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Michael Wheeler: Time to plant your blackberry bushes
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At one time, an almost unlimited number of wild blackberries and dewberries (the blackberries trailing cousin) were growing along fence rows and in abandoned fields. Many of these sites have been destroyed or are now posted. But each spring I still see couples on the roadsides pickin’ berries.

Fortunately, breeding programs all across the Southeast produce larger fruit than their wild counterparts and are fairly easy to grow. Some varieties that work well in Georgia are Natchez, Kiowa, Arapaho and Navaho.

Blackberries can grow in a wide variety of soils and tolerate clay when soil pH is around 6.0-6.5. The one thing to keep in mind is to ensure plenty of sunlight is available to encourage fruiting.

To make big berries, plants need water. When it is possible, plant it near a water source in case irrigation is needed. Apply enough water to wet the soil at least 8-10 inches below the ground surface.

However, do not plant in low areas where water stands after a heavy rain. Blackberries under these conditions would have a tough time growing.

Blackberries are ripe and at their peak flavor when they lose their high-glossy shine and turn slightly dull. Harvesting is best in the late morning hours after the dew has dried. This is generally when they are at their juiciest.

Depending on the weather, picking season is from mid-June through July 4. You can easily extend the picking season by getting a variety of cultivars that come in at different harvest times.

A few diseases affect blackberries. But with proper fertility, training canes and sanitation when you prune, diseases should be kept to a minimum.

For more information about blackberry care and management, call the University of Georgia Extension Office in Hall County at 770-535-8293.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, ugaextension.org/county-offices/hall.html. His column appears biweekly and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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