February 20, 2016
Last week, you said to cut back blueberry bushes once cold weather leaves. How about blackberry bushes? I planted mine 2 years ago, and they have spread out; I haven't done any cutting back yet, but wondering if I need to start.
We really don’t prune blackberries much until after harvest. As soon as you harvest, remove the canes that bore the fruit. After they bear, they begin to die back, and you want to get them out as quickly as you can. Then the new canes that are growing need to be maintained at a manageable height—usually 4-5 feet, to make harvesting easier. Blackberries can get a little too happy and begin to spread, so maintaining plants in a bed, by thinning is something you will need to do as well. I would get as much harvest as you can from the fruit that is set, and then thin out the old canes and keep the plants in a manageable row.
I live out on the north side of a small mountain in the Ferndale area. I try to grow things on our ten acres, with modest success. I set out blackberries a couple of years ago, beside a small running creek, but not below water level. This summer, they developed some black spots and a couple of vines passed on, the remainder did produce a couple of quarts. I am thinking they had some kind of a rust perhaps, because I do have oaks and cedars in our area. Should I be applying some type of dust such as rotenone?
There are several things that could be impacting your blackberries, but from the sound of it, it isn’t insects, so rotenone would not be affective. I also don’t like dusts. If you are going to spray, we need to properly identify the disease (with leaf samples next year) and then find the appropriate fungicide. There is one disease called double blossom (or rosette) that affects blackberries that is not curable. It is common when we have wild blackberries nearby that can spread the disease. It causes excessive thorniness on the stems and deformed almost double blossoms—thus the common name. It can kill plants, but usually in a slow manner. Pruning out infected canes helps. There is a rust disease that affects blackberries that is controllable. It produces very bright orange spores that can be rubbed off. Cedar apple rust does not affect blackberries, but does affect apples. There are other leaf spotting diseases as well as stink bug damage to the fruits. If you have the problems again next growing season, bring in a sample or take a picture and send it in so we can properly identify the problem before recommending a control.
We live in a farm house that the back part of the big yard is covered with overgrown blackberry vines. I am sure it has been 15 years since anything has been done to them. They have produced blackberries I know the last 2 summers, but with the size of the mass of vines you cannot get up in them to pick the berries. The vines look as though they would burn, but we tried that this last Sunday and they will not stay burning. What would your suggestion be to get the vines under control, so I can start getting the benefits of the blackberries.
Blackberry vines produce wonderful fruit in the summer, but if left unattended can become a bit of a weed. Since nothing much has been done to them going on 15 years, I would say you have a mess. Traditional blackberry vines produce fruit on the wood they grew the previous year. Once the canes bear fruit, they die, but the dead canes remain unless someone is there to thin them out. I recommend thinning immediately after harvest to make way for the new canes. Thorough renovation is needed, but that does mean you will go without fruit this season, since the berries are already set on the live canes in the field now. I would suggest renting or borrowing a bush hog and cutting everything down. Take the cut stems and pile them up and burn that once they dry out a bit. Thin out the rows to a manageable area and then maintain them throughout the season. Normally you let the canes grow to a height of no more than five feet, pruning them to keep that height, which will encourage branching and aid in picking the next season.
We moved from Ireland to Rogers, Arkansas a couple of months ago and we purchased a lovely family home with a large back yard. The backyard is currently lawn, with a couple of medium sized trees and a few beds set away from the grass with low stone walls around the house. I used to be an active gardener back in Ireland, but I am new to this area and don't know what grows well here and when one starts planting. Once spring starts here I would love to do some gardening in those beds. I am interested in planting some herbs and maybe some berries as I love raspberries and blackberries especially, but they are so expensive to buy in the shops. I won't be able to spend very much time gardening though, as I have one year old twins and they are a handful! Can you suggest some herbs and fruit plants for our new home?
Herbs are very easy to grow, and you can do a variety of both annuals and perennials. For dry, sunny areas consider the perennial rosemary and thyme. Oregano, fennel, garlic and sage are also very easy to grow. Cilantro is best grown in the fall as a winter annual. Parsely is a biennial and does well for a couple of years. Basil and dill are both summer annuals and thrive in Arkansas summers with a little bit of water. Blackberries and blueberries are both easy to grow and require little care, other than occasional pruning and water. Raspberries are a tad trickier, but they can be grown. As you have time, you might consider joining the Benton County Master Gardeners. They have a very active group of gardeners in your area. You will learn a lot and get to know fellow gardeners in your community.
Could, you please let me know the easiest way to winter blackberry plants that are in pots. They were dug up in early November. I just need to know the best way to keep them over the winter.
Blackberry plants are very winter hardy, but in containers they would need a little protection. All containerized plants will be less winter hardy than if they were in the ground. The root system is limited in the containers, plus the container is elevated so the soil temperature will get colder. You have several options: either group the plants and pots together and put some mulch around the base, or heel the pots into soil and mulch the tops. This will give you extra protection, should it get cold. If you know where you want them to grow, you could also plant them now.
Our four rows of blackberries are about 6 years old, and we mulch them with composted wood chips the tree trimmers dump on our property. Many of them have large nodular growths at the soil line on their stems which eventually will kill the plant. I haven't found anything similar in the extension on line disease library. We are going to pull all them out and start all over. What is the disease, does it remain in the soil (we are moving to a different planting location) and what treatment might prevent it? Also, I've been hearing about new blackberry varieties out of U of A, do you have any suggestions as to which ones are best for home production?
Two possibilities come to my mind-based on the description: Crown Gall which is a bacterial disease or Crown Borer which is an insect. For an accurate diagnosis submit a section of the lower stem w/ roots and soil attached to your local extension office so they can send it to the disease diagnostic lab. As for varieties of blackberries, here is a link to a chart of the Arkansas recommended variety: http://www.arhomeandgarden.org/fruits_nuts_vegs/small_fruit/blackberry.htm I personally love the thornless ones, Apache is my favorite.
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