Some of my favorite memories as a kid revolve around the garden, especially during this time of year when the blackberries are ready.  We had a good patch of wild blackberries on the back fence of our place in Comanche County, and we spent evenings picking berries with a one-gallon ice cream bucket in hand.  About half the berries went in the bucket and the other half were eaten while we picked.

Later, my dad planted two 50-foot rows of blackberries in the garden, and we spent many hours picking, freezing, and making jam.  I also got to help dad prune back the canes, and we both looked like we lost a fight with a pack of cats.

This year, I have been fortunate enough to find some wild blackberries, or dewberries, and I have enjoyed a pie and some jelly from the harvest.  It is hard to beat a piece of blackberry pie and some BlueBell ice cream.

Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) are in the rose family, and they are a great fruit crop in Texas.  The cultivated varieties that we grow today are an improved form of the wild southern blackberries, also known as dewberries.  Dewberries typically grow on trailing stems along the ground with small fruit, and the improved varieties of blackberries have more upright canes, larger fruit, and produce later into the summer and even fall.  Fortunately, some newer varieties of blackberries are thornless.  I wish those had been around when my dad planted the garden years ago.

Blackberries grow best in sandy soil with a pH of 4.5 to 7.5.  In our part of Texas with clay soils and high pH, we have to work a little harder to get a good crop, but it can be done.  Blackberries can be grown in soils that are at least one foot deep and have good drainage.  Consider planting blackberries in a raised bed or on a berm and amend the soil with compost to improve drainage.  Blackberries can show iron chlorosis if the soil pH is over 8.0, but this can be corrected with applications of iron chelate or foliar iron sprays.

Blackberries are a perennial crop that can grow for many years.  They are typically planted as bare root plants in the winter, but container plants are becoming more available and can be planted in early spring.  Plant two to three feet apart in the row and allow at least eight feet between rows.  The first year, the plants will grow prima canes that are only leafy, vegetative growth.  The next year, they will produce floricanes, and these canes will flower and produce fruit in May.  After fruiting, the floricanes will die and should be pruned to the ground.

Irrigation is important for blackberries, and drip irrigation lines installed at planting time are the easiest and most efficient way to water. Use a thick layer of mulch to slow the growth of weeds and apply nitrogen fertilizer along the row beginning at bloom.

We are fortunate to have several great varieties of blackberries that do well in Texas.  Natchez is a thornless blackberry that was just named a Texas Superstar for its large, abundant berry.  Brison is a thorny variety released by Texas A&M in 1977 that has done well on blackland clay soils, and Kiowa is recognized as one of the top-performing thorny berries in Texas.

For more information about lawn and garden topics, contact Kate Whitney, Horticulture Extension Agent, at 512-943-3300.

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