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(Species: Rubus fruticosus - Family: Rosaceae)
Blackberry and its origins
Blackberry picking from hedgerows is one of summer's delights but the cultivars that grow in our gardens are developed to ensure they are more flavourful and more productive than their wild relatives. Wild blackberries, also known as brambles because of their vigorous thorny stems, are native throughout the temperate northern hemisphere as well as South America.
It is a truly ancient fruit plant, with forensic evidence that the berries were eaten by humans going back to the Iron Age.
Blackberries vary in size, but garden varieties tend to be larger than those in the wild, and are ripe for picking when they are a glossy purple-black.
The blossom is pale pink and pretty, and the fruits follow afterwards from late summer. There are many cultivars available; some newer blackberry varieties are erect and therefore, easier to grow and some are thornless making them easier to harvest.
How to plant: Blackberry
Blackberries are an easy fruit to grow, provided you are able to contain them and do not let their vigorous growth get out of control. Choose your blackberry plant carefully to suit your space: sprawling, trailing varieties can cover walls, trellis and pergolas, while less vigorous varieties will still need to be given support, either on a fence or wall with horizontal wires, or wires run between two strong posts. This way you will be able to train the wires to create a clear framework.
These fruit plants need a sheltered site to facilitate pollination. They will tolerate shade but produce better crops when placed in direct sun, and prefer a well-drained but moisture-retentive, fertile soil, so dig in plenty of organic matter before planting.
Container-grown plants can be planted at any time, but bare-rooted varieties must be planted in the dormant season, between November and March.
When planting, cut canes back to a low, healthy bud to encourage fresh growth. Water regularly and into the ground, not the stems, to reduce risk of disease. In spring, apply a XXXX general fertiliser, water in, then mulch with well-rotted manure or compost to keep the soil weed-free, the soil should also be cool and moist.
Tie in the shoots of new canes as they grow, and in their first winter, cut back all sideshoots of these canes back to 5cm, which will become the fruiting spurs, and produce flowers. Every autumn, cut out the canes which have carried fruit, and tie the new canes along the right-hand wires. The next spring and summer, tie in the emerging canes from the previous winter's pruning to the left-hand wires.
Keep repeating the process annually, cutting out the fruited canes and tying in the new, at opposite sides of the plant. This way the old and new canes can be kept separate, and the fruit can be easily picked. You can eat a blackberry when fresh, cooked or frozen in small batches.
Bird damage and raspberry beetle can be a problem.
Propagation of Blackberry
When arching blackberry stems touch the ground, they tend to readily root from the tip, so the best way to propagate the fruit bush is to layer, i.e. dig a hole and bury the tip, pinning down and replacing soil to encourage it to root. When the blackberry stem has taken root, cut 30cm of the new shoot from the parent, and replant.
Did you know:
The ancient Greeks used the blackberry as a mouthwash to strengthen gums. They also used it as a hair dye.