When Tim gets an idea in his head, you might as well step back and let him go. A few years back, Tim set his eye on a row of unplanted soil at the Demonstration Garden. Next thing we knew, he was planting blackberries. Four kinds: three with thorns and one without. (Guess which one won the popularity contest.)
Up till now, I lumped blackberries in with blueberries. I have even picked black/blue berries in East Texas’ crushing heat and humidity. (Now I buy them at the farmers market.) I assumed that blackberries, like blueberries, had to have only acid, sandy soil.
But listen up here: We can grow blackberries in Dallas! If you amend Dallas’ heavy, alkaline clay with expanded shale, cottonseed, and compost, and plant in raised beds, you will have enough berries for all the pies you can eat. Blackberries like lots of moisture and full sun; run a drip irrigation line down your row of plants.
If you look at a blackberry leaf, it doesn’t resemble the smooth oval leaf of a blueberry. Turns out blackberries and raspberries are not true berries; they belong to the Rosaceae family and are kissing cousins with roses. Maybe that explains those worrisome thorns. The “berry” is actually a collection of many drupelets; each holds a seed surrounded by the luscious berry flesh.
Blackberries can’t decide whether they’re a perennial or a biennial. The roots aren’t going anywhere (perennial). But the top canes do a two-year production number before their curtain call (biennial). The first year, the new canes “primocanes” grow vigorously but don’t have any flowers. The second year the same canes, now called floricanes (flori=flowers), get busy housekeeping, have flowers and berries and retire. Tim says to cut back all the blackberry canes that have produced in July –August, leaving the primocanes for next year’s crop.
Which variety to plant? Tim planted these thorned blackberries:
‘Brazos’ was developed at Texas A&M and introduced in 1959. Most of the thorned varieties have Brazos in their heritage. The Texas standard for years, Brazos is a large, erect growing, high yielding blackberry.
‘Rosborough’ was released by Texas A&M in 1977. It ripens just after ‘Brazos,’ and has firmer, sweeter berries and smaller seed. ‘Rosborough’ is a large plant, disease resistant, and very popular throughout Texas.
‘Womack’ is the smallest of the TAMU releases, with fruit that is firmer and better quality than ‘Brazos.’ Also released in 1977, it performs best in Central and North Texas. It is not recommended for southeast or northwest Texas.
Tim planted one thornless variety, ‘Natchez,’ which in our small trial produced more than the thorned plants. Released in 2007 from the University of Arkansas, ‘Natchez’ has firm sweet fruit and upright growth. It ripens early and has good disease tolerance.
Plant blackberries in the fall. Tim suggests purchasing plants from Womack Nursery in De Leon, Texas.
Right now, I’m scouting the yard for a sunny spot to fill with blackberries this fall.
Pictures by Starla
Buy local blackberries at farmer’s markets and use our recipes being posted yesterday and over the next few days to satisfy your cravings. Next year maybe you will have your own producing patch!