Blackberries and hybrid berries
Cultivated blackberries and closely related hybrid berries, such as tayberries and loganberries, produce large crops of tastier fruits and are better behaved than their wild relatives. They are usually trained along walls and fences, but if you’re short on space, there are compact, thornless blackberry varieties that can be grown in containers.
Jobs to do now
- Tie in stems on to wire supports
Month by month
Feeding and mulching
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) layer of organic mulch, such as garden compost, annually. Make sure the mulch is placed 5cm (2in) away from the new canes and the crown, to prevent rotting.
Water young plants regularly until established. In dry spells, water them every seven to ten days.
While mature plants shouldn’t need extra watering, if the summer is particularly dry then their fruit size will benefit from watering once a fortnight.
These scrambling plants need to be trained onto a system of horizontal wires fixed to a wall or fence, or to strong vertical posts, 1.5–2m (5–6ft 6in) high. The horizontal wires should be spaced 45cm (18in) apart, with the lowest wire 23cm (9in) from the ground.
See our guide to training blackberry and hybrid berries.
Pruning and training
The majority of blackberries, hybrid berries and species are ‘floricanes’, producing fruit on one-year-old canes, ie on the previous season’s growth. (Primocane blackberry ‘Reuben’, however, is the exception, fruiting on new canes, so is pruned as for autumn-fruiting raspberries.)
Training is necessary to keep growth under control and separate new growth from fruiting canes to make pruning easier. The basic method is as follows:
In the first year after planting, regularly tie in the shoots of newly planted canes. Once these reach their first winter, cut back all the side-shoots produced on these main canes to 5cm (2in). It’s mainly from the resulting fruiting spurs that flowers are formed.
In the second year after planting, the crown will send 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.
After fruiting, remove the one-year-old canes 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.
For more details on pruning blackberries and hybrid berries, see our pruning and training guide.
Propagate by stem tip layering in spring or summer – only propagate from healthy young plants, as older plants may carry disease.
Buying blackberries and hybrid berries
You can choose from a whole array of delicious blackberry varieties, with sweeter and more richly flavoured fruits than wild brambles. Some are even thornless. Most are quite vigorous, although a few compact varieties are available. When choosing varieties, look for those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in trials, so should grow and crop reliably. See our list of AGM fruit and veg.
There are also several hybrid berries and a few species berries that are closely related to blackberries and grown in a similar way:
tayberry – a raspberry and blackberry cross. The fruit is red and longer than a raspberry. It is sharper in flavour than a raspberry, but usually sweeter than a loganberry. Best used for jams and cooking, but can also be eaten fresh. Early season crop.
loganberry – a raspberry and blackberry cross. The fruit is dark red, longer and sharper tasting than raspberry. Ideal for jams and cooking, but can also be eaten fresh.
boysenberry – a loganberry, raspberry and dewberry cross. Thornless, very hardy and moderately vigorous. Heavy crops of juicy black fruits with a wild blackberry flavour. Drought resistant and needs well-drained soil. Early season crop.
tummelberry – a tayberry and unnamed hybrid seedling cross. Thorny, medium vigour, suitable for colder areas. Moderate yield of medium-sized, red berries with moderate eating qualities. Best for jam making. Early season crop.
dewberry – several Rubus species (including Rubus caesius and R. ursinus). Thorny, can be grown as ground cover or on a support. The small black fruits are covered with a grey bloom. Popular in the US. Early season crop.
Japanese wineberry – an East Asian species, moderately vigorous with attractive stems covered with soft, bright red bristles. Moderate crop of small, sweet, juicy fruit turning from golden yellow to red when ripe. Mid-season crop.
Blackberries are widely available in garden centres and from online suppliers, while hybrid and species berries are mainly sold online by fruit nurseries and other specialist suppliers. They are all usually bought as container-grown plants, but may occasionally be available bare root (without soil), from autumn to spring.
Where to plant
Blackberries and the closely related hybrid/species berries like similar conditions. They can tolerate light shade, but 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 square metre/yard) before planting.
These plants need plenty of space – with moderately vigorous cultivars, allow 2.5–3.5m (8–11ft) per plant, while vigorous blackberry cultivars may need up to 4.5m (13ft) each, to allow comfortable training of the shoots.
They also need a sturdy support system in place before planting – usually horizontal wires fixed to a wall or fence or to strong vertical posts. See our guide to training blackberry and hybrid berries.
You can also plant compact varieties in a large container.
How to plant
Containerised blackberries and hybrid/species berries can be planted at any time, although they will settle in best when planted from late autumn to spring.
Bare-root plants are only available during the dormant season – from late autumn to spring – for immediate planting.
Dig a generous planting hole, and plant containerised plants at the same level they were growing in the pot. Avoid deep planting. With bare-root plants, the first roots should be no more than 5–8cm (2–3in) below the soil level – use the soil mark on the stem as a guide.
After planting, cut down all the canes to a healthy bud. This may seem drastic, but it will ensure plants send up lots of vigorous, healthy shoots in spring.
If planting a compact variety in a container, choose a pot at least 45cm (18in) wide and fill with soil-based compost.
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 delicious desserts.
Loganberries — mid-summer to early autumn
Tayberries — mid to late summer
A number of pests can feed on blackberry and hybrid berries – the most severe damage is often caused by aphids , red berry mite, raspberry beetle, raspberry leaf and bud mite. The fruit fly spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is likely to become an increasing problem.
Birds will eat the fruits, so cover plants with netting to protect the ripening crop.
Raspberry cane and leaf spot (Elsinoe veneta) may also affect blackberries. Symptoms include development of dark purple spots with grey centres on the stems and leaves. If flower stalks are affected, the fruit is often distorted. Loganberries are particularly susceptible. Severe infection can lead to defoliation. On the stems the lesions gradually increase in size, to forming shallow cankers with grey centres and purple-brown edges. Badly affected canes may be distorted or die. No fungicides are available. To control the disease, prune out affected stems.
Purple blotch (Septocyta ruborum) can be confused with the more serious raspberry cane and leaf spot. Purple blotch causes dark green lesions on canes near ground level. These darken to red, then brown with a red margin, and spread up the cane. Affected canes may produce normal shoots in spring, followed by death of leaves and flowers that mimics frost damage.
Loganberries can have problems with raspberry spur blight.
Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
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.
The jumping, light green insects, roughly 3mm (1⁄8in) long, may occur on plants in sheltered sites, causing white flecking on the leaves.
Control measures are not necessary.
Mary Berry suggests this light fruit pear and blackberry dessert after a heavy main course.
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