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BLACKBERRY  or  BRAMBLE  (Rubus fruticosus)

While you can pick the wild ones in season from many hedgerows, there are cultivated forms, which are either selections or hybrids from European or North American types of blackberry. There are some 350 different varieties of bramble.

European types. Some have the typical wild Blackberry flavour, but can be rather too big a plant for most gardens. Some varieties are less vigorous and spine free. Others are very vigorous and spiny and will make a good defence against vandals! Their fruiting period is similar to the wild types. However, I noticed an un-named cultivar on one of the Glasgow allotments, which regularly fruits in October, and is thus very useful for extending the fruiting season.

North American types. Some have long black fruits, but are much more “tart” than the European types. They can also be very vigorous and spiny and they seem to fruit much earlier than the European wild ones.

Most of the Blackberries are very vigorous plants, needing some 4 sq m of space, on a fence, wall or trained on wires or ropes or trellises. This space can be reduced by tying in the fruiting growths in a circular pattern, as in the photo of the Tayberry trained against the wall.

Any reasonably fertile, well drained soil is adequate. The soil should be well weeded and dug over, taking particular attention to remove all perennial weed roots  as they can be very difficult to remove later. Blackberries are ideal for planting on boundary fences. If you are siting them well within your plot, they should be trained up wires and posts which should be placed in a North/South orientation to minimise them causing shadows on adjacent plants. The posts should be about 2.5 m long, with a 10 x 10 cm section and well preserved from rotting, and spaced  about 2 m apart.  They should be driven about 50 cm into the ground with a sledge hammer, and braced with diagonal timbers at the ends of the rows to counteract the considerable stresses induced by the wires connecting the posts.

Fencing wires or similar supports will be used to tie-in the canes of the plants. One wire should be about 1 m above ground, while the other should be at the top of the posts, securely attached with staples, so as not to snag any anti-bird netting.

New bare rooted plants or canes should be planted in Winter or early Spring, during the dormant period. While you do not want waterlogged soil, you do want a water retentive soil to ensure that they continue to produce fruit during dry spells. To achieve this, dig out a hole a good spade’s depth deep, and put plenty of well rotted organic compost into the hole. Place your young plant or cane into the hole with the roots at the same depth as they were previously growing, about 6 ins. They are shallow rooting plants which makes them vulnerable to drought. Finnish off by sprinkling some slow release fertilizer such as Blood, Fish and Bone, around the hole and water the canes in well. If the canes are long enough, tie them into the first wire. If you want to cut down on your future weeding, consider planting the canes through slits in a ground cover fabric, or use a mulch.

The Blackberries should be picked when they are fully ripe and as sweet as possible and almost black in colour. Ripe fruit should readily come off its base support. The central plug stays within the fruit when picked.

Pruning is effected by cutting out the wood that has just fruited, in late Autumn and tying in the new growths to fruit the following year. Do not cut off the new season’s growth or you will not have any fruit the following year! You must tie in the new growth securely to prevent them being damaged by Winter gales.

Pests and diseases are generally not a problem, apart from Birds and the Raspberry Beetle. I prefer not to use a spray against the Beetle, but I do use netting to defeat the pterodactyls.

The fruit is best used fresh, still warm from the heat of the sun, with cream, or low fat dairy products. If it is intended to store the fruit for several days, pick the fruit preferably when it is dry, and put it in the fridge in an open container to prevent spoilage, as soon as possible.

Second quality fruits can be turned into jams, jellies, and ice-creams.

To store for the long term, consider freezing or bottling the fruit for later use in fruit pies and crumbles.


North American types.

Black Butte. Claimed to have the largest Blackberry fruits up to 5 cm long, and produced quite early from July to September. Very vigorous with thorny canes up to 2.5 m long which  need support on wires or fencing. I would describe the flavour as being sharp. The berries deteriorate in long periods of rainy weather.

European types.

Loch Ness. Claimed to be suitable for the smaller garden as it grows on short, upright, thornless canes. Claimed to produce firm, black, conical berries with a good flavour from August to the frosts.