Blackberries & Hybrid Berries Growing Guide
Blackberries & Hybrid Berries Growing Guide
Many of us carry fond childhood memories of hunting for shiny, plump blackberries on countryside walks. Timing was of the essence: pick them too soon and you’d be left with a bitter harvest: too late, and they’d have shrivelled up. But get it right and a sweetly flavoured crop was yours for the taking – along with the resulting purple-stained fingers!
With such an abundance of wild blackberries, growing these tasty natives might not seem worthwhile, but varieties bred for the garden will be more likely to provide a sweet treat without the viciously sprawling arched stems of their wild cousins. Many modern cultivars are thornless, which means you can collect the fruits without getting scratched. And why stop with blackberries? They have been crossed with raspberries and other brambles such as the dewberry to create a whole range of hybrid offspring. These vary in their taste, size and colour, but all offer a real burst of flavour. Options include the tayberry, loganberry and boysenberry – though you’ll find plenty of others to choose from, too.
While hybrid berries prefer a sunny position, blackberries are vigorous enough to be grown in partial shade, even on a north- or east-facing wall where few other edible crops are suitable. Train them along horizontal wires or fanned out across a fence or wall for best effect. With their easyto- care for, prolific nature, new berry growers won’t regret making room for these soft fruits.
How to grow Blackberries & Hybrid Berries
For those wondering ‘where do blackberry bushes grow?’ the good news is that they are vigorous enough to be grown in partial shade, even on a north- or east-facing wall where few other edible crops are suitable. Train them along horizontal wires or fanned out across a fence or wall for best effect. With their easy to care for, prolific nature, new berry growers won’t regret making room for these soft fruits. You can also grow them in raised beds.
Blackberries are one of the most accommodating fruits you can plant and require no special treatment. They will cope with just about any soil, although hybrids prefer one that is on the acid side of neutral. If your earth is alkaline, improve it by adding sulphur chips prior to planting.
Prepare the ground about a month before planting by cultivating it thoroughly. First, clear a patch that is at least 60cm square, then dig down to a spade’s depth, excavating the soil and putting it to one side.
How deep do blackberry roots grow? They are quite shallow and will usually not go much deeper than 10 inches, so a bed of this depth will be absolutely fine.
Next, add a 5-7cm layer of well-rotted organic matter and replace the earth. This will leave a slightly raised profile and a layer of goodness for roots to reach down to. If your soil is poor, improve the section above this layer by forking in some chicken manure pellets or a similar organic fertiliser for a further boost.
If you are looking at growing blackberries in pots, this is certainly possible, but do make sure you are looking for dwarfing varieties, or those bred to be suitable for container growing. If you have some undercover space, you don’t need to take up space with these plants - growing blackberries in a greenhouse, or growing blackberries indoors isn’t necessary, as they are hardy and can cope with outdoor conditions.
The blackberry and all its hybrids are self fertile, which means they will pollinate themselves. While you can get away with growing a single plant on its own, it can be more rewarding to cultivate a few different strains and hybrids to develop your own healthy pick-and-mix. Always leave plenty of room between them – up to 4m depending on the variety you are planting – as this will discourage competition for space and water.
Growing blackberries from seed
It is possible to start growing blackberries from seed, but it isn’t commonly practised, as the fruits will rarely be true to the parent type. You are better off starting with a young blackberry bush from a reputable nursery, which will yield far better results.
Therefore, it is also unlikely that you will get good results growing blackberries from blackberries either - but if you are just experimenting for fun, why not give it a go? Just put the seeds in some good quality potting soil, keep them warm and the soil moist.
Growing blackberries in containers
Both blackberries and hybrid berries are available as bare-root plants – or canes – and in containers. Those in pots may be set into place at any time of year (this is if you are growing blackberries in pots UK-wise), but bare-rooted types should be planted between the end of October and the beginning of spring. Late February to March is a good time, as the soil will soon be warming up and canes ready to start growing.
You need a suitable support framework in place before planting. Stretch heavy-duty galvanised wires horizontally along a fence or wall using vine eye screws, or between freestanding posts. Set the first wire 60cm above ground level then space each successive one 30cm from the next so that the tallest is 180cm above the soil.
Free-standing post-and-wire structures allow you to pick the crop from both sides and offer plenty of air circulation, while fence supports will save space and prove an attractive feature in spring when the white or pink flowers cover the canes. Make sure posts are buried at least 60cm into the ground and give them further rigidity by hammering a supporting corner strut at a 45 degree angle to each one – this will keep them secure in heavy winds.
To plant, simply dig out the prepared soil to allow plenty of room. Bare-root canes will need their roots carefully spread out so they can quickly begin growing. Fill back the earth so that the ground level is at the top of the dark soil line on the bare canes. Firm the ground down with your heel and then water.
Container plants will need to have their roots teased away from the outside of the rootball. Cut bare-root canes back to about 22cm tall once you’ve set them in the soil and apply a generous mulch of organic matter around their base to lock in moisture and keep weeds down.
Growing Blackberries & Hybrid Berries month-by-month
Start preparing the ground for new canes if you haven't already done so. Dig organic matter, such as garden compost, into the growing area.
Prepare the ground ready for planting. Add a base layer of well-rotted organic matter to your growing area.
This is a good month for planting your blackberry canes. Set them 3-4m apart, depending on the vigour of the variety you've chosen. Only buy certified disease-free
Finish applying mulches around established plants to lock in moisture and suppress weed growth. Water new canes in dry weather to help them grow.
This peak-flowering month will see valuable pollinating insect life attracted onto your plot, bringing benefits to other crops.
Fasten new growth to horizontal wires as it appears. Tie in three to four canes per wire to allow enough air to circulate around the canes and avoid overcrowding.
Begin picking the first berries towards the end of the month. Wait until they have assumed their final colour before harvesting the mature fruits.
The main berry-picking month sees an almost constant supply of sweet treats. Pick your berries when they are dry.
Continue collecting your fruit. The new autumn catalogues will be stocked with berries for you to try. Order in canes for planting later on in the autumn.
Cut back all fruited canes to ground level. This will leave just the new growth on each plant, which will produce a crop of berries next season.
Begin planting bare-root canes this month. Continue throughout the autumn as long as the ground is workable.
Check supports to make sure they are in good order for the following year. Tighten vine eye screws to keep horizontal wires taut and ready to support the canes.
Caring for your Blackberries & Hybrid Berries plants + problems
Blackberries and hybrid berries do not require any pampering.
Keep plants watered in their first year, especially during a hot summer, though after a full growing season they shouldn’t require irrigation if they are properly mulched each spring. Use any organic matter for this purpose and extend it out to cover a wide area of ground surrounding each set of canes. The mulch will rot down over time to feed the crop and increase yields.
Dig out and cut down any canes that emerge away from the main cluster, and keep the ground weed-free by pulling up any unwanted plants that make it through the mulch. If yields begin to drop off then add more organic matter to the soil surface or tease in a good handful of chicken manure pellets for each plant. There is little need to use netting as there are usually enough berries that a few losses to birds won’t put a significant dent in your harvest.
Plants should remain productive for at least ten years and often 20, so it will be a while before you need to replace your canes. If you want to boost your stock, additions can be raised from healthy, disease-free growth by bending down a cane and burying the tip 25cm into the ground. Firm the soil back around the tip; the cane may need pinning down to keep it place. Do this in late summer and by November it should have rooted. At this stage, cut away the parent cane to leave a 30cm rooted length behind. Replant the fresh growth into its new home the following spring.
Growing Peas: Problems to watch for
How to harvest Blackberries & Hybrid Berries
Unlike many fruit, blackberries and hybrid berries are produced in succession over a number of weeks, lessening the chance of a glut.
Pick them as they reach their final colour. Be gentle when harvesting, as the berries easily bruise; reduce handling to a minimum and they will keep for longer. Wet berries are more likely to go mouldy, so try to collect them when dry. The first fruits will be ready from the end of July with the last taken from the canes in October. Enjoy the berries fresh or freeze them for later use.
Varieties of Blackberries & Hybrid Berries
Blackberries & Hybrid Berries varieties to try
Lowberry 'Little Black Prince'
This thornless blackberry bush provides large, glossy and sweet fruits on a compact plant. If you are keen to start growing blackberries in containers, this is the perfect blackberry plant for you!
Easy to grow, and fruiting in its first year, this sweet, heavy-cropping blackberry is self-fertile, and grows on space-saving, upright canes, with an eventual spread of just 1.2m.
An early-fruiting type, this blackberry variety offers large, soft fruits with good flavour. It is a vigorous type, so not suitable for small gardens, but grows well trained against a fence or a garden wall.