With their large, succulent, juicy berries, this delicious range of soft fruits are sweeter than wild brambles and better behaved too. Train these vigorous plants along supporting wires for abundant summer harvests. There are even compact varieties for containers if you’re short on space.
Thornless varieties such as ‘Lock Ness’ are easier to train and harvest, yet just as delicious
Most are vigorous plants, requiring plenty of space. They need annual pruning and ongoing training to keep them tidy and within bounds. Their long, fast-growing stems are usually spread out along horizontal wires attached to posts or a wall/fence. But if you’re short on space, there are a few compact varieties that can be grown in large pots.
The succulent black or dark red berries ripen over several months, from mid-summer to early autumn depending on the variety. Most crop abundantly, giving you lots of juicy berries to eat fresh, cook in desserts, add to smoothies and make into jam. The fruits are rich in vitamins and antioxidants.
Month by Month
There is a tempting array of delicious blackberry varieties to choose from, with large, juicy, richly flavoured fruits. These can vary in sweetness and size, depending on the variety, with some up to 5cm (2in) long. Cropping time and duration vary too, from early summer to early autumn, and the flowers can be white or pink. Some varieties are even thornless, such as ‘Loch Ness’, which makes pruning, training and picking easier.
Plant size is a key consideration with blackberries, as they can grow quite large and need to be trained onto horizontal wires to keep them tidy. So choose a variety to suit your available space – very vigorous varieties can grow up to 4m (14ft) wide, with less vigorous types 2.5m (8ft) wide. There are also a few compact varieties that can be grown in containers with no supports, such as ‘Little Black Prince’, which only reaches 1m (3¼ft) tall and wide.
There are also several blackberry hybrids and closely related species to choose from, grown in a similar way and producing fruit with various delicious aromatic flavours. The main choices are:
Tayberry – a raspberry and blackberry cross. The fruit is red and longer than a raspberry. It is sharper in flavour than a raspberry, but usually sweeter than a loganberry. Best used for jams and cooking, but can also be eaten fresh. Early season crop. Several varieties available
Loganberry – a raspberry and blackberry cross. Fruits are dark red, longer and sharper tasting than raspberries. Ideal for jams and cooking, but can also be eaten fresh. Several varieties available
Boysenberry – a loganberry, raspberry and dewberry cross. Thornless, very hardy and moderately vigorous. Heavy crops of juicy black fruits with a wild blackberry flavour. Drought resistant and needs well-drained soil. Early season crop
Tummelberry – a tayberry and unnamed hybrid seedling cross. Thorny, medium vigour, suitable for colder areas. Moderate crops of medium-sized red berries. Can be eaten raw, but better made into jam. Early season crop
Dewberry – a combination of several Rubus species (including R. caesius and R. ursinus). Thorny, can be grown as ground cover or on a support. Small black fruits with a grey bloom. Popular in the US. Early season crop
Wineberry – an East Asian species, moderately vigorous with attractive stems covered with soft, bright red bristles. Moderate crop of small, sweet, juicy berries turning from golden yellow to red when ripe. Mid-season crop.
When choosing varieties, look in particular for those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which shows they performed well in trials, so should grow and crop reliably. See our list of AGM fruit and veg.
You can also see many berries and other soft fruits, including blackberries, growing in the fruit and veg plots in all the RHS gardens, so do visit to see how they are grown, compare the varieties and pick up useful tips.
What and where to buy
Blackberries are widely available in garden centres and from online suppliers, while hybrid and species berries are mainly sold online by fruit nurseries and other specialist suppliers. They are all usually sold as container-grown plants, but may occasionally be available bare root (without soil), from autumn to spring.
Choose a sunny, sheltered site to get the best crop, although all these berries will tolerate light shade too. They prefer moisture-retentive but free-draining soil. If you have chalky, sandy or heavy clay soil, dig in plenty of garden compost or well-rotted manure (two buckets per square metre/yard). Before planting, put a support system of horizontal wires in place – see training blackberries. Each plant will grow to 2.5–3.5m (8–11ft) wide, and up to 4.5m (13ft) for a vigorous variety, so make sure you allow enough space.
Winter is the ideal planting time, although plants bought in pots can be planted all year round (but avoid planting in hot, dry weather). Position in the ground at the same level they were growing previously. Prune straight after planting – see Pruning and Training, below.
With bare-root plants, these are only available from late autumn to spring, and should be planted straight away. Position with first roots no more than 5–8cm (2–3in) below the soil surface.
All these berries are easy to plant – similar to most climbers and shrubs. See the following guides for full details.
Planting in a container
There are only a few compact blackberry varieties that are suitable for planting in a container. For these, choose a pot at least 45cm (18in) wide and fill with peat-free soil-based compost. See our planting guides below.
Most blackberries and their relatives are vigorous scrambling plants that need to be trained onto supports to keep them under control. For the best crop, feed annually and water in dry weather while the fruits are forming.
Water new plants regularly for their first growing season – in dry spells, water every seven to ten days. Well-established plants shouldn’t need extra watering, although if the summer is particularly dry then watering once a fortnight will increase the fruit size. Plants in containers need regular watering throughout the growing season and even daily in hot weather.
Apply a 7cm (3in) layer of organic mulch, such as garden compost, every spring after feeding. Leave a 5cm (2in) gap around the base of the new canes and the crown, to prevent rotting.
In mid-spring, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4 or blood, fish and bone. Scatter one and a half handfuls per square metre/yard around the base of the plant.
It’s easy to produce new plants by rooting the ends of vigorous stems into the ground in spring and summer, known as stem-tip layering. Only do this with healthy young plants, as older plants may carry diseases.
Birds will happily eat the berries, so protect your crop by covering with netting, raised up on a frame of bamboo canes, or grow your berries inside a fruit cage.
Pruning and Training
To keep these vigorous scrambling plants under control, it’s best to train them along horizontal wires fixed to a wall, fence or posts. This should be set up before planting. Space the horizontal wires 45cm (18in) apart, with the lowest wire 30–45cm (1–1½ft) from the ground.
Most blackberries and hybrid/species berries produce their fruit on stems (or canes) that grew the previous spring and summer. Old stems need to be pruned out and new ones trained onto the supports:
Pruning should be done every year after fruiting to remove the old, fruited stems at the base, which stimulates new stems to grow in spring for a crop the following year (ie their second year). Left unpruned, plants will grow into a tangled, thorny mass of stems that fruit less well and are difficult to harvest
Training the stems onto wires has two main aims: to separate the old and new stems, so it’s easy to know which ones to prune out; and to keep these vigorous and usually thorny plants under control, so harvesting is easy. Tying in the stems as they grow is an ongoing process from spring to autumn
For more details, see our guide below.
Pruning and training new plants
Straight after planting cut down all the stems to healthy buds 20–25cm (8–10in) from the ground. The plant will then to send up vigorous new shoots in spring
Over the first spring/summer regularly tie in these new stems to the wires to keep them tidy – they won’t fruit in the first summer
In the first winter cut back all the side-shoots produced on the first year’s stems to 5–8cm (2–3in) long
In the second year start the regular process of training and pruning. Every spring the plant will send up new stems from the base. Loosely tie these together in the centre of the plant, with the previous year’s stems trained out along the horizontal wires, where they will produce fruit in summer
Harvest when succulent and richly coloured, as the berries won’t ripen any further after picking
Once settled in, blackberries and hybrid berries are usually healthy, vigorous plants. To keep them under control, prune them annually and tie the new stems to supports as they grow. Birds like the fruits too, so protect your precious harvest with netting raised up on a framework of canes, or grow your plant in a fruit cage. For other common problems, see below.
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