Blackberries for the Home Garden

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
If calls to our office are any indication, there is a growing interest in our area to add berry production to home gardens. As garden centers are busy stocking their shelves with new plants, this is a good time to discuss some basic guidelines for a successful berry planting.

Blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries are often talked about as if they were one and the same-they are not. The cultural requirements and weather adaptations are very different for these three species. Raspberries do not like our summer heat and are only marginally successful in this area. They must have some afternoon shade to stand a chance. Blueberries also struggle with Oklahoma heat. In addition, blueberries have some specific soil requirements that make them a bit more challenging to grow. If you are growing one of these fruits for the first time, do yourself a favor and begin with blackberries. If you are ready for a greater garden challenge, we’ll talk about blueberries next week.

Begin by choosing varieties that have proven themselves in our climate. Arkansas plant breeders have developed several plants that work well including Choctaw, Cheyenne, Cherokee, Arapaho, Shawnee, and Navaho. Of this group, Navahos have the distinction of being thornless. Each of these varieties vary in flavor, plant structure, and ripening dates so it is a good idea to study them in depth before deciding with plants to purchase.

Blackberries prefer a lighter soil that has been improved with generous amounts of organic matter. If your garden soil could just as easily be used for manufacture of bricks, berries are not going to be healthy without significant soil modification. In most cases, a raised planting bed may be your best option. As far as a physical location, plants should ideally be located on a slightly north facing slope to aid in frost protection and to help protect from drying southwest winds.

Mulching with 3-4 inches of an organic mulch such as pine bark or straw is important not only for improved water management and weed control; it can also reduce excessive suckering as roots are less likely to be injured as tillage is reduced.

The most important component of a successful blackberry patch is understanding the growth/fruiting characteristics of the plant and learning to prune accordingly. Blackberry bushes are long lived plants but the individual canes only live for two years. Canes grow in the first year and produce fruit the second year. This is a key concept that must be fully understood if maximum production is desired. Details for understanding proper pruning are beyond the scope of this article but can be found in OSU Fact Sheet
HLA-6215 Blackberry and Raspberry Culture for the Home Garden.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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