Blackberries and hybrid berries

Cultivated blackberries and hybrid berries are more productive and better behaved than their wild relatives, and can be trained in a variety of ways. Blackberries and hybrid berries can ramble over arches, pergolas, trellis and along wires on walls and fences.

If you are short on space there are compact, thornless types of blackberry that will grow perfectly well in containers.

Jobs to do now

  • Harvest fruit
  • Cover with nets to prevent birds stripping the fruit

Month by month

Grow

Grow

In mid-spring, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4. Scatter one and a half handfuls per square metre/yard around the base.

Apply a 7cm (3in) organic mulch annually. Make sure the mulch is placed 5cm (2in) away from the new canes and the crown, to prevent rotting.

Water young plants every 7-10 days during dry spells. While mature plants shouldn’t need extra watering, their fruit size will benefit from watering every 10-14 days if the summer is particularly dry.

Pruning and training

Blackberries are vigorous and need regular pruning and training. Regularly tie in the shoots of newly-planted canes. Once these reach their first winter, cut back all sideshoots produced on these main canes to 5cm (2in). It is mainly from the resulting fruiting spurs that flowers are formed.

In the second year after planting the crown will throw up new canes from ground level. Loosely bundle these together; insert four bamboo canes in a square vertically around the crown and pull the new canes into the centre; then tie some sturdy twine around the square to hold the new canes in place.

Remove the one-year-old canes once they have fruited by pruning them into shorter sections with loppers, then extracting them carefully to prevent their thorns snagging on new canes. Then untie the twine around the new canes and train them along the wires.

Plant

Blackberries can tolerate light shade, but they will be more productive in a sunny, sheltered site. They prefer moisture-retentive, but free-draining soil. If you have chalky, sandy, or heavy clay soil, improve with plenty of bulky organic matter (two bucketfuls per sq m) before planting.

They are usually bought as container-grown plants. A single plant can be incredibly productive, but if you plant more make sure they have plenty of room. Spacing depends on the vigour of the cultivar, ranging from 2.5m (8ft) to 4.5m (13ft) apart. When planting, cover the rootball with about 8cm (3in) of soil.

Vigorous cultivars need a sturdy support system. Use a wall or fence, 1.5-2m (5ft - 6ft 6in) high, with horizontal wires spaced 45cm (18in) apart, with the lowest wire 23cm (9in) from the ground. Alternatively, run the wires between two strong vertical posts.

After planting cut down all canes to a healthy bud. This may seem drastic, but it will ensure plants throw up lots of vigorous, healthy shoots in spring.

Common problems

Birds
Birds

Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.

Remedy

Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.

Leafhoppers
Leafhoppers

The jumping, light green insects, roughly 3mm (1⁄8in) long, may occur on plants in sheltered sites, causing white flecking on the leaves.

Remedy

Control measures are not necessary.

Harvesting

Harvesting

The berries start to ripen from mid-summer onwards. They’re best picked as soon as they’re ripe, when richly coloured, plump and juicy, then either eaten fresh, frozen or used in jams, jellies and other cooking.

Recipes

Mary Berry suggests this light fruit pear and blackberry dessert after a heavy main course.

Recommended Varieties

Loganberries — mid-summer to early autumn

Tayberries — mid to late summer

Get involved

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