Blackberries

Few fruits are as easy to grow and as tolerant of neglect as the members of the blackberry family. Historians speculate that there were only a few species of American blackberries when the country was first settled, but that the cutting of forests and clearing of land created an environment that prompted their rapid spread and hastened a natural hybridization program. Few fruits produce more dependably than blackberries. Properly maintained, irrigated plantings of good varieties may produce crops for 15 years or more. Blackberry fruit has a range of distinctive flavors which vary from sweet to tart. Blackberries fall into two principal categories: upright and trailing. Many trailing species are classified as dewberries, but the fruit is basically the same. Erect blackberries are easier to grow because they require less labor and materials than trailing blackberries which require trellises. If trailing blackberries don’t have good air circulation, fungal disease can be a problem. A trellis helps keep the plants open to the air. Cultivated blackberries do best on sandy loam soils with added organic matter. However, they will tolerate a wider range of soil types than will most other fruits. Good soil drainage and 2 1/2 to 3 feet of unrestricted rooting area are necessary for best plant performance. A site with a slight, north facing slope is preferred to help prevent spring frost injury and to protect plants from southwest winds in summer. Additional wind protection may be necessary, because succulent first year canes exposed to strong winds may be blown over and broken from the root system. The crowns and root systems of blackberries live for many years. However, new canes arise from the crown each year and live for only two years. During the first year, the canes grow to their full height. The second season, these canes bear fruit and die. During their first growing season after planting, erect blackberry plants often produce prostrate to semi-erect canes. Erect canes will be produced in the following years. Best results are usually obtained with very early spring planting (about 4-6 weeks before the average date of the last spring freeze). Dig a hole wide and deep enough to accommodate the roots. The crown should be 1-2 inches below the soil line. After planting, firm the soil carefully around the roots. Most blackberries come with a portion of the old cane attached which serves as a "handle" when setting the plants. The handle should be cut back to 6 inches. If you are planting erect thorny blackberries, it is more economical to set root cuttings that are about pencil size in diameter and 4-6 inches long. Root cuttings are spaced 2 feet apart in the row in horizontal position (no portion out of the ground). In light sandy soils, plant the cuttings 4-6 inches deep. On heavier clay soils,plant the cuttings 3-4 inches deep. Plants grown from good root cuttings are strong and will come into production as early as one year old sucker plants. If plants are dry upon arrival, soak the roots in water for several hours before planting. If you do not plant immediately, wrap the plants in polyethylene bags and place them in the refrigerator until planting (plant within 1-2 weeks).

Blackberries should be permanently mulched with about 4 inches of organic material such as pine bark or wheat straw. This mulch will help control weeds, conserve soil and moisture, and prevent winter injury to crowns. Mulching also promotes growth of the extensive fibrous blackberry root system. Since the need to cultivate for weed control is reduced by the mulch, fewer blackberry roots are broken, producing fewer unwanted sucker plants between the rows. Blackberries require plenty of moisture while the berries are growing and ripening. The amount of water needed is roughly equivalent to one inch of rainfall per week. A minimum of drip irrigation for mature blackberry plants is two gallons of water per day while berries are developing. First year plants are allowed to produce as much growth as possible without pruning or training to a trellis. Established plants grow new canes while the old canes are fruiting. During the summer, prune off the last few inches of new canes, leaving them 3 to 3.5 feet tall. This is called "tipping". Tipping forces the cane to develop lateral shoots from buds near the top portion of the cane. Fruit produced the following year from pruned canes will be at a convenient height for harvest. The fruits will be larger, cleaner, and of better quality than if canes are not pruned, because most of the fruit will be farther from the soil. While tipping the new canes, cut off old canes that have finished fruiting. Make the pruning cuts near the crown of the plant, and remove the old canes from the field. This will decrease the likelihood of disease problems in the blackberry plants later New canes that have produced lateral branches after summer pruning should be pruned again in late winter (February or early March) to simplify harvesting and increase berry size. Shorten lateral branches to about 12 inches in length. Some new canes may need to be completely removed during the winter so that fruit harvest will be easier the next year. This thinning will also increase air circulation, discouraging disease growth. Leave 3 to 5 canes per linear foot of row on erect blackberries. Leave 8 to 15 canes of 4 to 8 feet in length on trailing varieties. If there are dead canes which fruited but were not removed during the previous summer, theses should be removed at this time. A few dead canes may be left in very windy areas, to provide internal support for the plant and help keep new canes from breaking off. Dead canes may harbor diseases and red-necked cane borers, so this practice should be used with caution. Since the excellent flavor of blackberries is associated with full maturity, they should be picked at the correct stage of development. As blackberry fruit mature, they enlarge, develop a deeper blue-black color, and soften.

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Leaffolders

Leaffolders are moths that are black with with white spots and sometimes whites stripes depending on the species. Their larvae do the most damage and are very small caterpillars, clear and are pale green because of the leaves they eat. There are several different types of leaffolder each eating only one type of plant. Pupae are long bronze to brown colored and the eggs are clear. These are found everywhere in north America. They overwinter as pupae in the soil, emerge in spring and lay their eggs on host plants. After hatching the larvae feed on the leaves and roll themselves in edges of them and continue to feed. If disturbed they will drop to the ground on a silken thread. Once the larvae has completed feeding he pupates in the protection of the folded leaf. They can have as many as 3 cycles per year. They attack lilacs, grapes, rice and other farm crops. They eat the leaves and also damage the leaves of plants by folding them over (not to be confused with leafrollers). Plants will defoliate and eventually die.

Control

1) Hand Pick

If you have had leaffolder damage in the past dig around the soil in the fall and pick out the pupae. Destroy the adult moths when you see them. If you see rolled leaves pinch them off and drop them in hot soapy water. Eggs can be removed with a moistened cotton swab.

2) Bt

In early spray of Bt in the first cycle of larvae will help control them and ensure no second or third generation.

3) Beneficial Insects

Parasitic flies, parasitic wasps, lacewings, small groundbeetles (they are red with a black stripe) and crab spiders help control the larvae population. Birds will eat adult moths.

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When using leaves as a mulch make sure they have been aged at least 9 months. This allows the growth-inhibiting phenols to be leached out.

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Home prepared pesticides are used by some gardeners and are very successful. Be wary of solutions that require boiling plant parts or grinding them up in a water solution to use as a spray on vegetables. This spray solution can be very poisonous. For example, boiling rhubarb leaves or soaking tobacco stems in water. Both of these plants contain extremely toxic poisons and should be dealt with carefully. Remember that a naturally derived pesticide compound can be just as toxic as a synthetic one to both pests and people.

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Make your own biodegradable seedling pots From newspaper you can form a 3-inch pot by cutting a three-layer-thick section of newspaper into a 9-inch square. Divide the paper into nine equal squares, either with a pen or by folding layers into thirds, unfolding them and folding into thirds the other way. Make a cut from along one of the fold lines in each of the four corners to the fold that marks the center square. Bend the flaps up, overlap and staple them and the seeding pot is ready. The pots can be planted in the garden when the seedlings are ready to set out.

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Herbs

Common Mallow

grow in full sun in well drained ordinary soil. Sow in spring or autumn where plants are to grow, and thin seedlings to 2 feet apart. Older plants have a tendency to develop severe rust, and will need to be replaced with younger stock.

Wild Chamomile

sow in autumn or spring where plants are to flower and water seeds in gently (do not cover). Grow in dry chalky soils in full sun. This even grows in my hard packed gravel driveway. Plants self seed freely and may spread weed like unless checked. Also called scented mayweed and German chamomile.

(Common or Ribbed) Melilot

sow seeds in late spring where plants are to grow, in fertile well-drained soils in full sun. Also called yellow sweet clover.

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Brandie

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul. Share the botanical bliss of gardeners through the ages, who have cultivated philosophies to apply to their own - and our own - lives.”

 

 

 
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