Try your hand at growing blackberries on a trellis
January 25, 2015
By Pat Koenig/Victoria County Master Gardener
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon/Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTOS BY PAT KOENING/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Growing up in Edna off Navidad Road we had a vacant lot behind our house. Every year, we would pick dewberries, and Mom would make a wonderful cobbler. My brother and I would check the berries, and the next day would be picking day.
We rushed home from school, gathered our coffee cans, ran to the lot - and to our horror, the lot had been mowed. I stood in that lot and vowed much like Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind," "as God as my witness, I will grow berries."
Years later, I was fortunate to have a large yard and training from the Master Gardeners. My husband and I now have berries, and we have picked up to 58 gallons from our vineyard.
Blackberries have grown wild in most countries for centuries. They belong to a plant family of brambles known as Rubus, specifically Rubus fruticosus, usually prickly shrubs of the rose family including raspberries and blackberries. Agriculture universities have been crossing blackberries and dewberries to have improved varieties.
Blackberries are classified as perennial plants, and if cared for, will produce for 15 to 20 years. The wild variety usually trails along the ground while the cultured varieties are more erect and grow well on fences and trellises.
Blackberry varieties are classified as thorny and thornless. The thorny variety is the best producer. The most common blackberry for our area is the Brazos berry developed by Texas A&M University. Other thorny varieties are Rosenbrough and Kiowa. The thornless varieties are Natchez and Ouachita.
Blackberries are one of the easiest crops to grow. They prefer a sunny spot but like two to four hours of shade in the afternoon. One inch of rain or irrigation is needed weekly. Most gardeners use drip irrigation.
Most importantly, prepare a bed next to a fence or erect a trellis system. We have found driving a post in the ground and attaching wire securely on wire cattle panels makes a very permanent structure.
Blackberry plants can be put in the ground in the winter and spring. They can be bought from nurseries and mail order catalogues.
To plant, dig a hole and plant 1 inch deeper than it was planted in the nursery. If you order bare root plants, dig a trench and plant 2 to 3 inches deep with the crown at ground level. Plant blackberries 2 to 3 feet apart and in rows 8 to 12 feet apart.
Fruit in future years
The first year, use a balanced fertilizer in a trench several inches from the plant. The following years, just give blackberries nitrogen.
The first year, let the plant grow, and it will put out canes. In the summer, pick out the two strongest canes and cut the others back to the ground. Let the canes grow to 21/2 feet and cut off the tops. They will then branch out two side shoots from the cut canes that you can start training on the trellis. By training two canes you will have a healthier and more productive plant.
In the spring in a couple of years you should have a good berry crop.
Blackberries like to send up new plants from their root system. You can dig up a new plant plus 6 inches of root and plant it.
It is very important to select the variety you want as they are very difficult to get rid of. I like to plant several varieties so it prolongs my harvest time.
It is best to pick berries in the morning. When choosing a berry at peak ripeness all the berry needs to be black with no red on it. Blackberries do not ripen after picking. They freeze very well or can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days. You will need to pick berries every two to three days. Most blackberries start ripening in mid-May through June.
Blackberries have few pests that bother them. Stink bugs like to sting the berries when ripe making flesh look dry and discolored. Birds and deer will also help you harvest your crop.
Nutritional value, use in foods
Blackberries have many nutrients, are very low in calories and packed with fiber. Very few people are allergic to them. It was reported that during the Civil War one of the battles was stopped so soldiers could harvest blackberries and feed them to soldiers with dysentery.
Blackberries are found in many recipes. They are wonderful just off the vine. Warm toast with blackberry preserves is great. My favorite is blackberry cobbler with a scoop (or two) of ice cream. Oh, and let us not forget blackberry wine.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or email@example.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.
• WHAT: Lunch and Learn with the Masters
• WHEN: Noon-1 p.m. Feb. 9
• WHERE: Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center, Victoria
• COST: Free to the public
• Bring your lunch
• Presented by Master Gardeners Pat Koenig and Emory Powitsky Jr.
• Prefer sandy soil but will grow in most soil types.
• Plant several varieties so harvest dates will vary.
• Harvest when berries pull easily from stem and with no red color.
• Plants can produce for as long as 20 years if properly cared for.
• Blackberries freeze well for later use.