June 21, 2015
I was wondering if anyone has experiences to share about growing blackberries. Not the massive barbed-wire-like blood letting Himalayan Blackberries that infest the landscape and take over everything, but well mannered home garden type, preferably thornless blackberries, preferable less rampant.
So far my experience with horticultural blackberries is very limited. Here is what I'm starting with, and what I learned so far -
Prime Ark Freedom - about Feb 2016 I bought 6 tissue culture plants mail order. Five grew, rabbits ate a couple of those, and deer ate off the tops of a couple that did well. I did taste one blackberry, and it was good, but that's not much. I moved them to a protected enclosure, but none of the floricanes survived last winter. This year, one plant grew a robust primocane, one grew a less vigorous cane, and possibly 2 are coming up from the roots, tiny, - or those could be some sprouting Himalayans. If there are thorns, I'll pull them up. Prime Ark Freedom has no thorns at all.
Ebony King. I bought three plants on whim at Lowes in early 2016. These are more a reduced-thorn, not completely thornless, but so far the thorns look liike not much to worry about. Deer ate off the growing tops of all three plants last year, but I got some regrowth. I moved them to a protected enclosure during the winter, and the remaining tops survived the winter. This year, I have one with a robust new primocane, one that started to but it was also eaten by rabbits and now growing pretty well, protected, and one has last year's cane but no new primocanes yet. The most robust floricane had 6 bunches of flowers, set about 9 fruit per bunch, expect a taste in a month.
Columbia Star. There's a trend here. It grew pretty robust cane, deer pulled it up and ate much of it. I replanted it in an enclosure too, now growing 2 new thornless. The part that remained last year was 3 feet tall, but only the bottom foot survived the winter. Interesting, that bottom foot bloomed and might set a few berries.
Arapaho. Bought 2 bare root plants last month at Lowes. They have taken root, one has a small new primocane and both have new leaves on the purchased floricane. Totally thornless.
Triple Crown. Last week I found some containerized plants at Tsugawa. Most of their Triple Crown looked sun-killed but the plant that I found was healthy looking, blooming at one foot tall. I'll let those berries develop, if they can, even though I shouldn't. My readings suggested that Triple Crown is a good variety for vigor, totally thornless, productive. We'll see next year.
My lessons so far based on this very limited experience:
1. Overwintering canes of Prime Ark Freedom and Columbia Star might not survive the worst winters here, based on the little information above.
2. Deer and rabbits both love eating the succulent new growth of thornless blackberries. I wondered if they would, and confirmed that unintentionally, with 3 varieties. Now they are in enclosures to deter both herbivore species.
3. It probably takes 3 years to get the first significant fruits, although I got a taste of one Prime Ark Freedom berry the first year, and may get a handful from floricane of Ebony King and maybe a couple others, this summer.
Tipping. I just learned from reading a couple of weeks ago, the top of new growing upright-variety canes should be snapped off (tipped) at about 3 feet tall. That promotes a stockier, stronger cane, and more branches, resulting in more berries. Tipping is recommended for primocane-bearing varieties like Prime-Ark Freedom, as well as more typical floricane cultivars like Triple Crown. I tipped mine last week. Trailing types, like Columbia Star, should not be tipped, they don't branch.
I was at a couple of nurseries, and found a new type called "BabyCakes". Looks like this variety is another primocane thornless type from the Arkansas program that gave us Prime-Ark varieties and a number of thornless types. I was unable to find information about the berry quality, production, and flavor, which makes me wonder if BabyCakes is just a nursery novelty and might not be worth growing? It's possible I didn't search long enough. I'm getting more wary of heavily promoted nursery plants, and did not buy any BabyCakes.
That's about all I know so far. I am interested in experiences of others, and might put in a couple more plants this coming winter. For eating out of hand, is one plant enough? Better to have more? What cultivars do well around here? HOS members have such a wealth of fruit growing experience for many fruits, maybe there is much more information to learn and share here that would help me and others with our choices and methods.
March 16, 2015
I think you'll be quite happy with Columbia Star, and once its established, I don't think our winters will be able to phase it. It supposedly can bear a crop after experiencing single digit temperatures. I'm guessing that being uprooted, chewed on, and maybe kinked, didn't help the winter hardiness.
August 3, 2015
You are off to a rough start with deer and rabbits.
The old cane that comes with new purchases might do anything the first year,
the goal of course is to develop primocanes. All blackberry varieties should be hardy
for our zone. All of them will branch if tipped. If tipped, the length of the main cane
plus the length of all branches will probably be longer than the untipped main cane,
and more berries will result. Tipping is not necessary, except to reduce the height of
some varieties like Triple Crown that will otherwise grow to the sky. Triple Crown is best
tipped at around 5 or 6 feet, the nodes are so widely spaced that tipping at 3 feet
might not form many branches.
Once mature, say years 3 and thereafter, one cane of one variety can produce enough
berries for eating seasonally out of hand. Most people end up with dozens of canes,
so prepare to bake, juice, and freeze. Do not be afraid to remove (thin) fruiting spurs when
fruit is in the green or red phase, in order to reduce the crop.
The best selling varieties commercially for the past several years are Black Diamond,
Marion, and the newcomer Columbia Star. These have the best flavor. Triple Crown
makes a nice large sweet fruit but is subject to UV sun damage and SWD attack
because it is late-season.
I currently have TC, Obsidian, Black Diamond, Columbia Star, Logan, and Jewel black-cap,
all in an 8x10-foot area. Patch started 1996.
March 27, 2015
My thornless blackberries have not produced much. The thorned ones (very fine thorns) are much more productive for me. I don’t recall the varieties off the top of my head.
I also have tayberries (blackberry x raspberry). Super productive and super delicious! It throws up a lot of new shoots, let me know and I'll pot some up in the fall.
March 16, 2015
Great info about tipping. I don't do anything to my thornless blackberries and we get way more than we can gather every year. I mostly planted them there because it was clay covered by black plastic. Really healthy for the soil, right? 🙂
So I planted something bombproof-them. The soil is much better just a few years later, but they're so good and trouble free, it will be hard for me to want to plant anything else there. Triple Crown, Arapahoe, and one other I don't remember.
June 21, 2015
Thanks all for the many helpful tips. We'll see how my blackberries progress over the season. I hope there are at least a few this year!
If nothing else, there are still a lot of Himalayan blackberries that will take another 6 months to year to finish clearing out. Part of the initial clearing resulted in shorter canes that might give me some without too much bloodletting.
I actually was thinking about tayberries but I have a feeling I've overdone it with what I have, but thanks.
I'm learning that living with deer an rabbits sometimes means not doing as much. More cages and protection are too much effort for me these days. As other trees either get bigger, or get culled for various reasons or die, I may turn their cages over to grow more berries.
March 16, 2015
Have you thought about renting a goat? I don't need one, but I have considered that it might be entertaining enough even if I didn't need it. Plus you get all that free fertilizer.
Excellent article on chestnuts in the new Pome News by the way. I'd probably grow them if I had acreage.
August 3, 2015
Goats will eat most anything, including thorny blackberries and your cultivated berries. The Belmont Goats were touted for doing just that in inner SE Portland a few years ago. Perhaps goats are tethered in some cases to limit their range.
If you have lived through thorny blackberries, Boysens cannot be beat for size and flavor, you have to let them get very ripe (some on the ground is a good indicator). Thornless Boysens proved inferior to me.
June 21, 2015
These area couple of the Prime Ark Freedom blackberries from the past couple of weeks. I'm very impressed with the size, flavor, juiciness, and sweetness. I didn't get many, but this is only year #2 and most of the plants didn't survive the deer and rabbits the first year. I'm working on a much better enclosure now. The seeds were also much less significant than those in Himalayan blackberries.
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