What plant can be used as a hedge and impermeable barrier
all year long, yet produces showy blooms in April and fruit
in May? What plant is practically immune to the problems of
insects and disease, yet produces one of the best jelly, jam,
juice, pie, cobbler and wine fruits known to man? The only
fruit which can boast all of these attributes is a berry which
is black—commonly referred to as the blackberry.
As a boy hunting in the woods of Tennessee, I never thought
that I would someday praise those thorny culprits that tore
my clothes, ripped my flesh and taught me to curse proficiently.
But the blackberry is probably the easiest to culture, most
productive, most versatile fruit in existence. These claims
are easily substantiated when one considers the vim and vigor
of wild plants that receive no culture.
Originally, when North America was settled, there were only
a few distinct species of blackberries, and since the land
was heavily forested, they were not abundant. As forests were
cut and cleared for pasture and meadow, blackberries spread
and there were opportunities for seedlings of different species
to grow side by side.
This allowed bees and other insects to cross-pollinate the
plants. Thus, man actually started a vast blackberry-breeding
project. For the last 150 years, man has been cashing in on
this project by selecting the best of the wild hybrids and
trying them under cultivation.
In 1959, plant breeders at Texas A&M released the most
productive, most adaptive blackberry variety ever grown in
the southwest. The Brazos blackberry variety resulted from
a cross of high quality blackberries with dewberries and raspberries.
Ironically, Texas A&M plant breeders improved upon the
perfection of the Brazos by using it as a parent to produce
three newer varieties--Rosborough, Brison, and Womack. These
varieties have the many favorable assets of their Brazos parent,
yet are firmer and less tart. The Rosborough seems to be the
most adapted, highest quality improvement. But then Arkansas
breeders entered the contest to beat Brazos and now REALLY
GOOD THINGS HAVE HAPPENED. The Kiowa blackberry is, to date,
the most significant improvement over Brazos. I never thought
I would say it but Kiowa is BETTER than Brazos. Another thorny
blackberry which is comparable is another Arkansas variety
named ‘Chickasaw’. The best thorny varieties in
order of preference are Kiowa, Brazos, Rosborough and Chickasaw.
The vicious thorns have always hindered the city folks from
want to try blackberries. There are some thornless varieties
but until recently they have been of poor quality. Two great
thornless varieties out of the Arkansas program include Apache
and Arapaho. Apache is the best overall but both would be
Most fruit require thinning to insure a large, quality product.
Most multi-harvest fruits and berries, such as strawberries,
tend to produce the best fruit first. Not the blackberry.
Usually the fruit are the same from the beginning to the end
if adequate watering is maintained.
The four recommended vanities are blackberries and not dewberries.
There is a difference! While blackberries have been divided
into hundreds of species, two major types occur. These are
the upright growing forms and the prostrate, or trailing,
forms often called dewberries. How this name originated is
uncertain. Perhaps it was because the berries frequently were
covered with dew when gathered.
The upright berries not only have stiff, erect canes, but
they also are very thorny. They propagate by suckers or sprouts
from the roots. In contrast, the trailing blackberries of
America have slender canes, that strike root and establish
new plants if they come in contact with the soil,. In general,
the upright forms such as the Brazos have a strong flavor,
with a somewhat tart after taste. The flavor of the trailing
forms are usually milder.
Other types of high quality trailing types of blackberries
have been widely grown. These include the Youngberry (a Louisiana
berry which is sweeter but not as productive as other varieties),
the Loganberry (the oldest of the trailing blackberry varieties
for the Pacific Coast) and the thornless Boysenberry (a vigorous
variety which produces a large, long, dark reddish black berry
and has been shown to be productive in this area. Plants must
What about raspberries? Blackberries are distinguished from
raspberries in that when raspberries are harvested, the fruit
has a hollow center caused by removal from the stem core,
while blackberries do not. Unfortunately, raspberries are
not well adapted to South Texas growing conditions. They are
extremely susceptible to iron chlorosis (yellowing of foliage)
and will not tolerate the hot air and soil temperatures of
Texas summers. A fungus disease named anthracnose will also
destroy plantings. For these reasons, raspberries should not
be planted if an abundant crop is expected. If you just have
to try one, get the Dorman Red variety. It may not be the
best tasting raspberry, but it will live a day or two! Mulching
during the summer helps.
If blackberries are such a productive, easy-to-grow berry,
why doesn't every gardener have some? First of all, many gardeners
may not have a location that receives sunlight for at least
10 hours each day. Shade limits the productiveness of the
otherwise magnificent blackberries.
Secondly, most gardeners allow the rampant growth of their
vigorous blackberries to become weed-like rather than productively
controlled. Blackberry fruit is produced by one-year-old canes.
After the one-year-old canes have produced a crop, they decline
in vigor or die, and should be removed after all berries have
been harvested in June. Even as blackberries are ripening
this year's crop, it's time to prune them for next year. The
berries that ripened earlier this year are borne on one-year-old
canes referred to as "floricanes". "Prima-canes"
–the canes that will be next year's fruiting floricanes
–emerged from the ground earlier this spring and in
many cases are now five or six feet long. These new canes
are readily distinguishable since they have no berries on
them and they have larger leaves than the present fruiting
The prima-canes in erect blackberry varieties are very erect
and not branched. Top them now at three to four feet above
the ground to force them to branch and develop a hedge shape.
Left unpruned, the prima-canes will become somewhat unmanageable.
Cutting back the primocanes now will also temporarily remove
one of the thorny hazards confronted while trying to harvest
this year's crop.
One or two more prunings will be needed this summer on vigorously
growing blackberry prima-canes. The ideal goal is to have
a much-branched, rounded, or box-shaped hedge no more than
four and a half feet tall and three feet wide by October.
Blackberry hedge-rows that have become too tall need to
be shortened after harvest is completed. One way to do this
is to cut all the canes back to two or three feet high with
pruning shears, a hedge trimmer, etc. An alternate, more severe
after-harvest pruning scheme is to simply mow all the canes
to the ground. This requires a tractor and shredder and is
a method commonly used by commercial berry growers to rid
themselves of dead flori-canes. Growers who install trellis
wires in erect blackberries limit their pruning options.
Irrigation and good weed control are necessary to produce
sufficient re-growth for a good crop the next year if after-harvest
mowing is done.
Trailing blackberry varieties such as Boysenberry or Thornless
Boysenberry and Dorman Red raspberry produce new prima-canes
that trail on the ground. Leave these canes on the ground
at least until after berries on the fruiting canes are harvested.
Then the old fruiting canes can be cut off and replaced on
the trellis with the new prima-canes.
With proper spring and summer pruning, blackberries will
be more manageable and more productive and little or no winter
pruning will be necessary.
Blackberries are truly a Southern crop. They are adapted
and productive. Kiowa, Brazos and Rosborough are the champions
of these brambles. If you have an area that would be suitable
for a bramble hedge, transplant plants or root cuttings three
feet apart in rows now to insure an abundant production of
luscious berries next year.
For more information about growing blackberries, see: