Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Blackberries - the perfect backyard snack

Who needs candy bars when you can go outside and stuff plump, ripe and sweet blackberries in your mouth? No one, I say!

Blackberries are one of the few things that are easy to grow here in Central Texas. They don't get a lot of diseases, don't need a lot of water, and with judicious pruning, stay where you want them.  We are just now finishing up our harvest and have the blue teeth to prove it.

You normally plant blackberries around December or January, but now is a good time to plan where you'd like to grow them.

I went ahead and installed a simple trellis to train them to. Forgoing the more elaborate set-ups, I just put in a woven wire fence. You can also use a cattle panel for this job, but it's not necessary to have the rigidity since the berries aren't climbing on the wire.  I use bits of twine or plant ties to keep the arching canes upright against the wire.  This also makes it much easier to harvest the berries.
   We used 8 foot treated 4x4 posts and installed 2x4's for top braces. My trusty side-kick Ed put the posts in, then helped stretch the wire.   To stretch the wire, we wrapped one end around a 2x4 and pulled! While Ed did the heavy work, I nailed in fence staples to keep the wire in place.

I created a raised bed for the berries to grow in. I live on a slight incline so I created a drainage ditch on one side to capture rainwater runoff from my up-slope neighbors. This keeps my berries from being washed into the next county plus provides for some in-soil water storage. I piled the soil into a berm and mixed in some dried leaves (also from the neighbors.) This gives my berries some extra drainage. I  add compost at the end of each harvest to improve soil texture and fertility.

I initially purchased four bare-root Rosborough blackberries. Whenever you buy plants bare-root (meaning they aren't in a pot) soak them in water first to help rehydrate the roots. You don't need to do it for long - I just put them in a bucket while I dig the holes. I planted the berries about four feet apart. Once planted I gave them a good soaking and then spread leaves over the ground for a mulch. You need to keep them watered the first year, but once established mine only need irrigation once a week or so when they have fruit and once a month when they don't.  I use a soaker hose that snakes around them on the berm.  They spread out and fill in as they age - often to places far from the original plant. You can actually dig up these wanderers and replant them.  Most often I chop mine up and put them in the compost.  Be careful doing this though unless you have an active pile - otherwise they will re-sprout and you'll have a new blackberry patch.

The best way to keep your berries productive and healthy is to remove the spent canes every year.  As soon as you pick the last berry, cut that cane all the way to the ground.  Blackberries fruit on second year canes, so the new ones that are sprouting and growing right now are the ones that will bear fruit next year.  The old canes harbor disease and aren't going to flower well, so take them out!  Be gone to the compost bin I say!  Not pruning the canes is the most common mistake people make and is why many berry patches eventually just stop producing.

The Texas AgriLIFE Extension service has a great article on blackberries if you are interested in growing some for your family. Berries are a great source of vitamins and are fat-free, guiltless eating pleasure. I always intend to freeze some or make preserves, but somehow they never make it into the house. I blame the birds. Those stains on my hands and mouth? Mind your own business!


  1. I took Jim Kamas advice and planted Kiowa blackberries on our farm with thorns. So glad I did. This is our 4th year from root cuttings and it is our best crop. Last year was amazing and this year it has begun again. I picked 45 lbs already these past couple weeks with 30 lbs this past Tuesday. We have 350 ft of vines trellised on recycled goat wire fencing. It is on drip irrigation and we feed it composted manure once a year and cut out all the spent canes once they stop producing. Will produce through June into July hopefully, like last year. Just mow the rows and keep the new vines woven through the fence so they are upright.

  2. Great info and I didn't know that you should be cutting the old canes because of disease? I wonder how many people intentionally plant blackberries and then after awhile lose control vs simply wild blackberries just showing up?

  3. WIth so many Austin gardeners and yourself sharing their posts about growing blackberries I'm thinking I need a berry patch. It will have to be out there where the deer roam so it will need to be fenced. Now where?

  4. Excellent information Sheryl. I'm new to growing blackberries and I have a lot to learn. I'm trying out a Brazos right now that I bought in a 1 gallon pot back in March. So far my take away is that they need regular watering to get established. I'm hoping to keep it alive through our upcoming summer. I can see why planting in January would be a better choice.

  5. Thanks for your informative post! My daughters and I stumbled on a wild blackberry patch at a local park recently, and helped ourselves. I'm really tempted to dedicate a garden bed to just blackberries and strawberries next year. Our strawberries have done surprisingly well this year (given that we're rookie strawberry-growers.)