Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardener
Blackberries make a wonderful, inexpensive and easy to grow addition to your garden. With
water (preferably drip irrigation) some shade, and a bit of nitrogen during the growing season
from compost or fertilizers, you can enjoy fresh berries in early summer and increase the wildlife
habitat in your backyard.
Although blackberries come in several growth habits, the erect habit is perhaps the easiest to
grow. Once established they can be cultivated for years, with peak production occurring in years
five through eight. The first-year canes (primocanes) are the vegetative growth, and the second-
year canes, (floricanes) produce the sweet, tasty, antioxidant-packed fruit. For home gardeners,
growing as a hedge is the easiest, although trellises or wires are an option. Once the floricanes
are done fruiting, (usually by late June), all you need to do is cut down the canes to about 12
inches above the soil level. Given enough time, new primocanes will grow from there and form
the next season floricanes. A second pruning after winter to remove any cold damaged stems
will aid in productivity.
Blackberries can be purchased as plants or root cuttings. Once your blackberries are
established, canes can be tip layered to produce new plants. Bend down the tip of a vigorous
cane, dig a shallow hole, bury the tip in the hole, water and wait. Once a new shoot appears
and the tip has rooted, cut the cane above the soil. That new shoot is the primocane necessary
for future harvest. Left to their own devices, blackberries will do this on their own, but fruit
production is greater if you manage them. Most cultivars of blackberries have killer thorns,
making picking an experience. Although thorn less cultivars exist, in my garden they are not as
hardy. I think blackberries are enjoyed best straight from the bush, but they can be frozen
(freeze the blackberries individually on a large tray for the best results) and enjoyed as cobblers
or crisps in the winter season.
In addition to human enjoyment, birds, box turtles, lizards, butterflies, and other pollinators use
blackberries for food and shelter throughout the year. Truly, blackberries nourish your body and
maybe more importantly, your connection to nature.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.