Better Blackberries for Your Garden

You can save yourself time and money by growing blackberries in your own garden.

blackberries in sabayon in cups
Photo: Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Emily Nabors Hall, Prop Stylist Audrey Davis

They may not be famous like Lewis and Clark. But for people who love blackberries, Jim Moore and John Clark of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station have blazed a trail just as important. They've developed new blackberry types that are ideal for the home garden. Some don't have any thorns. And one produces fruit so big that a falling berry could dent your car.

Why grow blackberries at home? Well, for one thing, blackberries sold at the supermarket cost about the same as cosmetic surgery. For another, picking berries in the wild means cloaking yourself in long sleeves and pants in the heat of summer to ward off ticks, chiggers, and mosquitoes.

So let's talk about homegrown blackberries. The three Moore and Clark selections currently generating the most buzz are Arapaho, Navaho, and Kiowa. Arapaho and Navaho are thornless, grow well as far south as northern Florida, produce upright canes for easy picking, and show good disease resistance. These and other thornless selections don't spread as aggressively as thorny types. Jim rates Navaho as the best-tasting new blackberry. Arapaho runs a close second, but it ripens earlier and has smaller seeds.

Kiowa, a thorny, upright type, may very well be the biggest blackberry in the world. To give you some idea of the size, it takes more than 400 Navaho blackberries (the ones shown in the photo above) to make a pound. It takes only 70 from Kiowa. Kiowa also appears to need even less winter chilling and fruits well in Central Florida.

Berry Basics

Blackberries are easy to grow, requiring only sun and well-drained soil. Upright types don't need staking and generally do better in the South than trailing ones. Late winter and early spring are good times to plant. Space plants 3' to 4' feet apart. A half-dozen plants are plenty to start with for a family of four. Keep them well watered the first year. After that, they tolerate drought, but benefit from moist soil while bearing fruit.

Blackberry canes are biennial--they grow the first year, flower and fruit the second, then die. Dead canes can harbor disease, so prune any fruiting canes to the ground as soon as you finish picking the berries. New canes will soon replace them. Jim also recommends spraying the bushes with lime-sulfur at bud break each spring to prevent disease.

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