Are you ready for the best blackberry harvest of your life? Figuring out how to prune blackberries the right way is what is holding you back from a bountiful growing season.
Pruning blackberries is essential to keep them from becoming overgrown, which makes the entire plant unmanageable. When you save the brambles from overgrowing, you increase your yields and help make the blackberry canes stronger and healthier for the following year.
Knowing when to prune blackberry bushes isn’t an exact science. You have to pay attention to the plants and look for the signs indicating that they’re ready. Once you establish your patch, you can grow different cultivars and produce fruit with a similar flavor but subtle differences.
About Blackberry Bushes
You’ll get to turn your fruits into treats and then share them with friends, family, and your community. Keep reading if you’re ready to learn more about growing and pruning blackberry bushes the best way possible.
There’s no better feeling than successfully growing plump, juicy blackberries in your very own garden bed or backyard. Are mulberries blackberries? No, but they taste great in their own right. Blackberries have a fantastic flavor that is sweet and tart.
For some reason, many gardeners shy away from growing fruits in their beds. However, these crops are easy to grow once you get a good understanding of their essential needs.
Blackberries come from the Rosaceae family and are related to roses, raspberries, and apple trees. Their fruiting bodies are sweet, but their blackberry canes are often thorny and grow in a tangled design. The growing patterns are usually either semi-erect, erect, or trailing.
Erect varieties are upright bushes that require no support. They are hardier in the winter compared to the other types and produce larger and sweeter berries.
Semi-erect types are bushes and either thorny or thornless varieties. They require some support, like a trellis, and create more berries than erect ones. Grow sweet blackberries like these that are much more tart.
Lastly are the trailing berries that grow at ground level on vines and have either thorny or thornless blackberries. They are the least winter-hardy types but they produce high yields of juicy blackberry varieties.
Believe it or not, the berries are not true fruits. They are aggregate fruits made up of small drupelets that keep their core intact when we pick them at the end of the growing season.
Blackberries are perennial plants and won’t grow the first year on their first-year canes. Instead, the fruits grow on biennial canes or second-year canes.
There are many different blackberry varieties to choose from. Among them, one of the most popular cultivars is the Allegheny or highbush blackberry. This variety is an erect species that grows up to eight feet tall and five feet wide.
It grows in the wild in central and eastern parts of the United States and thrives in open meadows, fields, forests, and along fences. They bloom with small white flowers and fruiting canes from June to August.
The Sawtooth blackberry plant is native to the eastern and southern areas of the United States. It doesn’t grow as tall as highbush varieties, and it is semi-erect.
It reaches six feet tall, and the white flowers bloom in the late spring, with berries showing up during the summer. These fruits are lighter and more tart.
Armenian blackberry plants are native to northern Iran but are now grown all over the world. These semi-erect plants grow nine feet tall before arching back toward the ground to create a trailing effect.
They are most common in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Some people consider it invasive because of how quickly it spreads. These blackberry cultivars have pink or white flowers, and the fruits develop in late summer.
Evergreen blackberries are easy to distinguish because their leaves have sharp, pointed lobes. They have been naturalized in the Midwest and are considered invasive. These bushes are upright sprawling bushes and bear fruit from June to September.
The Pacific blackberry is a trailing species that spreads six feet wide and five feet tall. The white flowers have narrow petals compared to other common species. The berries are also more cylindrical than the others.
How to Grow Blackberries
There are several different ways to grow blackberry plants. How do you know if you have a blackberry or black raspberry bush? The tag attached gives guidance.
The easiest method for growing blackberries is to buy bare roots or young plants from a nursery and bury them in fertile soil in early spring. However, there are ways to grow them from a cutting or by tip rooting, too.
Bare roots are always sold in the late winter and early spring, which is also the best time to plant them. Before you bury the plant in the ground, prep the bare root by soaking it in room temperature water for two hours to help restore the root’s moisture.
While it soaks, dig a trench that is three inches deep and eight inches wide. Add a few handfuls of manure or compost to the site to keep the soil rich. Place the root inside the trench and fan out the roots out to keep them from knotting together and to promote airflow.
Backfill the trench with more soil and water it thoroughly. Continue to water once or twice a week. Green lateral shoots start to appear in about four weeks.
Propagating from cuttings is simple. Use sharp pruners to remove cuttings from a healthy plant between the spring and fall while actively growing.
New shoots that you take usually don’t have flowers or fruits on them and should be about six inches long.
Remove the remaining branch leaves from the bottom inch of the cutting and bury them two inches deep in a potting mix. Water the cutting regularly until new leaves grow after about six weeks.
Tip rooting happens when trailing berry vines or arching new canes touch the ground. The vines grow roots into the earth and send out runners.
To mimic this, prepare a four-inch-wide container with potting soil and bend a vine into the potting mix. Cover it with two inches of soil and water the buried top once per week or whenever the soil is dry. Secure the tip with a rock for a couple of weeks until it grows roots.
Transplants are some of the easiest to work with. Very carefully remove the existing plant from its container and bury it in its new home. Backfill the area with rich soil and water it thoroughly whenever the soil is dry.
Caring for Blackberries
Give your blackberry plants a dose of fertilizer every spring. Water the bushes one to two times per week, depending on the rain activity in your area.
Once the fruits form, the plants require more water. Depending on the growing variety, you may need to put a trellis or other support system in place. Cover the area with straw mulch in the winter if you live where it snows.
How to Prune Blackberries
Like when you trim a raspberry bush, knowing when to prune blackberries is only one part of the fun. You must also understand how these plants grow to be successful with pruning blackberries.
Primocanes and Floricanes
Knowing when to trim blackberries requires you to understand the difference between primocanes and floricanes. Even though blackberries are perennials, each of the lateral branches is biennial and only grows fruit every second year on new canes.
Old canes usually bear fruit instead of new primocanes. When fruiting canes are set, they do not produce berries again.
The first-year shoots are called primocanes. These are fast growers with many side branches and lots of developing buds. Floricanes are second-year shoots that are woodier and blossom in the spring.
They only die back once harvested. Mature plants have both primocanes and floricanes at the same time.
Prune the first-year primocanes during late winter or spring to help encourage healthy plant growth and improve the fruiting canes.
Prune second-year floricanes in the fall to promote new shoots and remove dead canes or diseased canes from the previous year. Only use sharp, clean shears when pruning blackberries.
The year after planting, make sure to remove damaged or disease side branches, whether you prune blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries. Thin the first-year canes back in early spring so that there are only four or six on every plant. Cut the tips of the primocanes off when they are a few feet tall before they flower.
When to Prune Blackberry Bushes
The best time to trim blackberry bushes is after you have harvested the berries in late summer. Once your fruit has finished ripening, use only clean and sharp pruners to cut the two-year-old canes down to the ground.
Remove the cut branches from your garden beds completely. Always wear long sleeves and gardening gloves, especially if you are working with some of the thorny varieties!
While you might have gotten the hang of pruning blackberry plants, don’t get too scissor-happy. Keep the shrubs trimmed to minimize trouble with harvesting down the road. The better you prune, the more berries you have the following year.
Wait until the berries turn from green to bright red to deep purple. Grab a pair of gloves and head out to the garden with a bucket. Pick the berries that are dark purple and ripe.
The best time to harvest them is in the early morning before the heat softens or stresses them out. Put the ripe berries in your bucket, or pop a few in your mouth.
Refrain from washing them until ready to use. You may store blackberries in a shallow container covered with plastic wrap in the fridge for up to a week before spoiling.
Cooking with Blackberries
There is no true limit when it comes to cooking with homegrown blackberries. While you spent a lot of time learning when to prune blackberry bushes, you might want to focus on using the fruits in a way that lasts a while.
You may can them and store them in a cool, dry place or get their freshest flavor by turning them into a pie. The sky really is the limit when cooking with crops from your own garden.
Heat your kitchen oven to 375°F. Grab your food processor and pulse the three cups of flour with 1 cup of sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and lemon zest. Add the butter, egg, and vanilla to the bowl and pulse until the dough looks crumbly.
Pat half of your dough into the bottom of a greased pan and set aside the rest for later. In a medium mixing bowl, stir half a cup of sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Gently fold in the blackberries, and then sprinkle the blackberry mix evenly over your crust.
Crumble the remaining dough over the top of the berry mixture. Bake everything for 45 minutes or until the top is lightly brown. Allow everything to cool completely before cutting it into equal-sized squares. Store the pie bars in an airtight container for up to three days.
Having a few how-to-prune-blackberries tips up your sleeve is the best way to ensure that these complicated crops stay healthy and continue to produce berries for you year after year.
While they are a bit more confusing than some of the veggies you grow in your garden beds, they are well worth the work. Aside from pruning them a few times throughout the growing season, there isn’t much more work involved.
If you put in the time and effort to understand how blackberry bushes grow, it won’t take you too long to catch on and grow large, juicy berries every single year.
If learning how to prune blackberries to make healthier plants has improved your yields this season, share these directions for pruning blackberries on Facebook and Pinterest.