I am very fortunate that the home we purchased a few months ago has a number of fruit trees and bushes already established. One of the fruits that we inherited are blackberries.
I am very excited to have blackberries already established in the garden, as they were on my long, long list of foods I want to grow. These are my first blackberries and we have two bushes of a compact variety called ‘Thornless Waldo’. This variety fruits in December and January. Unfortunately, we moved in around the time they were fruiting and the birds got all the berries before we even got a chance to unpack.
Even though I missed being able to pick the blackberries, now is the time to do a little maintenance. With blackberries, the fruit grow on canes produced in the previous year. Once the plant has finished fruiting, the canes need to be cut down to the ground.
To make pruning easier, the previous owners had planted 2 blackberry bushes of the same variety. After one plant has finished fruiting, it is cut down entirely to the ground. The second plant is left to grow as it will produce blackberries in the next summer. Once that summer is finished and the fruit has been harvested, that plant is then cut down to the ground and the other plant is left to continue to grow for another year. This way we will have one of the blackberry bushes fruiting each year.
These blackberry bushes were surrounded by grassy weeds which were difficult to access. So, my first step was to cut down the blackberry bush that had just finished fruiting. I used clean secateurs, and cut the canes right down to just below soil level. This then gave me room to get in behind the bushes and clear out the weeds.
Once all the weeds were cleared out, I then looked to the blackberry bush that would produce next summer’s fruit. The framework and wires were there, but the new growth on the bush still needed to be trained along the wires.
There were also some old canes that had been cut down previously, but not down to the ground. These had become hard and were crowding the base of the plant so they were removed as well.
I then gave the bush a tidy-up and wrapped the new canes around the wires. It is definitely easier to wrap the new canes around the wires as they grow as they’re soft and pliable. These had been left and were harder to train.
Once everything was tidy and trained, I added some compost around the base of the blackberry bushes, topped with a layer of mulch and watered in well.
It looks silly seeing a pile of mulch in the middle of nothing, but 5 weeks after this photo was taken, new canes are already emerging from the base of the plant on the right.
This pattern of alternating the blackberry pruning between the two plants makes it an incredibly easy process. If you only have one blackberry bush, then you will need to be able to identify which canes have finished fruiting and need to be removed, and which are the new canes that will produce next year’s fruit. This is usually done by training the canes that grow during the year to one side. These are then left for 12 months until they set fruit, and any new canes that grow during this 12-month period are trained to the other side. You will end up with a blackberry bush trained into a “Y” shape, but it will allow you to identify which canes to remove after they’ve fruited.
I am so looking forward to next summer and being able to pick my own blackberries. Next on the to-do list is setting up a watering system before the end of the year to give me plump, juicy berries – and buying a large bird net.
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