Growing Blackberries on Your Homestead
Planting Blackberry Bushes Can Be Done No Matter Where You LivePromoted by HarvestRight
Some of my earliest memories are of picking blackberries growing wild along the dirt roads of home. There aren’t as many wild bushes growing blackberries as there were then. Roadways are sprayed with herbicides and pesticides to keep them cleaned off. This kills a great many wild foods we used to forage.
No matter how large or small your homestead is, townhouse or two story, you can plant your own bushes for growing blackberries. A large part of homesteading today is not only producing your own garden produce, but your own fruit. My grandparents had pear, plums of several varieties, peaches, and sometimes strawberries, but many of our fruits were foraged.
I don’t know about you, but when I pick blackberries, I eat almost as many as I put in the bucket! They’re so sweet when they’re ripe and haven’t been through a dry spell. Growing blackberries for jam and cobbler brings delicious delights to the table. Many people use them for sauces, on ice cream … I’m sure you have your favorite. Did you know they’re full of vitamins A and C, as well as antioxidants?
Blackberries of the cultivated variety will flourish up to zone 4 or 5, but wild blackberries are available in areas which are much cooler. It’s interesting isn’t it how nature will adapt and perfect something in ways we can’t mimic. I love it!
There are thornless varieties and these work well if you plan on covering them and keeping a close watch on them. I like these in containers, but the throny varieties have the benefit of built in protection. I still cover the thorny variety with bird netting, but the thorns keep some critters away. With pruning and training of the vines, you can easily keep them under control.
Preparing to Plant Seedlings
Blackberries are started from seedlings or cuttings, rather than from seed. You can start from seeds, but you lose years of production. Personally, I’ve never known anyone to start them from seeds. I like to plant them in the fall. This gives them the winter to set their roots and be established for the spring growth rush. It’s perfectly fine to plant them in the spring as well, as soon as the ground isn’t frozen or is workable. You don’t want soggy soil for the new transplant.
Remember your blackberry bushes will need room to spread their vines. If you don’t prune them and just let them grow naturally (like I usually do) you’ll want to leave 3-6 feet between plants in rows 8 feet apart. Some of the vines may reach 7 feet or longer when you don’t prune.
Pick a nice sunny spot for planting and be sure it drains well. Like most berries, blackberries enjoy at least 8 hours of sun. One of the things I like best about growing blackberries is they are so adaptable. I’ve never killed one! The most important tip I can give you on the soil is to not put them in clay soil. It doesn’t drain well and the roots can’t spread out like they need to. If you have clay soil, you’ll need to amend it before planting.
Most plants will come to you bare root, no dirt. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the roots and just deep enough so the crown of the plant (where the stem turns in to root) is level with the top of the hole. Spread the roots out gently without damaging them.
If your bushes are potted, plant them the same depth they were in the pot, in a hole twice the diameter of the pot. Gently loosen the soil around the roots before placing the plant in the hole.
For either type, bare root or potted, refill the hole with loose soil. Once filled, use your hands to tamp down the dirt. This removes air pockets. You will have to add more soil to the hole and repeat the tamping until the hole is full. Water generously.
Tips for Growing Blackberries
Don’t fertilize your bushes when you plant them. Wait until the spring greens up and then fertilize lightly if you want to. I don’t usually fertilize mine, but my soil is healthy.
Your blackberry bushes should live 10-12 years, if cared for properly.
A good estimation of the number to plant is 3-4 bushes per family member. You know me, I go above that. I have my grandfather’s voice in my head saying, “It’s better to over plant and have some to share than to under plant and be in need. You never know what will happen in the season.”
You shouldn’t plant blackberry bushes close to black raspberry bushes. The closest you could plant them is 100 feet and I would go further than that. The reason is black raspberry plants are susceptible to diseases easily transferred from nearby blackberry plants by aphids. It’s a good idea to not plant any other variety of raspberry close to them for the same reason.
Once your plants begin to grow and produce, it’s a good idea to cover them with bird netting. Even if you plant them in a container. All kinds of birds and animals like blackberries. I found out even my pit bulls love them! Who would’ve thought?
Deep mulch the fruit orchard. This keeps down weeds and helps retain moisture. It also makes it easier to harvest.
Once a cane or branch of the bush bears its fruit, it’s done for the season. They don’t rebloom on the same cane. You can cut that particular cane off. I don’t prune my bushes until late January early February depending on the weather, when I’m pruning all the other fruit plants. This is to make certain there is no ‘blood’ (what Papa called the sap) running. Pruning a plant when the sap is running will damage and possibly even kill it.
Some people prune their bushes to keep them a certain size or shape. If you are growing them in container, I can totally understand that. You can even trellis train certain varieties. Cut the dead stalks back to 2”. Pruning is my most hated garden job, but it’s beneficial for the plant and our tummies.
Care of Your Bushes
Like much of the berry bush family, growing blackberries is a relatively low-maintenance job like growing strawberries. They only need watering if you live in a drought area or have more than two weeks without rain. They don’t like soggy roots.
You can prevent most diseases when growing blackberries by allowing for proper air flow between the canes and plants. This is done by pruning and proper spacing when planting them. I use a wash of baking soda and dishwashing detergent to treat any fungus at the first sight of it.
Like roses, blackberry bushes have a fungus called rust, reddish brown spots on the leaves. Promptly remove any contaminated leaves from the area. I put mine in a bag and burn them. Spray with a solution of your choice. Be sure your plants have plenty of air flow. If you live in a humid state, you’ll have more of a problem with this than usual.
You may have some fruit the first year, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t. The second year you’ll get a good crop and every year after. When picking berries, remember the thorns. I know some people will say “wear gloves” I don’t like to when picking berries. Well, I don’t like to most of the time. I can’t feel the berries and I squish too many. I would rather deal with a few pricks and scratches. After all, that’s part of it!
If you don’t get enough rain the berries will be small, but small berries are better than none. They have different cycles of life too. One year there may be more and larger berries than another. All of life has cycles. Just in case you don’t know, when they’re dark purple or black, they’re ready too pick.
Wash your berries in cool water and pick through them to remove any stems or bad ones. Allow them to dry on a dish towel. You can keep them in the refrigerator for up to a week (I have kept them longer) in an airtight container.
Of course you can make blackberry jam or jelly once you have enough. I keep mine in the refrigerator until I get enough for a batch. They come in quickly. Some people freeze them until they have enough for jam.
They are sensationally sweet when freeze dried or dehydrated. They are easily rehydrated for cobblers and pies. I like to add them to salads and yogurt too. If you like growing blackberries, you may enjoy growing staghorn sumac, they say it makes a great lemonade.
Have you any tips on growing blackberries to share with us? How do you use and preserve your blackberries? We’d love for you share your experience with us.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack