The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Choosing, planting, and training brambles

Black raspberriesThere are only two potentially complicated parts of growing blackberries and raspberries --- variety selection and pruning.  Otherwise, care is simply a matter of annual fertilizing, mulching, and (most important) eating all those fruits.

Choosing your brambles
As I mentioned previously, blackberries and black raspberries do better in the south while red raspberries like areas with cooler summers.  Over large parts of the United States, you can easily grow all three types of brambles, but your life will be a bit easier if you begin your experiment with ones that are well suited to your climate.

Once you decide which type of brambles you want to grow, your next step is to settle on which additional characteristics you're looking for.  Thornless blackberries are easier to work with, but I've noticed they don't seem to be as cold hardy as the thorny varieties, so northerners should bear with thorns.  Among raspberries, you'll need to decide whether you're interested in a spring or everbearing variety --- unlike with strawberries, I have had very good luck with everbearing raspberries and recommend them highly.

Bramble plants tend to be more expensive than strawberries, often costing several dollars apiece, but you don't need to start with many.  In my garden, one everbearing raspberry plant became a clump large enough to provide lots of fruit that fall, and by the next spring I was able to transplant yet more new raspberries to fill up a whole row.  The third spring, I gave away gobs of raspberry starts, and by the fourth year after planting all of my friends stopped answering the phone when raspberry-planting season came around.  So --- choose your variety wisely, but don't be concerned about starting small.

Planting and training brambles
Blackberries and raspberries have a tendency to try to take over the world, so plan ahead when selecting their location.  I find it helpful to plant brambles in mulched rows about eighteen inches wide, then mow anything that tries to grow beyond the mulch boundary.  Unlike most other garden plants, brambles can handle tough clay soil and even some degree of waterlogging, so feel free to put them in that spot where nothing else will grow.

Row of blackberriesIf you're turning lawn or weeds into a berry patch, lay down a thick kill mulch and plant your brambles into holes in the cardboard.  The best time to plant is in early spring, which means you'll probably be putting in dormant, bare-rooted stock.  The young brambles will have a dead-looking cane poking up out of the roots --- the cane is indeed dead, but the plant will send up a new cane once warm weather rolls around.  Mulch the patch well, preferably with something a bit more carbon-rich than you used for your strawberries.  (See Weekend Homesteader: July for more information on types of mulch, or just use well-rotted wood chips.)

Train berries with twist ties Brambles don't need an extremely sturdy trellis, but it is helpful to find a way to tie the plants so they don't bend down over the path.  I use light-weight metal fence posts about five feet apart with two strands of thin wire running between them.  Twist ties are a simple way of attaching canes to the wire temporarily --- you'll need to be able to unhook them when you prune out dead canes next winter.

This week's lunchtime series is exerpted from Weekend Homesteader: February, which is available for 99 cents from Amazon's kindle store.  The ebook also includes a primer on choosing and caring for a backyard flock of chickens, information on buying in bulk, and tips for creating your own apprenticeship.  If you enjoy the book, please consider leaving me a review.

Weekend Homesteader paperbackThis post is part of our Easy Berries lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I realize that brambles don't require chill hours like other fruits, but I've been doing some research on fruit trees and am having a hard time finding concrete data on what the average chill hours are for our future homestead (which you and I have deduced is relatively close to your own farm). I found a hand-drawn map online that shows at us at around 1,200 per year - any idea if this is accurate? And where have you primarily bought your fruit trees/bushes and brambles: online or locally?
Comment by Sarah Thu Jan 19 18:24:44 2012

That's an excellent question, and reminds me I probably should address chill hours briefly in my chapter on fruit trees.

We're far enough north that chill hours don't seem to be a problem. You mostly hear about them when you're in the deep south. doesn't cover Virginia, but does have nearby states. It looks like Asheville averages 1912 chill hours per year, which is probably similar to our climate.

That said, there are multiple methods of determining chill hours --- if you use the more modern but less common method of counting only hours between 32 and 45 rather than all hours under 45, Asheville averages 958 chill hours.

All of that said, I really don't worry about chill hours (but I don't buy "low chill" varieties.) I've had best luck buying fruit plants locally, but have also had about a 60% success rate with mail order plants. The varieties I consider failures grew just fine, but came down with fungal diseases in our wet climate. Around here, disease and pest resistance are what I focus on (after taste) since I grow organically.

Comment by anna Thu Jan 19 20:36:20 2012

As always your posts are right on time. I want try again to re-establish a food forest scenario around the perimeter of our property.

In the past, I was able to root a cutting of a thornless blackberry, winter sowing style. Is there anything special that you need do to propagate wild berries for this purpose? We have an abundance of wild Southern dewberries growing in random places around the yard and I want to move them to the fence line.


Comment by Germaine Jenkins Fri Jan 20 09:18:29 2012

Wild brambles are generally extremely easy to work with. I just dig them up and transplant in the winter, then mulch around them and they take over. (That's the real trick --- making sure they don't form an impenetrable thicket.)

I haven't transplanted dewberries, but since they're really just a dwarf species of blackberry, I don't think you'll have any trouble. As you dig them up, you'll probably notice that they've already tip-rooted in several places --- you can cut plants apart as desired until you only have one root mass per plant.

Good luck! It sounds like a fun project.

Comment by anna Fri Jan 20 14:13:21 2012

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