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Blackberries and hybrid berries

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Grow delicious berries at home

BlackberryBerries are delicious and good for you, but unfortunately can be expensive to buy. Many gardeners will be familiar with blackberries (most commonly Rubus fruticosus), but maybe not so much with hybrid berries. Jim Arbury, Fruit Specialist at RHS Garden Wisley, picks some of his favourites from the trial at Wisley.

Breeding new berries

LoganberryMost hybrid berries are derived from crosses between blackberries and raspberries. The most famous of these are the loganberry (left) (Rubus x loganobaccus) which was raised in the late 19th century in California and the tayberry (Rubus Tayberry Group) which was raised at the Scottish Crop Research Institute and introduced in 1979.

There has also been a lot of work in blackberry breeding, with most modern cultivated blackberries having the American blackberry or dewberry (Rubus ursinus) in their parentage. And not all are related to our native, wild blackberries.

Hyrbid berry trial

The hybrid berry trial at Wisley has 19 entries including thorny and thornless clones of the loganberry and tayberry as well as many recent introductions.

TayberryThese are some of the entries worth trying at home:

  • Loganberry (Rubus x loganobaccus): This is still one of the best raspberry/blackberry hybrids. It has good flavour with some acidity. It is good fresh and for jam
  • Tayberry  (left) (Rubus Tayberry Group): Similar to the loganberry but earlier to ripen and sweeter.
  • Tummelberry (Rubus ‘Tummelberry): A cross between tayberry and one of its sister seedlings. Good fresh and for jam.
  • Blackberry ‘Karaka Black’ (Rubus fruticosus agg. ‘Karaka Black’): Large blunt ended fruits with good flavour
  • Blackberry ‘Loch Ness’ (Rubus fruticosus agg. ‘Loch Ness’): Thornless and easy to train with vigorous upright canes. Good blackberry flavour.
  • Blackberry ‘Navaho’ (Rubus fruticosus agg. ‘Navaho’): A promising blackberry of good flavour with moderately vigorous upright canes.

Soil and site

Blackberries and hybrid berries are tolerant of a range of soils, providing that they are fairly fertile and well-drained. They will grow in partial shade but do best in full sun. Provide shelter from strong winds so as to prevent damage to canes and improve pollination. If frost is forecast when they are flowering, protect with fleece at night.

Pruning and training

Blackberries and hybrid berries need some form of support, or else you’ll end up with a briar patch in your garden.

It is useful to know the growing habit of the different cultivars for choosing a training method. They are grouped into erect/semi-erect or trailing.

Erect/Semi erect - Blackberries: Apache, Chester, Helen, Loch Maree, Loch Ness, Loch Tay, Navaho, Triple Crown.

Trailing – Blackberries: Black Butte, Karaka Black, Obsidian. Hybrid berries: boysenberry, loganberry, silvanberry, tayberry, tummelberry.

There are a number of ways you can train blackberries and hybrid berries:

  • Post and wire system
  • Over an archway
  • As a fan against a wall

Post and wire system

The most straightforward way to train blackberries and hybrid berries is on wires either attached to freestanding posts (as in the Wisley trial) or attached to a wall or fence. Stretch galvanised wires horizontally, with the first wire at 60cm from the ground and two more wires spaced 30- 45cm apart. Plant at 2.5 – 3.5m apart, depending on the cultivar.

Over an archway

Blackberries and hybrid berries can also be grown over archways and this suits erect/semi-erect.

As a fan against a wall

The fan system is suitable for erect or trailing cultivars. Attach wires to a wall 30cm apart. Tie the canes to the wires in a fan shape with a gap of about 45cm in the middle for new canes. As the new canes grow, support them loosely in the centre with string. After fruiting has finished, cut out the old canes and tie the new ones in their place.

Primocane blackberries

This is a new development in blackberries. These fruit on the current season’s growth in a similar way to primocane/autumn fruiting raspberries. This is very promising as they are much easier to train. They are simply grown between parallel wires. There is one cultivar ‘Reuben’ available at the moment which last year fruited rather late in October (last year was not typical). If it fruits earlier it could be very useful. It has good flavour.


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