by Matt Gibson
At only 62 calories per cup, blackberries make for a wonderfully smart and tart snack. Blackberries are not only low in calories, they are also low in sodium and come with high doses of Vitamin C and bioflavonoids. These naturally sweet, delightfully tart treats are also one of the best natural sources of antioxidants you can find in the fruit family. Lab studies have shown antioxidants can neutralize harmful free radicals, ending their interaction with cells before those cells can be damaged and therefore, many believe, lowering the risk of cancers associated with free radical damage.
Also known as brambleberry, dewberry, thimbleberry, lawers, brameberry, caneberry, bly, bramble-kite, and brummel, blackberries are believed to help tighten up and invigorate skin tissue, promoting a more youthful appearance. While many people will tell you blueberries are great for your memory, fewer seem to know that blackberries are helpful in maintaining mental focus.
The high tannin content of blackberries has been shown to help relieve inflammation and soothe maladies such as upset stomach and diarrhea. The astringent tannins that are present in blackberries can even come in handy as a natural mouthwash after brushing your teeth.
Blackberries are also quite high in ellagic acid, which is an antioxidant believed to deactivate cancer-causing chemicals in the body. Ellagic acid also helps reduce damage to the respiratory system caused by tobacco smoke or air pollution. Last but not least, blackberries contain other antioxidant properties, which target cardiovascular health and high cholesterol levels.
Growing Conditions for Blackberries
Blackberries thrive most heartily in areas that get a full dose of sun each day. Though blackberries can tolerate a moderate amount of shade, if they lie too often in shadow, they don’t produce any fruit. And, many would ask, what good is a blackberry bush with no blackberries?
Blackberries thrive in fertile soil with ample drainage. Between growing seasons, gardeners should definitely enrich the soil their blackberries are planted in by adding organic content, such as leaves, peat moss, and sawdust. Blackberries prefer a slightly acidic alkalinity, so check that the soil where you plan to plant your crop of blackberries has a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 in ph.
How to Plant Blackberries
In early springtime, clean the roots, and soak them for two hours in a bucket of water. Dig a hole that is large enough to completely fit the plant’s whole root system comfortably. Place the plant into the ground so that the roots are completely buried, but be sure that the spot where the root meets the stem is just above ground level. Cut the canes of the blackberry plant down to six inches tall.
Fill in the hole around the roots about three quarters of the way with soil. Add water to allow the soil to set, then finish filling the hole with soil before adding water once again. A weak liquid nitrogen fertilizer can be added at the time of planting. However, be sure to keep the fertilizer at least three or four inches away from the roots so that they don’t burn.
Care of Blackberries
Blackberries produce at their optimum level when they are planted in an environment rich in moisture. Mulch the soil at the base of each blackberry plant to help conserve moisture and ward away any pesky weeds, which will draw nutrients away from the blackberries and toward themselves.
Fertilize the blackberries using a 10-10-10 fertilizer in both the summer and spring. In 10-10-10 fertilizer, the numbers represent percentages-the included percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Your neighborhood honeybees will make sure your blackberries are pollinated, so be sure to steer clear of pesticides that might harm bees.
Between 35 and 45 days after your plants first bloom, the blackberries will have ripened and matured on the vine, changing in color from green to red and finally to their namesake: a deep, juicy black. The berries should just about fall off of the stems of the plant when they are fully ripe and ready to eat. Once your blackberries start to ripen, be diligent about picking them early and often-every three to six days, until they stop producing. Be sure to harvest blackberries as early in the day as possible so that you beat the birds. After all, the early bird gets the worm, or the berries, depending on what it’s looking for. With the proper care and maintenance, each blackberry plant you cultivate will provide you and your family with fruit harvests to fuel jellies, pies, and cobblers for the next 15 to 20 years.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Blackberries
Unfortunately, blackberries often fall victim to a nasty disease called verticillium wilt. In order to keep your plants safe from the wilt, avoid planting your blackberries in areas where potatoes, tomatoes, or peppers have been grown in the past few years.
Also, keep your blackberry plants far away from any wild blackberry plants that may have crept into your garden. Wild blackberry plants often come along with wild diseases, which could affect your crops if you don’t keep them separate.
Blackberry plants are also susceptible to insect infestations, such as nematodes, borers, aphids, and beetles. Check your plants daily to remove insects by hand. Many insects are like us and enjoy sweets, so they’ll feed on your berries before you can harvest them. Also, use a natural pesticide, such as diluted neem oil, and it spray on the blackberry plants to prevent aphid attacks.
Different Varieties of Blackberries to Grow in Your Home Garden
It may come as a surprise that there are many different types of blackberries. Each type is specific to a certain region where it is both grown in the wild and cultivated for mass sale and consumption.
There are also two different categories of blackberry plants: erect and trailing. Erect blackberry plants stand up straight and do not need any brace or assistance to thrive. Trailing blackberry plants, however, cannot hold the fruit upright and require the assistance of a trellis to keep them vertical throughout the growing process.
Some of the most trusted varieties available to grow are the erect, thornless Navaho or Arapaho blackberry and, the erect, thorny varieties Brazos, Cherokee, Cheyenne, and Shawnee. Popular varieties that need the support of a trellis are the semierect, thornless Black Satin and the trailing Olallie.
Want to learn more about growing blackberries?
The Old Farmer’s Almanac covers Growing Blackberries
Atlernative Nature Online Herbal covers Blackberries
Arbor Day Foundation covers Blackberry Planting, Care, Pruning and Harvesting Instructions
DIY Network explains How to Grow Blackberries
U.S. Department of Health and Human services covers Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention
Gardening Know How covers Growing Blackberry Bushes
Garden Tech covers How to Grow Blackberries and Raspberries
SFGate Homeguides explains What Insects Eat Blackberries?
SFGate Homeguides explains When to Use 10-10-10 Fertilizer in the Garden?
Huffington Post covers Blackberry Facts