Properly pruning Blackberries is the key to consistent berry production and healthy plants.
Blackberries, like many of the berry-producing vines, are brambles. Brambles, if left unmanaged, will become large and unmanageable, especially in a garden area. Unrestricted or unmanaged growth will also lead to a reduction in berry production. Managing your blackberries (an all brambles for that matter) is important, especially if you want maximum fruit production.
We need to understand the growth cycle of blackberries to understand how to prune efficiently. Blackberries are perennials and put on new growth each year. These new stalks are called primocanes. They are vigorous growers and often will produce buds and set some fruit late in the summer to early fall. During the second year of growth, the stalks that were primocanes the year before are now called floricanes. These second-year growth canes are your real producers. Floricanes bloom set their fruit, and then die back after the harvest. You should have both primocanes and floricanes on your blackberry plants at the same time.
The challenge is telling the difference in primocanes and floricanes. Primocanes can be differentiated by the new growth at the tip of the stalk. Floricanes will be the ones producing the blossoms in the springtime.
Time to Prune
As winter approaches it is time to start thinking about pruning your blackberries with an eye to a better harvest next summer. Start by assessing your plants for diseases or damage. Those should be removed first and taken out of your garden. Those floricanes that bloomed and produced fruit this year are done. They should be pruned as close to the ground or the crown of the plant as possible. Next, look at your plants and assess them for crowding. Ideally, you should leave four to six healthy canes on each plant. Lateral or side shoots should be pruned to 12 to 15 inches. Pruning is done to promote the production of larger fruit.
Primocanes and Floricanes
In short, prune your blackberries keeping in mind the concept of the primocanes and floricanes. Primocanes will be your big fruit producers next year. Floricanes that produced fruit this year are done and should be removed. Managing your blackberries will produce smaller less tangled vines that produce larger more abundant fruit.
Blackberries are a treat in the summer, and with a little TLC can be a productive asset in your garden. As perennials they are one of my favorites because once established, they require only a minimal amount of maintenance during the year to produce fruit regularly for years to come.
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