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14 November 2013

Beautiful Blackberries

November is an ideal time for planting blackberries, and even one plant can produce a good crop of berries. Garden plants are more productive than wild blackberries and can be trained to grow where you want them. If you select the correct variety they can even be grown in containers.

Your plants will be most productive if planted in a sunny, sheltered spot although they will grow in light shade. They are happiest in free-draining but moisture-retaining soil so it is worth digging-in well-rotted manure or compost before planting.

If you are planting more than one blackberry you will need to ensure that they have plenty of room - spacing them between 8 and 13 ft. apart depending on the variety.

The more vigorous varieties will require supporting with posts and horizontal wires, which are spaced about 18in apart. Some varieties, however, claim to be self-supporting.

After planting, all canes should be cut back to a healthy bud so that the plant will produce plenty of strong, healthy shoots in spring.

Your plants will benefit from a top-dressing of general-purpose fertiliser in mid-spring and an annual mulch of about 3in. of organic material. Keep the mulch away from the crown of the plant and any new canes to prevent rotting.

During dry periods Water young plants every 7-10 days. Although mature plants shouldn’t need extra watering, the size of the fruit produced will be increased by watering every 10-14 days in particularly dry summers.

You will need to spend time pruning and training your blackberries to get the most out of them. Tie in the shoots of newly-planted canes, then once these reach their first winter cut back all sideshoots produced on these main canes to 2in. Flowers are produced mainly from the resulting fruiting spurs.

In the second year after planting, new canes will grow up from the crown. These should be loosely tied together then held inside a square of bamboo canes inserted around the crown by means of string fastened around the bamboo canes.

Once the one-year-old canes have fruited they should be removed by reducing them into shorter sections with loppers then carefully pulling them out. You can then untie the string holding the new canes and train them along the supports.

The fruiting time varies according to the variety but blackberries should be picked as soon as they are ripe and ideally eaten fresh, though you may want to use them for jam-making, in pies or for freezing to use later.

Some varieties for you to consider are:-

Karaka Black, Early July – late Aug. Moderately vigorous but slightly thorny. Very high yielding. Berries are very firm and have a good shelf life.

Helen, Early July – mid Aug. Moderately vigorous, spine-free variety. Compact but trailing growth habit. Produces firm, conical fruits which are bright and well-flavoured.

Adrienne, Early July – mid August. High yielding, vigorous variety which produces spine-free canes. Requires a lot of space and support. Berries are long-conical in shape, large and well flavoured.

Waldo, Mid July – August. Moderately vigorous thornless variety. Compact and producing large intensely black berries with a lovely flavour.

Loch Maree, Aug – Sept. Suitable for container growing. High yielding with very sweet, moderately firm, juicy berries.

Merton Thornless, Aug – Sept. Can be grown in a small space or container. High-yielding. A completely spine-free variety which produces large fruits with an excellent flavour.

Oregon Thornless, Early Sept – mid Oct. Long vigorous canes which are mostly spine-free. Moderate to heavy yields of medium sized, soft, round berries.

Triple Crown, Early Sept – late Oct. Semi-upright, hardy and spine -free variety. Berries are very sweet but can be soft.

You may need to go to a specialist grower for some of these varieties though I recently bought Merton Thornless at my local garden centre.

Please have a go at growing your own blackberries, and enjoy eating the fruit of your labour.
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