Blackberrries come in 3 forms.  Trailing, semi-trailing and bush.  Trailing can develop canes as long as 15 feet and require specialized trellising.  The semi-trailing are about 6-8’ and can be grown on a post or a trellis.  The thornless bush types do not require any support although a side wire may be helpful to hold canes upright when they have a full fruit load. There are many bramble crosses which are often listed as blackberries such as boysenberry, loganberry and tayberry and we are not covering those here.

Central New Mexico is at the top end of cold hardiness for the bush blackberries and they may benefit from covering the canes over the winter with straw or mulch in the colder areas.   Blackberries with the exception of the newly released Prime Jim, Prime Jan and Prime Ark series produce fruit on second year canes.  We have trialed Apache, Navajo and Ouchita, all thornless bush varieties from The University of Arkansas breeding program.  (the leader when it comes to blackberry releases and research). 

All three varieties withstood our record cold February 2010.   Navajo showed the most cane damage and plant loss over the last two winters, therefore we are recommending it for Albuquerque, Los Lunas, Belen and like areas only.  Navajo is the earliest to fruit and this may be linked to its relative lack of vigor in our climate.  Apache is next to produce starting harvest this year July 20.  Apache has also impressed with it’s general vigor over some others types.  Ouchita seems to grow a slightly smaller bush (36-48”) and its production starts in early August.  The health and vigor seem to match Apache along with flavor.  Berry size is comparable in both, so for a continuation of the season plant both varieties.  Production starts the second year after planting and increases as bush size increases and more canes develop.  Both varieties will sucker to fill in the row but at a much slower rate than raspberries.

This is our first year growing Triple Crown, a semi-trailing variety.  So far it has exceeded expectations and seems to be living up to the hype.  It is reputed to grow up to 30 lbs on a single plant and while that is hard to believe, I would be more than happy with 10 – 15 lbs!  So far some of the new canes have reached the 4-5’ range by the end of July.  These will be next year’s producers. Currently all have fruit that looks to start ripening about the first week of August.  For small plants and expecting no fruit this year they seem very productive.  With these they should be trellised. Grow 5-6 canes in a vertical fan formation and plant 4-6’ apart.  After fruiting these canes should be removed.  When the current year’s canes hit the top wire placed at 5 or 6 feet off the ground, snip them off.  They will then develop lateral branches which can be tied to the top wire.  These laterals will dramatically increase your fruit production.

A difference between raspberries and blackberries is when picked ripe, raspberries pull free from the core. Blackberries start out red and then change to a purple and then rapidly to a glossy black.  At this point when they turn black is when most people pick them.  Don’t, if you do you will get a berry similar to the grocery store product, beautiful and black but somewhat tart.  Allow the sugars to develop by leaving another few days to a week.  When the glossy black just starts to dull a little is the optimum time.  The sugars will have developed to give an unbelievable sweet flavor, rich and full. A few days and you have a totally different animal, so to speak. At this point I defy anyone to bring back to the house half of what you have picked because you will be eating them as fast as you can gather them.