Fruit and Vegetable Gardening A-Z: Blackberries and Raspberries

Berries are delicious, but often expensive at the supermarket. Grow your own blackberries and raspberries at home instead! Many new hybrids, which cross blackberries with their relative raspberries, are readily available these days, too; these can be useful if space is limited.

Hardiness Zones:
5-10 (Find your hardiness zone.)

When to Plant:
Purchase bushes from a reputable nursery, making sure they are certified to be free of diseases and root nematodes. Plant bushes in early spring (in hardiness zone 5 and north) or in fall or late winter (in zone 6 and south). Blackberries and raspberries take two years to start fruiting following the initial planting. Water generously after planting.

Blackberries and raspberries are very adaptable to different kinds of soils, but they prefer moist, rich soils. Prep the bed by tilling it and working in generous amounts of compost. Do not plant raspberries where tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, or eggplant have grown within the past four years, because these crops carry a root rot called "verticillium" that can also attack raspberries.

Space Needed:
Space bushes 5-6 feet apart in rows 10 feet apart.

A double row of support trellises is recommended for berries. Allow no more than 10 canes (branches) to develop on each bush so as to not overwhelm the trellis. Some training of the canes onto the trellis is necessary. When the fruits are setting, supply constant moisture. Birds are the main predator of these berries, so placing some netting over the plants might be helpful. While the roots of the bushes are perennial, the canes are biennial. A new cane (called a primocane) comes up and produces no fruit while the new canes from the previous year (called floricanes) do. Remove the floricanes at the end of the growing season. Blackberries are self-fertilizing.

When to Harvest:
Berries are ready for picking in early fall when they are a deep black color (blackberries) or deep red (raspberries) and come off easily when touched.

Average Yield:
Expect 1-2 pounds per bush during the growing season.

Continuous Yield:

Life Cycle:
Perennial, some varieties up to 12 years

Difficulty Rating (1-5):
New plant, 4; established plant, 2.