Blackberries are a wonderful, native crop that have certainly come a long way. Related to the dewberries, blackberries have been developed to be disease resistant, grow upright, and many types are also thornless.
Blackberries are an excellent fruiting plant for Texas home landscapes. They are relatively easy to grow in small areas, they tolerate hot Texas summers well, and they bear good fruit in late spring thru mid-summer. And now there are some more recently developed varieties that can even be harvested in the fall.
The modern, cultivated blackberry has been improved over it’s wild southern dewberry relative. Some blackberry varieties will get as large as your thumb and are consistently sweet. Diseases that would render may plantings sterile are now kept at bay.
Historically, all blackberries were biennial plants: growing vegetative canes (primocanes) the first year that then flower and bear fruit the second year (floricanes). As the floricanes are blooming and bearing fruit, new primocanes are growing up to get ready for the next year.
Yet in the last few years, researchers from the University of Arkansas have developed some blackberries that can bloom and fruit on the cane’s first year of growth. And even more surprising, they’ll bloom and bear fruit in the fall!
Traditional blackberry varieties that are upright, thornless, and bear in the spring and are well adapted to our area include Apache, Arapaho, Natchez, Navaho, and Ouachita. Like other fruits, chilling hours (a measurement of the amount of cold weather we get in the winter) is important to look at.
Apache, and Navaho require 800 chilling hours before blooming at full production. Arapaho and Natchez require 500 hours. The newest variety, Ouachita, needs only 300 chilling hours and looks very promising for us.
Angelina County typically falls into the 400 to 600-hour range. Of course, the amount of cold weather we get varies from year to year.
If you want to experiment with one of the primocane bearing varieties, try Prime0-Ark 45. This variety will have thorns but seems better adapted to our hot summers. It is expected to bear fruit on the primocanes (first year) in August to September and then the following years on the floricanes in May or June.
Irrigation is key for blackberries to grow well. Begin irrigating in March paying close attention to soil moisture during bloom and early fruit development. Continue watering through the harvest period and only reduce it in September when the newer primocanes canes need to harden off for the winter.
There are two kinds of pruning to do on blackberry plants. Most importantly is removal of spent floricanes. Leaving floricanes in the planting will harbor insects and disease. After removing the spent
canes, you can vastly increase the following year’s harvest by “tip-pruning” the new, growing primocanes.
Tip pruning will remove the top few inches of growth when the canes reach a height of about 4-5 feet. The height depends upon personal preference, but the lateral growth off the main stem should greatly increase. It is on these lateral stems that you will see many more fruit.
Some folks do have a trellis to which they attach the canes. While not absolutely needed on erect-growing varieties, it could keep the heavy, fruit-laden vegetation upright and from drooping onto the ground.
Weed control is a must and is typically difficult to do. Effective weed control is achieved with the addition of mulch. Both organic and fabric mulches help retain soil moisture and cool the soil in the summer, which enhance plant growth and development.
Pests such as insects and disease will be dramatically minimized with proper pruning and trellising.
You can find local blackberries that are ripe right now! Look for local growers by looking up blackberries for sale on social media, and local trade periodicals.
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.