How to Prune Thornless Blackberry Bushes
Pruning thornless blackberries (Rubus spp.) increases production and improves plant health. Pruning your blackberry plants makes it easier to pick the fruit, even in thornless varieties. Blackberries have perennial roots, so they come back each year in in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9 but each cane grows for two years and then dies. New canes, called primocanes, won’t flower and produce berries until their second year. Then the second-year canes, called floricanes, fruit and die after harvest.
Growing thornless cultivars, such as ‘Triple Crown’ (Rubus 'Triple Crown,' USDA zones 5 through 8), ‘Navaho’ (Rubus 'Navaho,' USDA zones 6 through 8) and ‘Apache’ (Rubus 'Apache,' USDA zones 5 through 9) means you won’t have to fight through thorn-covered branches to reach berries for harvesting or for pruning your plants.
Pruning Thornless Blackberries
With a pair of handheld pruners and seasonal monitoring of your thornless blackberry plants, keep your blackberries maintained for increased production.
Prepare the Pruners
Clean the blades of a pair of bypass pruners with undiluted household disinfectant or rubbing alcohol before each use. The rubbing alcohol should have at least 70 percent concentration. Soak the cutting blades of the pruners in the cleaner for at least 30 seconds and wipe dry with a clean rag. Cleaning the pruners with disinfectant reduces the chance of spreading diseases to your blackberries.
Pruning During the Growing Season
Tip erect thornless blackberry primocanes when they reach 30 to 36 inches tall during the growing season. To tip the branches, make cuts at 45-degree angles, removing only enough of the terminal, or end, of the branch to reach the desired height.
Cut the tips of trailing thornless primocanes when they reach 6 inches above the highest level of their trellis. Tipping the canes encourages side canes to grow, which is where the fruit production happens the next year. It also prevents excessive sprawling and strengthens the canes to hold the weight of the fruits.
Pruning Blackberries After Harvest
Cut floricanes to the ground after harvest, usually in late summer or early fall. Floricanes will die and can harbor insects and diseases. Removing them also makes it easier to access the rest of the canes for pruning.
Thinning the Blackberries for Production
Thin the blackberries in late winter or early spring. Thin erect thornless blackberries to about six primocanes per linear foot and trailing thornless blackberries to eight to 10 canes per plant. Thinning blackberries involves removing primocanes to the ground making clean, 45-degree cuts. Select the healthiest canes to leave and remove any diseased, twiggy or droopy canes. On trailing varieties, tie the remaining eight to 10 canes to the trellis wires for support.
Tip the Lateral Branches
Perform lateral pruning in winter or early spring. Cut lateral branches, or side branches, on erect thornless varieties to 12 to 14 inches in length. On trailing varieties, prune the laterals to 18 to 24 inches long so they don't crowd the other trellis layers.
Prune A Thornless Blackberry Bush After Fruit Harvest
Cut the old fruiting canes, called floricanes, back to the root crown at soil level immediately after harvest, usually in mid to late June or in July in cooler, northern climates. Disinfect your pruning tools in a solution of diluted bleach, such as one part bleach to 10 parts water, to prevent the spread of disease from old floricanes to the new primocanes. Cut any of the primocanes -- the first year canes that produce fruit in the following year -- that are broken, weak, damaged or that grow beyond 12 inches of the center of each row. The remaining four to eight primocanes will be trained to fruit next year. Tie the selected primocanes to the trellis in a fan shape with soft twine, ensuring that each cane is given room on the trellis without touching other canes. Cut the lateral branches of the selected trailing primocanes back to about 12 inches in early spring of the following year to promote larger berries. Now that it is spring in the next growing season, these selected primocanes are actually the new floricanes; new primocanes begin to grow in early spring.
With bramble fruits it might seem tempting to leave more canes than recommended to increase production. Be ruthless in your pruning. Fewer canes per plant means more sun reaches each one, giving you a better, healthier harvest.
- Hand pruning shears for small branches
- Loppers for 1/2 inch or larger branches
- Growing Blackberries in Missouri
- Growing Blackberries for Pleasure or Profit
- West Virginia University Extension: Pruning and Training Thornless Blackberries
- The Ohio State University: Pruning Erect Blackberries in the Home Garden
- Penn State Extension: Thornless Blackberries
- University of Rhode Island Landscape Horticulture Program: Growing Brambles
- Virginia Cooperative Extension: Small Fruit in the Home Garden
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service: Growing Blackberries In North Carolina