Blackberries and hybrid berries

Blackberries and hybrid berries are becoming increasingly popular producing plentiful fruit that can be used for culinary purposes. Many have pleasant flavour for eating fresh when fully ripe . They are relatively easy to  grow, but due to their vigour require more attention.

RHS trial of Hybrid berries: blackberry 'Karaka Black'

Quick facts

Common name Blackberry, boysenberry, dewberry, Japanese wineberry, loganberry, tayberry, tummelberry
Botanical name Rubus species and cultivars
Group Soft fruit
Fruiting time Summer to autumn
Planting time November to March
Aspect Sun or light shade
Hardiness Hardy
Difficulty Easy to moderate

Cultivation notes

Cultivation

Prepare site as for raspberries and insert a sturdy support as they tend to be more vigorous.

Spacing between individual plants will depend on their vigour. Plant moderately vigorous cultivars 2.5 to 3.5m (8-11ft) apart. Vigorous blackberry cultivars may need up to 4.5m (13ft) spacing to allow comfortable training of the shoots.

Avoid deep planting, the first roots of bare-root plants should be no more than 5-8cm (2-3in) below the soil level, use the nursery soil mark on the stem as a guide. Plant containerised plants at the same level as in the pot.

Pruning and training

Pruning and training

The majority of blackberries, hybrid berries and species are floricanes, producing fruit on one-year-old canes (i.e. on the previous season’s growth). Training is necessary to keep growth under control and separate new growth from fruiting canes to make pruning easier - see pruning and training

Primocane blackberry ‘Reuben’ fruits on new canes produced that season so is pruned as for autumn fruiting raspberries.

Propagation

Propagate healthy, new stock by stem tip layering in spring or summer.

Cultivar Selection

Blackberries

Early

  • ‘Black Butte’ – thorny, medium vigour. Very large, attractive, long black berries. Moderate flavour for eating fresh that improves when cooked.
  • ‘Helen’ – thornless, relatively compact. Attractive, small black berries with traditional blackberry flavour, but the eating quality can be variable.
  • ‘Karaka Black’ – thorny, compact plant, suitable for smaller garden. Fruit quite large, attractive, very good flavour. Good autumn foliage colour.
  • ‘Loch Tay' – thornless, semi-upright canes, relatively compact growth. Suitable for smaller gardens. Firm fruit, full flavoured when ripe with good weather damage resistance.
  • ‘Natchez’ – thornless, vigorous with bold ornamental foliage.  Heavy yield. Fruit large, black with pleasant flavour.
  • ‘Obsidian’ – thorny, can be very prickly. Fairly vigorous, canes quite brittle. Moderate crop of attractive, large dark black berries with good flavour.
  • ‘Sylvan’ - thorny, very vigorous. Tolerant to heavy soils, wind and drought. Large, long dark purple fruit.
  • ‘Waldo’ – thornless, semi-upright canes of moderate vigour. Suitable for smaller gardens. Canes are brittle, so best tied in early in exposed situations. Glossy black, large, firm and well flavoured fruit. Prone to viruses. Cane and leaf spot resistant.

Mid-season

  • ‘Ashton Cross’ – thorny. Selection from wild blackberries. Vigorous cultivar with wiry stems. Producing heavy crops of small to medium-size fruits that is well-suited for freezing and making jams. 
  • ‘Fantasia’ – thorny, very vigorous. Large yields of large, well flavoured berries.
  • ‘Loch Maree’ – thornless, moderate vigour. Attractive, double pink flowers. Smaller fruit with good wild blackberry flavour. However, it did not perform well on the RHS 2013-2015 Blackberry and Blackberry Trial
  • ‘Loch Ness’ AGM – thornless, relatively compact upright growth, good for smaller gardens. Large, attractive, firm, glossy-black, conical fruit with good flavour when well ripened.
  • ‘Ouachita’ – almost thornless, fairly vigorous with very large leaves. Good size, attractive, well flavoured berries are produced in abundance.

Mid–late season

  • ‘Navaho’ – thornless, fairly vigorous with large ornamental flowers and foliage. Good yields of large, attractive, bright black berries with good, sweet flavour when well ripened.
  • ‘Oregon Thornless’ – thornless, semi-vigorous with attractive, deeply cut ornamental foliage. Medium-sized fruit with a mild flavour.

Late

  • ‘Asterina’ – thornless, very vigorous with decorative pink flowers and large ornamental leaves. High yields of medium to large, black attractive berries. Good flavour when fully ripe.
  • 'Cacanska Bestrna' – thornless, very vigorous with attractive red stems. Heavy yield of attractive, glossy, fairly acidic berries unless well ripened.
  • ‘Chester’ – thornless, very vigorous with decorative flowers and large leaves. Heavy crop of medium to large black berries of moderate flavour. Grow in a sheltered spot in northern parts of the country. Good disease resistance.
  • ‘Himalayan Giant’ – thorny. Very vigorous and spiny. Not well-suited for an average garden, needs lots of space. Heavy crop of medium-sized fruit.
  • ‘Triple Crown’ – thornless, semi-erect stems, medium to vigorous. Good yields of medium to large, attractive, black berries of moderate eating quality.

Late primocane

  • ‘Reuben’ – thorny. Fairly compact plants. Flowers late and very late ripening. For the crop to ripen well it needs warm and sunny late summer and autumn weather. Large, black attractive berries of moderate flavour.

Dwarf blackberry

  • Little Black Prince® - thornless. Medium size, conical fruit with good flavour. Needs position in full sun. Mid-season

Hybrid and species berries

Boysenberry (loganberry, raspberry and dewberry cross)
Thornless, very hardy. Moderately vigorous. Heavy crops of juicy black fruits with wild blackberry flavour. Drought resistant, needs well drained soil.  Early season.

Tayberry (raspberry and blackberry cross)
The fruit is red and longer than a raspberry. It is sharper in flavour than raspberry, but it is usually sweeter than loganberry. Best used for jams and cooking, but can also be eaten fresh. Early season

  • Tayberry group AGM – thorny, main season, spiny, medium vigour, good yield of medium size berries. Good eating qualities, sharp but pleasant. Excellent for cooking, freezing and jam making. Fruit can suffer in very hot weather. The red canes are decorative in winter. 
  • ‘Buckingham’ –thornless. Medium vigour plants producing large tangy, flavoursome fruits that are best picked when they have changed from red to deep purple.  However, it did not perform well in the RHS 2013-2015 Blackberry and Blackberry Trial. There is problem with ‘off types’ that are producing very small distorted fruit or fruiting sparsely. Early season.

Tummelberry (tayberry and unnamed hybrid seedling cross)
Thorny, medium vigour. Suitable for colder areas. Moderate yield of medium-sized, red berries with moderate eating qualities. Best for jam making. Early season.

Loganberry (raspberry and blackberry cross)
The fruit is dark red and longer and sharper flavour than raspberry. Best picked when turned dark red. Ideal for jams and cooking, but can also be eaten fresh.

  • 'LY 59' –thorny, moderately vigorous, arching canes. Dark red, long, conical fruits are producing during the summer. Best for cooking and jams.
  • 'LY 654' - thornless, moderately vigorous. Dark red, conical fruit with sharp flavour. Early to mid-season

Japanese wineberry (species Rubus phoenicolasius)
Moderately vigorous with attractive stems that are covered with soft, bright red bristles. Moderate crop of small, sweet juicy fruit turning from golden yellow to red when ripe. Mid-season.

Dewberry (several Rubus species e.g. Rubus caesius and R. ursinus)
Thorny, can be grown as a ground cover or on a support. The small black fruit is covered with grey bloom. Popular in US. Early season.

AGM Trial Report

Problems

A number of pests can feed on blackberry and hybrid berries; the most severe damage is often caused by aphids , red berry mite, raspberry beetle, raspberry leaf and bud mite. The fruit fly - spotted wing drosophila (SWD) - is likely to become an increasing problem.

Diseases such as raspberry cane blight, honey fungus, Phytophthora root rot and verticillium wilt can be a problem. Do not plant new canes in soil known to have a problem with such diseases.

Raspberry cane and leaf spot (Elsinoe veneta) may also affect blackberries. Symptoms include development of dark purple spots with grey centres on the stems and leaves. If flower stalks are affected the fruit is often distorted. Loganberries are particularly susceptible. Severe infection can lead to defoliation. On the stems the lesions gradually increase in size, to forming shallow cankers with grey centres and purple-brown edges. Badly affected canes may be distorted or die. No fungicides are available. To control the disease prune out affected stems.

Purple blotch (Septocyta ruborum) can be confused with the more serious raspberry cane and leaf spot. Purple blotch causes dark green lesions on canes near ground level. These darken to red, then brown with a red margin, and spread up the cane. Affected canes may produce normal shoots in spring followed by death of leaves and flowers that mimics frost damage.

Loganberries can have problems with raspberry spur blight.  

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