Over the past few weeks it’s been open season on blackberries. These delicious native North American fruits—chock-full of antioxidants— are ripe and ready for picking. These low maintenance fruits have the shortest shelf-life of any small fruit, which makes them suitable for home gardens and landscapes.
Southern gardeners can grow thorny or thornless semitrailing or erect blackberries. Semitrailing blackberries typically ripen a month later than early to midseason erect thorny blackberries, and require support.
Blackberries have an interesting growth habit. In the spring the newly emerging shoots are called primocanes. In their second season these overwintered shoots are called floricanes. They produce fruit and eventually die. These spent floricanes should be removed to provide room for primocanes and to eliminate any harboring insects or diseases.
The lines between primocanes and floricanse have been blurred with the introduction of primocane-bearing blackberries. Bred by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture fruit breeding program, APF-12 [Prime-Jim®], APF-8 [Prime-Jan®], and ‘APF-45’ [Prime-Ark® 45] also bear fruit on floricanes. One caveat when growing these primocane-bearing cultivars is that high temperatures (> 85 degrees F) reduce fruit set, size, and quality.
Consult your local Cooperative Extension office for a list of recommended blackberry cultivars for your region (e.g., North Carolina and Georgia). Also, see the Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium for additional informationon growing small fruits in the Southeast.
Besides their fruit, consider their functionality in the landscape. Upright or erect blackberries make suitable hedges or deciduous screens. The white and pink flowers of ‘Chester’ and ‘Hull’ semitrailing thornless blackberries look attractive on an espalier or draped over a split rail fence. Fathers with daughters should remember the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty, and the Prince’s encounter with brambles. Potential suitors will be stymied with a dense planting of thorny ’Choctaw’ or ‘Kiowa’ blackberries. Ask the Prince.