by National Gardening Association Editors
The great tangles of thorny blackberry vines that sprawl over abandoned farmland in some parts of this country are a far cry from the tamer types that, with a little coaxing, grow tidily in even a small backyard. Blackberries are among the easiest fruits to grow at home. Cultivated varieties have larger berries than the wild types. They'll start to bear the second year after planting and continue for about 15 years. Trained properly, four plants, each with a 3-by-3-foot growing area, can supply enough berries for a family of four. Where winters are not too severe, the new thornless varieties do well.
Blackberries are classified botanically as Rubus, a genus that also includes raspberries. Blackberries may be called dewberries in some areas. Boysenberries, marionberries, or loganberries are not separate species, just common names for the blackberry varieties 'Boysen', 'Marion', and 'Logon'.
Planning Your Patch
You may be tempted to start your blackberry patch with plants from a neighbor; blackberries are prolific and tend to spread widely, so people often give plants away. It's easy to do, too. The upright types form suckers up to 10 feet from the parent so you can just dig up the well-rooted young shoots in the spring and move them. Trailing blackberries will root where the tip of a cane touches the ground, making a new plant in no time. But don't accept donated plants unless you're sure your neighbor's patch is healthy.
Viruses are a widespread problem with blackberries. Symptoms aren't dramatic, so early detection may be difficult. Plants decline gradually, producing less and less until you're left with berryless brambles. There's no way to cure such infections. If possible, purchase certified virus-free plants from a reputable nursery. Once you have a few good plants you can multiply them by digging up suckers or by rooting cane tips.
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