In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
July, 2012
Regional Report

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Pretty blackberry flowers in spring foretell a bountiful berry harvest.

Xeriscape Part III: Plant Selection: Edibles: Blackberries

Xeriscape design includes a set of seven principles to guide you in the creation and long-term maintenance of a colorful, earth-friendly landscape that suits your unique needs. Previous reports covered design, site analysis, whether to install turf, and varied plant selection topics. This report continues the topic of selecting edible plants, in particular, blackberries.

Blackberry vines feature dense thorny foliage that can be trained into effective privacy screening or a security planting. I have seen "walls" of blackberries growing in the Phoenix area, upwards of 10-15 feet tall and 45-60 feet long. (Of course, you can keep them at a smaller size to fit your space.) Blackberries are covered with pretty white blossoms in spring, fat berries around May through June, and colored foliage in fall. In the low desert, blackberries remain evergreen unless temperatures drop to about 25-27 degrees F. When weather warms, new growth pushes out quickly. Of course, their berries contain antioxidants that all the health reports tell us to consume.

Blackberry brambles grow like crazy and need to be controlled or their wicked thorny growth will punish you. They spread by underground runners. Dig up these offshoots as soon as they appear to prevent their spread into the rest of the landscape (assuming you do not want them to spread). You can pot them up to give away to fellow gardeners.

Canes need to be pruned annually to prevent the brambles from becoming an impenetrable mass, unless that is what you are trying to achieve for security! Canes grow the first year and bear fruit the second. After canes have borne fruit, they will not bear again. When berry production is complete, cut spent two-year-old canes off at soil level to make way for fresh growth and keep the overall plant size manageable. Trim the remaining canes,which will bear fruit next year, back to about four feet tall to encourage lateral branching.

Blackberries are not terribly fussy about soil as long as drainage is good. Apply several inches of compost around the base of the plants twice per year as mulch. As it decomposes, it adds nutrients to the soil.

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