AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Blackberry cultivars are a perfect example of selective plant breeding modifications to fruit and wild blackberry growth. While the fruit from a blackberry cultivar is superior in comparison to wild blackberries, these plants require significant maintenance.
Blackberry cultivars require specific conditions as opposed to the wild blackberry’s only need: full sun. According to Alabama Extension agent Chip East, blackberry cultivars grow best in full sun, should be irrigated in times of drought, trained correctly, pruned correctly, weeds managed, proper soil pH and good internal soil drainage. To cultivate a sweet, productive blackberry, it will take some work.
Whether planting blackberries for a home garden or as a commercial farmer, it’s important to know the growth habits and proper planting locations.
“Plant location is important with regards to winter injury,” East said. “It’s common for blackberries to start blooming before the danger of frost is over.”
It is best to avoid any low-lying areas where cold air settles. Planting on a slope or at the top of a slope will allow cold air to drain away from the plant. Trees growing around the field can also hold in the cold temperatures.
“A grower might be able to do something about some of these issues,” East said. “However, freezing temperatures during blooming are always a concern.”
The growth habit of a blackberry cultivar can be erect, semi-erect or trailing.
East recommends spending time studying the different cultivars before deciding which blackberry to plant in a given location. The trailing and semi-erect plants require a trellis, while erect plants may not need one.
When planting more than one row of blackberries, the rows should be about 12 feet apart. In-row spacing can vary for each cultivar, however trailing blackberry cultivars need to be spaced about 10 feet apart. This allows the plants to grow about five feet in either direction. Growers should trellis and maintain the erect plants at the recommended three feet height. Then the in-row spacing would need to be three feet apart. When trellising erect plants, it is common to plant them about five to six feet apart.
Thorny or Thornless
The next step is to choose thorny or thornless plants. While thornless seems to be a less painful choice, it does not necessarily mean it is a better plant.
Thorny plants are very productive due to their aggressive growth habit and superior disease resistance. Cultivars are available that grow large fruit on both thorny and thorn-less plants.
Popular thorny, erect cultivars include Chickasaw, Choctaw, Kiowa and Shawnee. Popular thornless, erect cultivars include Apache, Arapaho, Natchez, Navaho and Ouachita.
As fruit growth and production continues to advance, growers must stay up to date on appropriate care methods to achieve the large, sweet fruit so many love and enjoy.
For more information on blackberry cultivars, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.