Who cares about how to grow blackberries?
When we can have a wonderful day out in the countryside picking them for free there does not seem much point in growing them in the garden!
Nevertheless people do just that. Here's why - and how to do it.
Blackberries, as everyone knows, are extremely invasive. They send out massive spiny shoots in spring and summer and positively gobble up available space. Cultivated blackberry plants are no different, except that there are thornless varieties, such as Oregon Thornless, available which make controlling them a little less hazardous.
What sets cultivars apart from the common kinds you find in almost any piece of neglected ground is their harvesting times and their size. Cultivated blackberries can be quite huge - far bigger than most wild ones.
They can also be available rather earlier than most wild blackberries.
And of course, in the centres of most towns you won't find too many bramble patches!
So that's why people grow them.
If you have room in your garden or allotment and you want a challenge, grow some cultivated blackberries.
How to grow blackberries: first a brief round-up of the nutritional benefits of organic blackberries.
Blackberries are a fantastic nutritional resource.
As well as being rich in vitamin C, they contain useful amounts of vitamin E and stacks of phytonutrients such as the anthocyanins which have beneficial anti-cancer properties and which combat ageing. They are also quite a good source of calcium and the soluble fibre they contain helps reduce our cholesterol.
Blackberries contain tannins which have a protective role in keeping tissues taut and helps control bleeding. They can help relieve piles, for example.
There are also phytoestrogens (plant oestrogens) in blackberries which are thought to protect women against cervical and breast cancers.
Quite a health package!
Now here's how to grow blackberries at home for a superb organic crop of fine fruit.
They need free-draining soil, preferably in full sun. They perform best kept in tidy rows. Keep on top of the sprouting and suckering that goes on mainly in spring but which could render your plot invisible in a season or two if left unchecked!
Tie them in to supports and give them a dressing of organic mulch and then all you need do is harvest the bountiful crop, come June or July.
As noted, blackberries will sucker quite freely so it is easy to take a root cutting - or just pull up unwanted suckers from a friend's garden. You can of course buy plants from garden centres and on-line.
Put them in rows, in fertile well-tilled soil and prefer a mildly acid soil (pH 6-6.5) but they are quite accommodating and will even grow in quite chalky soil.
Rows are best kept a good 10 feet (3 metres) apart.
Plants need to be spaced at least two feet apart (30cm) and tied to wires strung between vertical posts. See How to Grow Raspberries for details of how to make suitable posts and wires.
You can send the runners along the wires horizontally, or you can go for a fan-shaped spread from the central plant.
Cut new vertical shoots to about a metre high in summer before fruiting to encourage sideways shoots. After shoots have fruited they can be cut back and the new shoots can be given more space; they will fruit next year. The fruit comes on the second year's growth so be careful not to prune too heavily.
Blackberries can sometimes suffer from mildew. If your growing area is damp or poorly ventilated watch out for this disease. Downy mildew causes rust-like discolouration and can affect the quality of fruit.
Good garden hygiene helps to make infection less likely but if the temperature and air conditions are right it is hard to stop mildew occurring. Plants grown in poly tunnels are less susceptible than plants grown in the open.
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