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Master Gardener: Blackberries

These days blueberries get a lot of the PR about being a healthy fruit. An overlooked fruit however, the blackberry, also has considerable health benefit.

Depending on, variety, blackberries will grow anywhere from 5 to 26 feet in a growing season. It takes up to two years for a plant to produce. Mature plants have a production life of 10 to 12 years. Four to six hours of sunlight daily needed for optimum production. Desirable to train plants to a fence or wall. Their preferred soil PH is 5.0 to 6.0. Propagate new plants in spring.

Make sure plants receive an inch of moisture weekly. While fruit is developing on the stems, up that amount to 1 1/2inches weekly. Apply compost or a slow acting, general purpose fertilizer in the spring as leaves begin to emerge. Some growers use liquid seaweed extract two or three times during the growing season to accelerate growth/production.

Check your plants daily for signs of plant stress that can lead to disease problems. Cane borers, cane blight and mites are some of the issues you might have to deal with. In the case of the mites, a thorough dousing of the plant every 5 to 7 days with insecticidal soap for a total of 3 applications is desired. And yes, the birds, will want in on your bounty, too. Netting meets with some success, as well as having other aromatic berry types nearby to tempt them such as chokeberries, dogwood or mulberries.

Harvest berries in the morning as their coloring dulls. Check ripening berries every two days. If you care properly for your patch, you can expect up to 2 quarts of berries per plant. As older canes reduce production, they need to be cut back at the base to make room for the newer canes.

Harvested berries need to be refrigerated immediately after picking. Short term, berries will be good in the freezer up to 6 months. Most folks will choose to put berries up, though, as jams or jellies.

The U of A Fruit Research Station north of Clarksville is at the forefront when it comes to development of superior plants for blackberry production. The selections “Natchez” and “Ouachita” produce large fruit on thornless plants, while “Kiowa” produces handsome fruit on thorny canes.

Got further questions about blackberries? Contact local extension office.

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