Blackberry Tips

Tips for Success: Pre-plant Activities for Blackberries

Site selection. Choose a sunny location with well-drained, sandy loam soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.2 and at least 4% to 8% organic matter. Collect a soil sample and send it into a soil testing lab for nutrient analysis.  Avoid areas that have soil with a lot of clay or that are prone to flooding. Blackberries don’t thrive if they have “wet feet” all the time. If your soil is heavy, plant in raised beds to prevent root disease. You should also get a nematode test done on your site’s soil if you plan on small-scale commercial growing. Destroy any wild brambles (blackberries or raspberries) within 600 feet of your site to help prevent the spread of diseases to your new plants.

 Soil preparation. Follow the soil testing lab recommendations provided to amend the soil for adjusting pH and balancing nutrients. If the soil is low in organic matter, amend with about 0.5” to 1” of compost and till in 6” to 8” deep. If your soil test results show the presence of root lesion, dagger, or spiral nematodes consider using a brassica cover crop that can be tilled in prior to planting. It will act as a bio-fumigant for nematodes and also increase your soil’s health. Ideally, amend soil and/or plant a cover crop in the fall for spring planting the following year.

If ground planting is not an option, use a 20 gallon fabric grow pot for each plant. Fill with a mixture of about 40% sand, 40% garden soil/compost, and 20% peat moss. Be sure to check the media pH before planting. Adjust as needed with a fast-acting soil acidifier if the pH is too high or an alkalizer if the pH is too low.

Plant selection. Select disease-free stock from a reputable nursery. Ideally, try to pre-order in fall for spring planting. Nursery plants generally sell out fast and aren’t shipped past June. If you want to have the longest harvest season possible, choose blackberry cultivars with different harvest start dates. The blackberry cultivars with a history of performing well with the cane training techniques that must be used with the Rotating Cross Arm (RCA) trellis include: Natchez, Ouachita, Apache, Triple Crown, Chester Thornless, and Siskiyou. You should also consider bloom times. Since the trellis must be rotated up once the plants are in bloom, you should not plant cultivars with very different bloom times in the same row. A better strategy is to have shorter rows – each containing only one cultivar.

Irrigation system installation. It is recommended you use drip irrigation to save time, conserve water resources, and as a cultural method to help prevent diseases associated with wet foliage. See our resource library for companies that offer on-line instructions and ordering.

Trellis installation. Carefully read all assembly directions, gather tools, and people to help you set up the trellis.

Alleyway Cover Crop. A cover crop is recommended between the trellis rows unless you use a weed barrier fabric in its place. There are many types of both annual and perennial cover crops available and the best choice depends on the climate of your region, soil characteristics, the amount of foot traffic between the rows, and other factors. Weed control is very important in caneberry plantings. Weeds of all kinds compete for nutrients with your plants. Broadleaf weeds are especially troublesome as they can harbor viruses easily transmitted to your plants by piercing and sucking insects and soil-borne nematodes.