Growing Blackberries - May 9, 2018
Jeff Schalau, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County

Blackberries are easy to grow and very rewarding at harvest time. Your level of success will be dependent on good site selection, soil type, and cultural practices which include fertilization, irrigation, and pruning. The payoff is a four-week harvest period of delicious fruit that can be eaten fresh during the growing season, baked in desserts, made into syrup, or frozen for later enjoyment.

The blackberry belongs to a group of small-fruit crops called brambles. Brambles have perennial root systems and biennial canes. Canes produced during the first growing season are called primocanes and produce fruit the following summer on floricanes. The floricanes then die back to ground level during the winter. Blackberry canes are generally prickly with small to large thorns, although some thornless cultivars have been available for many years. Himalaya berries are non-native blackberries with stout, ribbed canes. While the Himalaya berries are edible, these plants are highly invasive and undesirable for cultivation.

Blackberries grow best in sandy loam soil. Otherwise, they can be grown in soils that are at least one-foot-deep, have good drainage, and have a pH between 4.5 and 7.5. Organic amendment (compost) should be added at planting time. On soils with a pH of 8.0 or above, soil sulfur may be incorporated into the soil before planting or when thinning canes. Otherwise, plants may experience zinc or iron deficiency and applications of zinc sulfate or iron chelate may be necessary. If soil drainage is inadequate, grow blackberries in a raised bed filled with mineral soil. They perform best in full sun when grown at elevations above 2,500 ft.

Blossoms may be damaged at temperatures below 26 degrees F and drying winds can damage canes between 20 and 24 degrees F. For this reason, select a wind-protected location.

Blackberries are described as erect, semi-erect, or trailing and are either thorny or thornless. Erect varieties tend to have square stems and trailing varieties have rounder stems. The University of Arkansas has developed several erect varieties having Native American tribal names. Of these, ‘Navaho’ and ‘Choctaw’ should perform well in north central Arizona. ‘Brazos’ and ‘Roseborough’ are other erect varieties that should also do well here. ‘Black Satin’ is a semi-erect variety and ‘Olallie’ is an excellent trailing variety.

New blackberry plants should be purchased from a reputable nursery to ensure they are free of root knot nematodes and fungal pathogens. Plant vines between February and April. Do not allow the roots to dry out before planting. Cut plant tops back to 6 inches before planting and any broken or damaged roots should also be pruned back. Spacing between individual vines within a row should be 2 to 3 feet for erect varieties and 4 to 6 feet apart for trailing varieties. Rows should be spaced at least 6 to 8 feet apart.

Both erect and trailing blackberries should be trained to a trellis. Trellises for trailing varieties are constructed by stretching two wires (3 and 5 feet above ground level) between steel or rot-resistant wooden posts. Erect varieties may be adequately staked with one wire 3 feet above the soil. End posts will need to be strong and well anchored.

Proper pruning is essential for good production. Erect varieties should be topped at 3 feet during the first summer. This encourages lateral branching, which is where the fruit will be produced the following year. These laterals should be pruned to 12 inches the following spring. Erect varieties should be thinned to 5 or 6 strong canes per foot of row in the spring. Trailing varieties should be thinned to 6 to 12 strong canes per foot of row and trained to the trellis wires in spring. For both trailing and erect varieties, old canes that have produced fruit the previous year should be removed after they have died back.

Nitrogen is the most critical nutrient for blackberry production. Apply from 1 to 1 ˝ oz. N per plant (6 to 10 oz. 16-16-16 per plant) per year. Weekly irrigation should be applied by flood, furrow, drip, or other method that wets the soil to a depth of 1 foot. Sandy soils may require more frequent irrigation. Avoid aerial sprinklers that wet foliage as this could promote disease. I have included a link to additional resources below. Enjoy your blackberries!

Follow the Backyard Gardener on Twitter – use the link on the BYG website. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener help line in the Camp Verde office at 928-554-8992 or e-mail us at and be sure to include your name, address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or provide feedback at the Backyard Gardener web site:


Blackberry, healthy fruit at various stages of maturity (Gerald Holmes, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo,

Additional Resources

Growing Blackberries
Utah State University Extension

Growing Blackberries in Your Home Garden
Oregon State University Extension Service

Pruning Raspberries, Blackberries, and Gooseberries
University of Missouri Extension

Follow the Backyard Gardener on: Twitter

Back to Backyard Gardener Home Page

Arizona Cooperative Extension
Yavapai County
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
(928) 445-6590
Last Updated: May 1, 2018
Content Questions/Comments:
Legal Disclamer