By late spring to early summer the stems are heavy with ripening blackberries.
The ubiquitous blackberry needs little introduction. Wild blackberries grow almost everywhere in the northern hemisphere except in the deserts, and children of all ages have been picking the sweet fruits since they could walk. The cultivated blackberries, however, could use a little introduction.
Most blackberry cultivars, like their wild relatives, grow as thorny canes, some trailing, others more or less erect. There are thornless varieties, and varieties adapted to most parts of the temperate world. Some cultivars are entirely self-fruitful, and others require a different variety nearby for cross pollination. Important cultivars for southern North America include the thorny varieties 'Oklawaha', 'Flordagrand', 'Chickasaw', 'Kiowa' and 'Brazos', and the thornless cultivars 'Apache', 'Arapaho' and 'Navaho'.
There are many species of wild Rubus growing in temperate climates in the Northern Hemisphere, and a few species found at high elevations in the tropics. The cultivated blackberries of North America have a complex pedigree that includes several American and European species in the subgenus Rubus, within the genus Rubus. Collectively, the cultivated and wild microspecies of subgenus Rubus, the "blackberries", are referred to as Rubus fruticosus. Some wild North American species are: Allegheny blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis); highbush blackberry (R. betulifolius); American dewberry (R. canadensis); sand blackberry R. cuneifolius; northern dewberry (R. flagellaris); swamp blackberry (R. hispidus); and southern dewberry (R. trivialis), all native to eastern North America. Mayes dewberry (R. almus); R. leucodermis; and R. ursinus are native to western North America. The European bramble (Rubus fruticosus) also figured in the development of modern blackberry cultivars, and, as mentioned above, lent its botanical name to the whole group. Commercial production of blackberries in the U.S. is mainly in the Pacific Northwest, Michigan, New York and Arkansas where they are grown primarily for processing into preserves, jams, pies and the like.
Steve grows his blackberries against a 4 ft tall wire fence that permits easy and pain free harvest.
Culture Light: Maximum fruit production comes from berries grown in full sun. Moisture: Blackberries can withstand periods of reduced rainfall, but should get at least an inch (2.5 cm) of rain or irrigation per week when they are developing fruit. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3-9. There are blackberry cultivars adapted to all but the driest temperate climates, and researchers are trying to develop cultivars for the subtropics and tropics. Blackberry blossoms are susceptible to late frosts and freezes, and are damaged by temperatures below 28 F (-2 C). Propagation: Blackberries are very easy to propagate. One way is by tip layering: Remove pieces of canes that have rooted on their tips where they touched the ground. Most cultivars spread by suckering from the roots, and these suckers may be severed from the mother plant. Six inch (15 cm) lengths of roots cut from the mother plant can be planted out.
Selected varieties, like these 'Oklawaha' blackberries produce heavier crops of larger, more uniform fruit compared to wild plants.
A bowl of beautiful blackberries poses for pictures just prior to becoming pie.
Once picked, blackberries deteriorate rapidly and so are not generally suitable for shipping to distant markets. Wild blackberries are harvested everywhere they occur, but if you want truly great tasting, easy-to-pick, uniformly large berries, you need to grow one or more of the cultivars that have been developed for the home gardener. Blackberries are easy to grow. They are perennial plants that live for many years. They produce their flowers and fruits on canes (called floricanes) that were formed the previous year. The floricanes die back after fruiting and new primocanes replace them. The primocanes may be cut back near their tips to encourage branching, but this must be done well before winter dormancy since the flower buds for the next season will have already formed by then. Some authorities recommend cutting out the floricanes after harvesting the fruit. Others advise mowing the whole crop after harvest, which would include the developing primocanes too. I don't prune mine at all and I get great yields every year. (Cardinals nest in the tangled jungle of old and new canes.) The trailing blackberry varieties especially, and even the semi-erect types should be trellised. I grow mine on a 4' (120 cm) high fence of chicken wire, periodically donning gloves and training the crop by pushing primocane tips through the fence.
Among the more than 250 species in the genus Rubus, are several grown not for their fruit, but for their ornamental values including beautiful and fragrant flowers, handsome foliage and even showy stems. Many of the ornamental Rubus come from China.
Raspberries belong to the subgenus Idaeobatus, and differ from blackberries in that the fruit, when picked, separates readily from the receptacle, as opposed to blackberries in which the receptacle remains attached to the fruit and is consumed along with it. The typical red raspberry of North America and Europe is Rubus idaeus. Loganberries are hybrids between blackberries and raspberries.