How to Grow Blackberries in Arkansas
Growing Blackberries in Arkansas
Blackberries grow well in all parts of Arkansas and they require less care than most other fruits. Plus they taste good! Here are some links to other fruit growing blog posts that might interest you:
The University of Arkansas developed some wonderful varieties and we do our best to stock several of them. In fact, all of the varieties listed below are Arkansas released blackberries, including a very cool, groundbreaking primocane variety. Keep reading for details on this…
Primocane blackberries fruit on current season canes and second year canes, whereas floricane blackberries must be overwintered for fruiting on second year canes. The benefit of primocanes is that they have the potential for more than one crop per year; the normal crop on second year canes, then a later crop on current seasons canes. In fact, primocanes have been shown to flower and fruit all the way up until frost (weather dependent).
Plant blackberries in a full sun location with good air flow to decrease disease and insect issues. Space plants 3 to 4 feet apart to allow for good growth. Although blackberries are one of the easiest fruit to grow, there are some pest issues to watch for and treat as needed; keep reading for details on pests. Planting is most successful in the late winter/ early spring before the soil temperatures warm. Although planting later in the spring can be done successfully, there will be less plant growth during the initial growing season.
Blackberries grow in a variety of soil types, which is why they are successful all across the state. However, pH is a factor, with the ideal pH range being 5.5 to 6.5. If the soil pH is too alkaline (higher than 6.5), iron chlorosis can occur. Yellow leaves are a symptom of this issue. Iron may be present but at high pH levels, it’s ‘tied up’ and not accessible to the plant. This deficiency can be temporarily addressed by applying a foliar spray of chelated iron. We suggest getting a Good Earth Soil Test Kit and following recommendation on the results. Soil applications of sulfur may be needed to lower pH long term and resolve this issue. For more information on soil pH, visit this post.
Good soil drainage is also key for successful blackberry growing. For heavy, clay soil, amend with organic matter to introduce more oxygen into the soil and increase drainage. You can also grow blackberries in raised beds (size recommendation is 10 inches deep and 2-3 feet wide). Avoid planting in sites with standing water for long periods of time.
Blackberry Growing Tips
Irrigation is needed the first year after planting, while the plant roots are getting established. Apply water equivalent to one inch of rainfall per week during dry periods in the growing season. Monitor and adjust irrigation as needed.
Apply fertilizer as recommended on soil test results; more about soil tests and pH below.
Little to no pruning is necessary during the initial planting year, except occasional trimming of side branches. Blackberry plants grow canes each year from the crown (base of the plant, where top growth and root system meet) or from buds formed on roots. These canes grow for a year, produce fruit the second season, then die soon after harvest. Remove these old canes to allow new shoots to grow strong in the summer after they bloom. For floricanes, top new canes back to a height of 36 to 48 inches; this will not only limit height, it will force side branches that will then bear fruit the following year. For primocanes, don’t top new canes until after fruiting ends.
Other pruning includes remove suckers that have sprouted up outside of the row or plant bounds if not planted in a row. Lateral branches can be trimmed back if they are growing to an unmanageable length. In the winter, prune the lateral branches (side branches) back to 14 to 15 inches. This will increase berry size and make harvesting easier. Remove any dead or weak canes in the winter as well, leaving healthy canes in place, approximately six canes per square foot.
A Few More Blackberry Growing Tips
Monitor for spider mites, the most common insect pest of blackberries, and treat as needed. In the late winter and early spring months, spray with dormant oil to kill any overwintering mites. Be sure to clean up fallen leaves that might be harboring this unwanted pest. If spider mites are seen during the growing season, there are some food safe spray options available at Good Earth. Blackberries can also have some rust and powdery mildew issues; we have an effective copper fungicide available for these.
All of these blackberries are self-fruitful and do not require a pollinizer, however, a pollinizer partner (another blackberry of same or different variety) may increase crop yield.
Varieties (*Indicates University of Arkansas releases)
- Arapaho* – Floricane, self-fruitful, thornless, early producers, upright growing, firm, medium size tasty fruit with small seeds
- Apache* – Floricane, self-fruitful, thornless, upright growing, higher yield and larger fruit than Arapaho
- Kiowa* – Floricane, self-fruitful, thorned variety, upright growing, world’s largest blackberry, fruit stores well, high yield
- Natchez* – Floricane, self-fruitful, thornless, semi-upright growing, produces the largest fruit of any thornless cultivar, plant 3 ft apart, fruit stores well, early season producer
- Ouachita* – Floricane, self-fruitful, thornless, upright growth, low chilling hours make them good for warm winters, fruit stores well, disease resistant, easy to harvest, heat tolerant
- Prime-Ark 45* – Primocane, self-fruitful, thorned variety, long season producer (first year canes fruit in July, second year canes fruit in June, with both continuing to fruit until frost), disease resistant, cold hardy, fruit stores w
- Prime-Ark Freedom* – Primocane, self-fruitful, thornless, upright growing, drought tolerant, cold hardy, long season producer (first year canes fruit in July, second year canes fruit in June, with both continuing to fruit until frost), very large berries with good flavor, stores well. This is the world’s first thornless primocane blackberry and it was developed right here in Arkansas!