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Vermont Garden Journal: Blackberries

Fri 5/3/13 5:55 pm & Sun 5/5/13 9:35 am  It's known as the brummel, brambleberry and bly. It's hard to know where exactly this fruit originated because it grows literally around the world. It's also as well known as a medicinal plant as a food crop. It's the blackberry.

Since blackberries grow so easily in the wild, for centuries gardeners would simply find wild patches to collect roots, bark and leaves for curing ills such as whopping cough, bowel distress and sore throats. Oh yes, and the black, fleshy fruits were also used for food and dyes.

It wasn't until the 19th century that we started breeding varieties of blackberries to produce bigger and tastier fruits. Most hardy varieties such as 'Illini Hardy' and 'Darrow' are erect and thorny. While there are trailing varieties and thornless varieties available, those grow best in warmer climates so unless you have a sheltered spot, they probably won't consistently overwinter for you in Vermont. But we can grow some of the newer fall bearing varieties such as 'Prime Jim' and 'Prime Jan'. Like fall bearing red raspberries, these plants produce fruit in summer and fall. You do need a location that avoids early fall frosts to get a good fall crop.

To grow blackberries, select a well-drained location in full to part sun. Often you'll see them on the forest edge. Blackberries can take some shade and still produce.  Since erect varieties can stand over 6 feet tall  and form a thicket, consider planting them as a hedge to block deer or dogs from entering your yard. Plant 3 feet apart in rows 2 to 3 feet wide in soil amended with compost and mulch. Consider planting where you can mow around the bed to keep the suckers from spreading all over.

Now for this week's tip, prune back butterfly bushes to just above a live bud a few feet from the ground. If you don't see any new growth in a week or so, prune it to the ground and hope for new growth from the roots.

Next week on The Vermont Garden Journal I'll be talking about baptisia. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.

Growing Blackberries

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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