Growing Blackberries & Raspberries
Blackberries & Raspberries
Amanda Fuller, Lots of Food April 2020
Why grow your own?
- They’re perennial – they come back each year reliably, & compared to other crops, they’re not much work. Everyone likes free food, right?
- Berries are super nutritious!
- Berries in general are expensive; out of season, they are shipped from far away and have a high carbon footprint. Grow your own guilt-free treats instead!
- Blackberries & raspberries are easy to freeze when you have extras
- Blackberry & Raspberry plants multiply, so they’re good for sharing with friends & neighbors
- Did you know? Both raspberry and blackberry leaves make lovely herbal tea. Harvest them and dry them to enjoy year round.
What you need:
Space – Do you have underutilized space along a fence or building (provided you’ve checked the soil for lead?) Do you have a sunny spot that’s as small as 6’x6’?
Vertical structure for a trellis– Raspberries can be fine with some sturdy stakes & wire; Blackberries need more and will do well with a 6’ fence or other structure. A naked chain link fence is a sad sight! Plant some berries on it already!
How to choose?
Raspberries are less demanding on your space, but also usually don’t produce as much as blackberries can. Choose black or red, June -bearing, or “everbearing,” that can also produce a fall crop.
Blackberries’ growth habit can be upright or “trailing”, but both need good pruning & trellising. Some varieties are thornless, some will bear in the first season, and some will bear into the fall. They are likely more productive than raspberries in the same amount of space
UK Extension has a rundown of varieties in their fact sheet http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/ho/ho15/ho15.pdf
If your neighbor has some that are performing well, and will offer you some plants from their patch, that will save you some research. Make sure there is no sign of mosaic virus or other disease on the mature plants in the patch. (I often have blackberry and raspberry plants on offer—email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Taking care of your berries
Brambles will tolerate a broad range of soil conditions, but a good scoop of compost is never a bad idea when you plant berries, and again in the fall or winter. If you haven’t had your soil tested, you may want to check to make sure they have enough potassium for good blossoming and fruit production.
Your trellis structure can be as simple as stakes or posts with plain wire, or a length of chicken wire attached to some posts.
Each stem of a raspberry or blackberry plant is called a cane, and canes typically live for two years. Usually they bear fruit on second year canes, and then those canes die back. If you have everbearing raspberries, they will bear in the fall on first year canes, then again next June on the same canes; If you have Primocane-bearing blackberries or raspberries, they will bear on first-year canes (The”primocane” is the first-year cane). They may bear a lighter crop again on second year canes. Dormant season pruning for Primocane plants should remove all the canes and let the plants grow back from ground level. Are you confused? No wonder! For the first several years I would go out to prune with clippers in one hand and instructions in the other. Once you get to know your plants though pruning will become second nature!
For most varieties, pruning should remove those canes that have already borne fruit. For blackberries, dormant season pruning should “head back” remaining canes to about 4’ high (because they fruit on those laterals that grow out from the main cane)
Check out ATTRA’s fact sheet for details about pruning & trellising for different kinds of brambles:
Heavy mulching will benefit any brambles- UK recommends 6-8 inches of deep mulch on raspberries and straw as best for blackberries. Mulching will control weeds (and who wants to weed thorny brambles???) and improve productivity by as much as 100%. Mulching also reduces impacts of Spotted Wing Drosophila.
Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is probably the worst pest to hit your berries. It’s a relatively new, invasive fruit fly. Fortunately, homemade traps with yeast and sugar can be effective in detecting and luring SWD according to a recent Michigan State University report. If you do see little white larvae in your berries, stash your harvest in the fridge or freezer right after picking! https://www.canr.msu.edu/ipm/uploads/files/SWD/SWDOrganicBerryCrops.PDF
Other pests include green June beetles & Japanese beetles. One organic strategy to reduce populations is to sprinkle Milky spore powder around & nearby. This is a fungus that can establish in your soil and will attack the beetle grubs while they’re growing underground.
Cane borers can be recognized by swellings of your canes near the ground. You’ll notice them in the winter& early spring when you’re pruning. Cut the affected canes out and remove them from the premises.
Your efforts will be rewarded not in the first year, but in the second year. And after your plants are established,pay it forward and share them with someone else… or find a lonely chain link fence somewhere and show it some love by planting some berries on it!
Have fun! Good luck! Enjoy the berries!