Many of us grew up picking blackberries the country. My Grandmother Emanis would lead us on a trek to fencerows and unmowed pastures to harvest the plump dark delicacies. Around our house they were mostly made into delicious cobblers and jelly. East Texas isn’t known for being able to produce a plethora of fruits, but we can certainly grow blackberries well. Thanks to extremely productive, upright, and even thornless varieties, almost anybody in the state with a bit of room and sunshine can harvest their own at home now. The most important thing to know is that they produce on last year’s canes, which die to the ground after producing.

Blackberries are generally planted as 1-gallon containerized plants. Occasionally they may be purchased bare root, loosely packed in bags or pots, or even as dormant root cuttings. Without a doubt, fully rooted containerized plants are the way to go and will get you into the blackberry-eating business sooner. As with most containerized plants in Texas, the best time to plant is fall, followed by winter, spring, and lastly summer. Planting at the beginning of our cooler, moister season ensures that the plants get established before having to endure our inevitable summer droughts. Blackberries make sizeable plants, as high as 5 feet tall, and should be planted 3 feet apart.

Like most fruits, blackberries need at least eight hours of full sun (preferably more) for maximum production. Blackberries prefer slightly acidic, well-drained soils and can tolerate both heat and cold. The ideal soil pH for blackberries is 5.5 to 7.5.

Blackberries were once sold mostly bare root or from root cuttings that had to be planted in the winter when they were dormant. Luckily these days, they are mostly sold growing in containers, which can be planted year-round if there is moisture. Dig a hole the same depth but a little wider than the plant, place the root ball into it, and backfill with your existing soil. Put 1 to 2 inches of organic mulch (compost, shredded bark, pine straw, etc.) around the plants to prevent weeds, moderate soil temperatures, and conserve moisture.

After establishment, apply ¼ pound of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, 18-6-12, etc.) per plant each year in the late winter, before growth begins, and again after fruit harvest in the summer, when the canes are pruned. Blackberries produce fruit on canes that grew the previous year. After fruiting, these canes die and should be cut out and removed using long-handled loppers. Cut the new canes back to between 36 to 48 inches to encourage branching and heavier fruit production the following year.

Blackberries will not ripen off the plant and should be picked at the peak of ripeness, when they are the blackest and plumpest, and placed in the refrigerator immediately.

Recommended blackberry cultivars for Texas include ‘Arapaho’ (thornless), ‘Brazos’ (thorny), ‘Chickasaw’ (thorny), ‘Choctaw’ (thorny), ‘Kiowa’ (thorny), ‘Natchez’ (thornless), ‘Navaho’ (thornless), ‘Ouachita’ (thornless), and ‘Rosborough’ (thorny).  ‘Natchez’ is a Texas Superstar selection (texassuperstar.com).  Though harder to pick, production is higher on the thorny varieties.  Blackberries are self-fertile and do not require more than one cultivar to pollinate. Blackberries are native to North America. 

For more information on growing blackberries in Texas, read the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service publication about them under Fruit and Nut resources on the Aggie Horticulture website.