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How to Grow Blackberries in the Midwest




Almost everyone has childhood memories of summer afternoons spent picking blackberries from brambles gone wild in abandoned fields and yards. Small and tart wild blackberries are an iconic part of summer. For larger, sweeter and sometimes thornless berries, grow your own. Blackberries are one of the easiest berries to grow. Blackberry brambles grow in any kind of soil, are drought resistant, more productive than their wild relatives and, with the excepting of a yearly pruning and fertilizing, don't require maintenance.

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1го Plant in early spring. In the Midwest blackberries need to be planted in early spring. Select blackberry plants hardy to your zone. You can choose from semi-erect bushes that do not require trellising to the more traditional trailing varieties that should be trellised for the best results. Blackberries are self fruitful, so no pollenizer is needed. Choose a dormant bare-root bush.

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2го Prepare the site. No special preparation is needed for the planting site. Blackberries are shallow rooted, so dig a hole or trench just deep enough for the roots. For multiple plants, space them 4 feet apart in rows 10 feet wide.

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3го Prune the newly planted blackberries back to 6 inches.

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4го Apply a general-purpose fertilizer as soon as the buds begin to swell. Apply fertilizer yearly in early spring just after buds swell.

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5го Add a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch around and in between the plants. This will help the plants retain moisture and limit weed growth. You will need to reapply mulch yearly after applying fertilizer.

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6го Wait for the plants to bear fruit. It will take 2 years for your new bushes to begin to produce fruit. Blackberries have two types of canes: first-year nonfruiting canes called Primocanes and second-year fruit-bearing canes called Floricanes. Floricanes die after fruit production, so they should be cut to the ground after all the berries have been picked.

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7го Train trailing blackberry brambles on any type of trellis or fence. Select the sturdiest canes to trellis and cut the rest to the ground. Remember, you must leave both first-year and second-year canes on the plant at all times for berry production. Erect and semi-erect blackberries do not need trellising.

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8го Water the plants. For optimal berry production blackberry plants require 1 to 2 inches of water per week during the growing season.

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9го Prevent disease and pests in your plants. Since blackberries can succumb to a number of diseases and pests, prevention is the key to keeping your plants healthy. Buy only certified disease-free plants. Fertilize, mulch and remove dead or broken canes. Check your plants weekly for signs of disease and pests. Some common signs are yellowing leaves, black spots, holes in leaves, blossom drop or non-fruiting and canes with dead tips. Contact your local extension office for advice if you see any of the above.

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*To keep your blackberry plants compact, you can prune the first-year Primocanes back to 18 inches and the side shoots to 6 inches. Thornless cultivars tend to have sweeter berries. Erect blackberry cultivars can be grown in containers. Whiskey half-barrels work best, although any container big enough for the adult size of the plant is fine.
*Resist the temptation to transplant wild blackberries or accept divisions from someone's garden as you could be bringing diseased plants into your garden.