Blackberry Surprise!

No, this is not a recipe (but keep reading for some good ones).  This is a tale of a surprise blackberry that I discovered in my backfield. I’ve always loved gardening so I was quite excited when this past April I discovered an anomaly. 

You may remember the joy of picking blackberries from straggling bushes in the back of the fields. They had so many thorns that the cattle left them alone.

My Surprise

This past year I moved to the deep south of Northcentral Alabama and was happy to have a place where I could garden.  While mowing in the back of the field I found the usual wild blackberry canes. However, there was a small clump that had fruits that were much larger than normal. They ranged in size from a quarter to a person’s thumb!  

These canes were nearly ten feet tall and had prickles (thorns) that seemed to be the size of pocket knife blades, and would reach out and grab you if you got to close! Wow! Those berries! They were exquisitely delicious! 

Blackberries go wild all over North America and are a great crop for foraging. Read our article Foraging For Wild Teas.

Blackberries go wild all over North America and are a great crop for foraging. Read our article Foraging For Wild Teas.

Growing Blackberries

I read and studied everything blackberry that I could find at the library and on the state agriculture website.  I really wanted to propagate these canes

Blackberries are bushes that are made up of canes. Typically you buy bare-root plants and plant like bushes about six feet apart. 

Plant them in full sun in sandy loam soil. Blackberries need a slightly acid soil with a PH between 5.5 and 6.5. 

Dig in plenty of compost to your planting hole and cottonseed meal if you need to lower the pH. 

Get started growing blackberries today!

Each year the plants will produce new canes. Blackberries produce fruit on second-year canes.  At the end of the fruiting season, the old canes will be cut out.  

I’ll cut them to around stove length and burn them in my wood burner, both for the small amount of heat. The ashes can go to a compost bin or scattered in the yard.  

Blackberries can be prone to mildew and fungus diseases. Thinning them also helps reduce the risk of any disease. Plant them four to five feet apart and trellis erect cultivars for good air circulation. 

The upside to a feral cane is they are vigorous and more naturally disease resistant. 

Wild blackberries and some domestics have thorns.  A heavy, thick, tightly woven long sleeve shirt, gloves, and long pants are a must!  

I have a wire trellis set up, which looks similar to a grape trellis.  While not really needed, it does keep the canes in some order and keeps them from falling every which way. If brambles are not kept erect, you will quickly have an impenetrable jungle that will swallow your field. 

Blackberries have beautiful flowers which your bees will love

Blackberries have beautiful flowers which your bees will love

Back To The Field

I marked the canes and paid close attention to the rest of the backfield.  I found a total of four clumps of large berried canes! Of the other clumps, one is a runner, and I am assuming it may have some dewberry influence in its ancestry.  

The other two are more upright in height reaching five to six feet with nominal thorns. 


There are several ways of propagating blackberries (rather than spend money on purchasing nursery plants). 

I tried several different types of propagation and the method that was consistently successful was root layering.  

To Layer Roots:

  • Gently dig down and find a root running away from the cane you want to save.  

  • Take up the root as gently as possible.  

  • Cut the root into lengths about four inches long. 

  • Place the roots in a pot and cover with soil.  

  • Place the pot in the shade and keep the soil as moist as a wrung sponge.  

Highly recommend!

In several weeks I found little stems poking through the dirt!  

I babied them and when cold weather hit I moved them inside my garage till early spring.  

The second best method is to dig root divisions, doing this allowed me to clean the patch of smaller plants and relocate younger canes and thin out large older clumps.  Those went from the backfield strait to a row.

As I pointed out to a commercial grower, once I get the transplanted and newly growing roots establish they should cross-pollinate themselves. My next step will be to gather selected seed to work on developing good characteristics.

Companion Planting

Photo credit: Kateryna Moskalov

Photo credit: Kateryna Moskalov

After much reading and research, I’m placing each root section four feet apart in rows that are separated by six feet in width.  The reason for this particular madness is I often practice four-season and square foot gardening. Those are two great books by the way!  

For example in the space between the cane I can plant garlic which is a pest deterrent, I raise five hundred plus pounds a year of pods. Early spring things like radishes and beets are planted, also brassicas like cabbage and kohlrabi. I’ve even had medium-sized wire bins with potatoes. 

The space between rows is kept mowed the clippings are used as mulch and placed in compost bins.  I’m proud of having very little waste here at my hobby farm.

I have always encouraged natural pest prevention such as frogs, snakes, and bats. Protection, such as netting, may be needed from native songbirds who want to share the harvest. 

Keep Track of Your Plants

By using this approach the original canes are still in place.  I’ve marked them and cleaned the area they are in. When spring comes, I’ll side dress with some compost and worm castings. 

A recommendation is to keep a notebook of what is planted where and rotate each year. 

Read our article on Garden Planning!

A great garden planner makes a world of difference

Blackberries as a Cash Crop

This past year I harvested about twelve gallons of fruit from May to September. This gave me plenty to eat fresh, freeze and give to friends. I expect to have a larger harvest this year! 

I am excited because I was looking for a crop to develop into a long term cash making project.  I can safely and easily propagate up to fifty new plants each year. 

In my local grocery stores, a half-pint of chemically lace berries averages 6 dollars.  Eighteen half pints to the gallon. You can do the math. 

Purchasing plants from a sustainable nursery will cost around seven dollars each or you can propagate wild varieties as I did.  

Blackberry Recipes

OK, I knew it was not fair to talk about delicious blackberries and not offer some cooking information.

I love Blackberries as a great topping for oatmeal, pancakes, salads and of course, ice cream. You can also use them to make fabulous jams, syrup, and wine.

Here is a wonderful and easy to make, cobbler recipe.

Guest Author, Keith Ford is medically retired from the US Army and lives in Alabama. He is an avid gardener who even gardened when stationed overseas. A sincere believer in self-reliance. Keith enjoys experimenting with archaic ideas and tools. 

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