bore fruit, which reduces possible disease problems and makes way for a new crop of canes.
  • In late summer, pinch off the tips of the new canes to encourage short lateral branches to form.

2. Wear beekeeping gloves

Wear beekeeping gloves when pruning thorny blackberry plants. The gloves' protective gauntlets reach up to your elbows.

3. Make more plants

Want more plants?

  • Bend the tip of a blackberry stem to the ground in summer and weigh it down with a stone.
  • By the following spring, the tip will have roots, and it can be dug and moved to a new spot.

4. Plant a new patch every five to ten years

Cultivated blackberries pick up pests that lower productivity over time.

  • Choose a new spot as far from the old site — and any wild brambles — as possible.
  • Purchase only plants certified as virus- or disease-free.

5. Protect blackberry plants

  • In frigid climates, separate the blackberry stems from the support and spread them out on the ground.
  • Cover them thickly with conifer branches or dried mulch to protect against severe cold.
  • Uncover them in spring and prune back any canes that show no leaf buds by late spring.

6. Enhance an archway or fence

  • Enhance an archway or fence with the lush foliage and pretty white flowers of thornless blackberries, such as 'Navaho' or 'Chester.'
  • Or create a fan espalier to best see stems and fruit. In midsummer, when the current year's canes are pruned back to the ground, begin training the new green stems into a fan shape by fastening them with plastic ties to a grid or trellis.

7. When to pick blackberries

  • Blackberries taste best when they are fully ripe, which is often a day or two after they turn black.
  • Harvest when they're still glossy but have just begun to soften.

Blackberries are easy to freeze, or you can use them to make cobblers, pies, or wonderful jelly.

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