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I can taste blueberry cobbler now; if you can, also, get to planting

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2007

As a boy growing up in South Carolina, I looked forward to June every year. School was over for the summer, it was time to go swimming and a time to relax and explore the surrounding woods and fields.

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As we explored, we would snack on what we would find, and in June that would be blackberries. We knew every blackberry patch within two miles of our house. We knew which patches had the sweetest berries, which ones had the largest berries, which ones where tart, and which ones were the easiest to pick. Some of the patches of blackberries were real thorny; these seemed to have the sweetest berries. I always liked the sweetest blackberries for eating fresh, but like the more-tart berries for a cobbler.

Growing up, I heard blackberries called by many different names such as blackberries, dewberries, Juneberries, and brambles. All blackberries and raspberries fall into a category called brambles.

The fruit of brambles is not technically a berry, but it is a "drupe." A drupe is a one-seeded indehiscent fruit having a hard bony endocarp with fleshy mesocarp, and thin exocarp that is flexible. An example of this is a cherry. But a blackberry and a raspberry have lots of seeds. Each seed in a blackberry is a drupe, and all of the seeds in the whole fruit are called a drupelet. All of these seeds are why some people don't like blackberries. The seeds of raspberries are not as hard as in blackberries.

Blackberries and raspberries come in two types: erect and trailing. Erect types are upright and do not need support. Also, erect types are generally known as thorny. However, there are some varieties that are thornless. Trailing types are thornless and need support to keep them off the ground. A trellis is recommended because blackberries and raspberries can live for years.

To construct a trellis, you need rot-resistant post and 9-gauge wire. The post should be set two feet deep and spaced 20 feet apart. Use three strands of wire with the top strand near the top of the post and the other strands 18 inches apart. The plants should be planted 10 feet apart down the trellis. If you plant more than one row, the rows need to be 12 feet apart. You need to plant trailing brambles between December and March.

Erect brambles should be planted in late February and early March. You can buy erect brambles as root cuttings or as plants. The root cuttings are cheaper and are a good way to establish brambles. You can grow brambles in a hedge or as individual plants. If you are forming a hedgerow, the root cuttings or plants need to be spaced two to four feet apart, and rows need to be 12 feet apart. Plant individual plants 8 feet apart in the row.

The most important management practice to insure plenty of fruit is proper pruning. To prune brambles, you need to understand the fruiting habits of the plants.

Blackberries and raspberries produce fruit on two-year-old canes. After fruit is produced, the cane dies. The first year no pruning is needed on trailing or erect brambles. For trailing brambles, start pruning as the canes start to die. This occurs after the fruit is harvested. Tie the new growth to the trellis and pinch off the tip of each shoot to encourage more shoot development.

Erect brambles need to be pruned the second year. The new shoots need to be pruned to 40 inches in height in early summer to encourage more shoots. In winter, remove the dead canes that produced fruit in the summer.

There are many varieties of brambles to choose from. Erect blackberry varieties Choctaw and Cheyenne are thorny, while Navaho and Arapaho are thornless. Trailing varieties are Gem (thorny), Black Satin, and Hull, which are thornless. Raspberry varieties are Dorman Red, which is a trailing type that can be grown all over the state, and Redwing, which is erect.

A few bramble plants can give you plenty of fruit in a small space, and you can enjoy fresh fruit or a cobbler in June.

Columbia County extension agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at charlesp@uga.edu. The extension web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.



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