Blackberries for the Home Garden
Berry production in home gardens continues to be a topic of interest for area gardeners. As garden centers are beginning to stock 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 cultivars that work well in our area including Apache, Arapahoe, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Choctaw, Natchez, Navaho, Osage, Ouachita, and Shawnee. All are thornless except Cheyenne. Each of these 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.
While blackberries prefer a lighter soil that has been improved with generous amounts of organic matter, the fact that blackberries are considered vigorous weeds in many of our area pastures tell you they can tolerate poor soil. This is one of the reasons they are the berry of choice for many Payne County residents. As far as a physical location, plants should ideally be located in full sun 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. (PDF/Mobile)
If you think blackberries may be for you but you’re just not certain, area residents now have a great resource to see the realities of blackberry production as well as tasting several of the cultivars mentioned here. N40 Blackberries is a U-Pick farm located just a few miles north of Stillwater. For more information on N40, find them on the web at N40berries.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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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