Have Fruit Forever:
Start Growing Blackberries
And Other Bramble Fruits

Once you learn about growing blackberries, you'll know how to grow the 375 related species (link opens a new window) such as raspberries, dewberries, boysenberries, and so on!

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These prolific plants are known as brambles (or caneberries), and all are in the genus Rubus -- you'll soon discover when growing blackberries that the name blackberry itself covers four different Rubus species.

They are in the same family as roses and strawberries.

Brambles are perennials with canes (woody stems). Each cane lives for two years.

  • The first year cane only makes leaves. Once the first year is up, the cane never gets any longer. The advantage of this is that you can estimate how big your plants will get (for example, if you want to make a barrier hedge) in a matter of months, instead of decades. (click here for help with hedge plant spacing)
  • In its second year, the cane makes flowers, fruit, and side shoots with more leaves, fruit, and flowers.
  • After the two year old cane finishes making fruit, it dies back to the ground. If the roots survive the winter, in the spring new first year canes will begin growing.
  • When the fruit falls to the ground, the seeds produce new first year canes.

Brambles spread very quickly and can become invasive if not managed.

Handy facts for growing blackberries, raspberries, and so on:

  • Plant type: bramble (in general, a woody thorned cane plant, although hybrid thornless blackberry species do exist).
  • Plant size: depends on species and variety, can grow to well over 10 feet (3 to 9 meters) tall and wide.
  • Edible parts: fruit, leaves (tea)
  • Fruit color: blackberry fruit color varies from golden yellow to deep purple on the same plant. When ripe, the blackberry, dewberry and black raspberry are dark purple, but many bramble species (such as most raspberries) have ripe fruit color that is yellow or red
  • Flower color(s): white
  • Flower type: about an inch in size, five petals -- resembles a strawberry flower
  • Blooms: spring
  • Fruit appears: late spring to late autumn (depends on the species and your location/climate - your local agricultural office or county extension can give you more information)
  • Leaf color(s): bright green, turns orange-red in the fall
  • Leaf type: toothed, in groups of 3 or 5 (in areas where both grow, take care to distinguish a three-leafed bramble from poison ivy - link opens a new window)
  • Stem color: green to light brown
  • USDA zones: depends on species; red raspberries are hardy to zone 5 where blackberries are usually only hardy to zone 7. Upper zone limit depends on your climate: see information on chill requirements below.
  • Likes: good drainage
  • Requires: 200-1800 hours of cold winter temperatures in order to flower (this is sometimes called the winter chill requirement -- link opens a new window). The exact number of chill hours required depends on the species, and your local agricultural/extension office should have the chill hours information and suitable bramble fruit species for your location.
  • Tolerates: a wide variety of pH (5-7) and soil types
  • Dislikes: desert conditions, severe cold or extreme heat
  • Uses: barrier hedges, hedgerows, decoration for arbors/trellises/fences, large flowering fruit bush, short-term espalier (remember, the cane only lives two years)

The two main types of bramble are raspberry and blackberry. One major difference between raspberries and blackberries is in the fruit: a raspberry is "hairy" and comes off of the vine leaving its core behind. The blackberry is smooth and detaches from the vine at the stem, with its core intact. (there's a nice photo of that here.) (link opens a new window)

If you come across a bramble with fruit, that's the quickest way to tell which of the two you have.

What are the differences between growing blackberries and raspberries?

Blackberries are more heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant than raspberries. However, raspberries are considerably hardier than blackberries -- the red raspberry can tolerate temperatures down to -20F (-29C)!

Most bramble fruits such as the loganberry or boysenberry are raspberry/blackberry hybrids produced to select a particular fruit flavor or growing habit.

The three types of growing habits are erect, semi-erect, and trailing.

Erect brambles grow straight up and bend over once they get about 5-7 feet (about two meters) tall, forming a fountain-like effect, while trailing brambles mostly grow along the ground. Semi-erect brambles grow in a pattern somewhere in between the two.

The main consideration in the design sense is that most brambles, especially trailing brambles, will need support at some point if you don't want them touching the ground.

Specifics on planting and growing blackberries, raspberries, etc.

Planting an overripe bramble fruit (as in sticking a berry in the ground!) can be an inexpensive way to start your own canes.

However, most berries from the store are hybrids and will probably not bear the exact same fruit you bought, but will look and taste like one of its parents. If you want a specific Rubus species (for example, a Latham raspberry), either buy the plant or root a cutting from the species of plant you want.

Bramble plants are always sold as dormant canes -- in other words, second year canes -- so what you're buying are the roots.

Plant as soon as you can after buying, and keep the roots moist until you do so so they don't die. They only need to be planted deeply enough to completely cover the roots.

If you have naturally growing blackberries or other brambles in your area, you can dig a first or second year cane and transplant it into your yard. As it turned out, we were lucky enough to have a trailing bramble (probably dewberries) on our property when we moved in!

When you transplant, try your best not to disturb the roots, which are shallow. Make a circle about two feet around the plant, undercut it about six inches below the surface, then transport the plant, dirt and all, to its new home. Water well. Adding compost, mulching, and keeping the area weed-free will help improve your new plant's chances of survival that first year.

I've had about a 50/50 success rate with transplanting brambles, but this is the best way to both control their spread and get them planted where you want them.

If you transplant two year old canes (ones with fruit or flowers), you won't know if the transplant was successful until the next spring. The cane almost always dies back shortly after you transplant it.

But don't worry ... once your bramble begins fruiting you will find volunteers nearby. If one transplant doesn't work, try again.

Maintaining and containing your growing blackberries

Because brambles don't have a means of climbing on their own, if you want them to climb you will need to attach them to your trellis, arbor, fence or wall.

You can do this using twine, netting, wire, or my quick-and-dirty method of using a staple gun (this works really well with wood fences). Staple loosely to prevent harming the cane.

Dewberry on my front fence

Just remember that canes only live for two years, so whatever method you use will need modifying from time to time.

If you've planted a hedge or want your plant to become a huge bush, there isn't much that needs doing.

Pruning is optional, but if you do want to prune, either to encourage branching or to limit the size of your growing plant, the effect is better if you cut the cane just above a leaf -- the cut cane above the leaf dies and the leaf will help hide the dead part.

Once fruiting starts, it's best to check your growing blackberries daily to keep up with the harvest. Long sleeves and fingerless blackberry gloves help prevent scratches while allowing you to handle the delicate fruit.

At the end of the season, cut any dead canes off at ground level, rake up the dead leaves, and tie up any stragglers. This will help prevent disease. I don't like to compost anything with thorns so as not to have painful surprises in my compost later, so I recommend you bag the dead canes and put them in the trash.

Eating your bramble patch

All bramble fruits are wonderful eaten fresh or dried, and can be used in drinks, breads, desserts, jams, sauces, and in savory dishes like this Raspberry Chipotle Chicken. Fresh or dried, the leaves make a delicious tea.

Do you have any blackberry recipes you'd like to share?


Growing blackberries and raspberries

A fun article on "brambling" (picking wild raspberries and blackberries) in the UK with lots of good information

Nice PDF on growing raspberries and blackberries in the home garden by the University of Georgia (US), available for download (requires PDF reader)

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