Don't buy blackberries in the grocery store when you can harvest baskets of fresh, juicy berries from plants in your back yard. When planting your first blackberries (Rubus sp.), several shrub care principles and planting tips can help ensure proper plant growth. With the right management procedures and preparation, you can enjoy a bountiful berry harvest for years to come.
The University of California recommends buying certified disease-free blackberry shrubs directly from a nursery. This ensures no diseases or viruses, such as verticillium wilt or root rot, are introduced into your garden. Alternative methods include root cuttings--a 6 inch piece of root is cut off in the fall, stored in moist peat moss and planted in the ground in the spring--and making rooted cuttings from a branch. Both have a high risk of introducing unwanted organisms into the soil.
Blackberries grow best with a soil pH between 5.5 and 7, and they are very sensitive to soil moisture, requiring well-drained soil, according to Oregon State University. A shrub planted in poorly draining dirt will die within a few days. Adding aged compost until the soil is loose can help resolve such issues. Additionally, blackberries thrive in full sun. Though they can grow in partial shade, a sunny plot will help the bush achieve its best growth and fruiting potential. Finally, avoid areas with a lot of wind, since this can dry out the fruit on the bush.
Never plant your blackberry bushes near tomato, eggplant, potato or pepper plants, nor in the same soil that supported such plants in the previous growing season. Such plants play host to the fungus behind verticillium wilt, a common disease that afflicts blackberries, according to North Carolina State University.
The amount of space that each blackberry plant needs for proper branch and root growth varies according to the specific blackberry variety. Space erect varieties 4 to 6 feet apart and trailing varieties by approximately 10 feet, according to Oregon State University. Cramming the plants too close together when planting them can cause stunted growth.
Gardeners can boost the growth and health of their blackberry bushes by fertilizing the soil. The soil should be amended several days before the blackberries are planted to give the soil time to absorb the fertilizer. The University of Maine recommends a basic 10-10-10 vegetable garden fertilizer, applied at a rate of 12.5 lbs. for every 500 square feet of garden space. Oregon State University advises adding fertilizer once a year in the spring when the shrubs begin producing new growth.
Pruning can keep your blackberry bush growing vigorously. For upright blackberry shrubs, the ends of new branches should be snipped to 2 feet to encourage branching, according to the University of Missouri. After a shrub has produced fruit, all the 2-year-old wood should be cut off to make the bush grow new branches. For trailing blackberries, the University of Missouri recommends removing any dead wood or weak branches in the spring when tying the shrub's canes to a trellis. Similar to upright blackberries, gardeners should cut off 2-year-old wood after it has born fruit to encourage new branches.