(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 13, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
The wild blackberry is one of the most widely known of the wild berries. Considered a noxious weed in some areas because they spread rapidly, and over time create dense, tangled jungles of some of the nastiest thorns known in the berry world. Their branches can easily reach 10 or 20 feet in length. That being said, I remember when I was a child, I spent a few weeks each summer with my Grandparents. Picking Blackberries was at the top of the "to do" list. Dad had to have his Blackberry wine. We would pick them and freeze them as soon as we got home. Blackberries are not known for their staying power once picked. Being the stubborn child that I was, I also remember raw, bloody and scratched arms and legs. I looked like I had been wrestling with wild cats. The wiser of you out there, I'm sure, would dress in long sleeved shirts and long pants, maybe heavy work gloves on one hand. Peak picking happens in July in the North, which also happens to be the height of mosquito season. Remember to pack some good bug spray too. Blackberries can readily be found growing along the edges of roads and open clearings. One more important note before I forget, they are often found growing together with poison ivy and poison oak, which makes the heavy clothing even more appropriate.
"That's all fine and dandy Lee Anne, but what if I don't want to go hiking through the back woods, dressed in way too many clothes, on a hot July day?" No problem. There are many, many cultivated varieties available on the market today, including a thornless one. Every garden centre, including the big box stores, will have them. They require very little care, just a few basics..
Blackberry care. Blackberries are not fussy about their soil. They will grow in sand, rock, on hillsides or flat ground. They are one of the first to appear in newly cleared areas. They also like their water. Even the wild crop will fail if the summer is too hot, with no rain, at the wrong time. The berries will just shrivel up on the vines. The keys to avoiding this disaster are compost and mulch. If you can, add as much good organic matter as possible to the soil before planting. Mulching around the plants will help prevent moisture loss as well. Blackberries spread fast, remember that noxious weed thing we mentioned earlier? They don't like to be too crowded either, so good air circulation is a must to prevent any diseases. They will grow equally well in direct sun or partial shade.
The blackberry roots are perennial. The canes are a different story altogether. While you are fighting with your blackberry bush trying to pick the juicy berries, you will notice new canes growing from the roots. These new canes will be next years crop. The fruit bearing canes will die after they are finished producing. These ones can then be cut out. You will then be left with a nice patch of new canes for picking next year.
A few things to take note of before we move on to the more appetizing aspects of the Blackberry. Firstly, if picking the wild ones, avoid any location, such as railway right of ways and along major roads. Pollution from vehicles and spraying may make them less than edible. Secondly, they are seedy with a capital "S". Denture wearers beware. The seeds are just the perfect size to lodge between unsuspecting teeth. Thirdly, while picking Blackberries, your clothing and fingers will become purple.
Last, but not least, you will become tangled, your hair, clothes, feet. You won't notice though, for after tasting that first luscious berry you will become desperate to reach further and farther into the brambles, reaching and stretching, inching forward, until you find yourself sweaty and scratched...and just when you think "enough already", you will look up and see the biggest berry yet, just a few feet away, and you will have to, just have to get it. Then you realize you are stuck, maybe a little rest is in order, maybe...and you eat a few berries while you ponder your situation..."maybe I'll pick just a few more".
Many thanks to melody, philomel, Sarahskeeper and Baa for adding such beautiful photos to Plant Files.