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 to relax and explore the surrounding woods and fields.
As we explored we would make a snack out of what we would find, and in June that would be blackberries. We knew every blackberry patch within 2 miles of our house. We knew which patches had the sweetest berries, which had the largest berries, which were tart, and which were the easiest to pick.
Some of the blackberry patches were very thorny; these seemed to have the sweetest berries. I always liked the sweetest blackberries for eating fresh, but prefer the tarter berries for a cobbler. Growing up, I heard blackberries called by many names, including dewberries, Juneberries and brambles.
All blackberries and raspberries fall into a category called brambles. Today, I still like to pick blackberries for eating fresh or a good blackberry cobbler.
The fruit of brambles is not technically a berry; it is a drupe, which 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 blackberries and raspberries 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 those in blackberries.
Blackberries and raspberries come in two types: erect and trailing. Erect types are upright and do not need a trellis for support. Erect types also are generally known as thorny. However, there are some varieties that are thornless.
Trailing types are thornless and need support to keep them off of the ground. A good trellis is recommended because blackberry and raspberry plants can live for years.
To construct a trellis, use a rot-resistant post and 9-gauge wire. The posts should be set 2 feet deep and spaced 20 feet apart. Use three strands of wire, with one 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. When planting more than one row, the rows should be 12 feet apart.
Trailing brambles should be planted between December and March, while erect brambles should be planted in late February and early March. Erect brambles can be purchased as root cuttings or as plants. The root cuttings are cheaper than plants, and they are a good way to establish brambles.
Brambles can be grown in hedge form or as individual plants. If the plan is to form a hedge row, the root cutting or plants need to be spaced 2 to 4 feet apart in the row, and rows should be 12 feet apart. Individual plants should be planted 8 feet apart in the row.
The most important management practice to ensure plenty of fruit is proper pruning. To properly prune brambles, an understanding of the fruiting habits of the plants is needed. Blackberries and raspberries produce fruit on 2-year-old canes. After fruit is produced, the cane dies.
Pruning is not needed on trailing or erect brambles during the first year. For trailing brambles, start pruning as the canes start to die after the fruit is harvested, then tie the new growth to the trellis and pinch off the tip of each shoot. This will encourage more shoot development.
Erect brambles should be pruned the second year, with new shoots pruned to 40 inches in the height in early summer. This encourages more shoots. In the winter, remove the dead canes that produced fruit the previous 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, a trailing type that can be grown all over the state, and Redwing, which is erect.
A few bramble plants can give plenty of fruit in a small space. They make excellent Christmas gifts for that gardener in the family, and then a fresh blackberry cobbler can be enjoyed in June.
Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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