Early varieties of blackberries are coming into season.

Blackberries are easy to grow and are one of the most reliable and productive fruits we can grow in our home gardens and landscapes.  

Lots of folks find them growing in the wild and enjoy picking berries to eat or make pies and jams.

Blackberries are shiny, black fruit bursting with sweet juice. Low in calories and fat and high in fiber, one cup packs 50% of the daily recommended vitamin C and manganese. They also contain a great deal of anthocyanins, which are an excellent source of disease-fighting antioxidants.

There are three types of blackberries: erect thorny, erect thornless and trailing thornless.

The erect blackberries grow in bush form which can support itself, while trailing berries will need a trellis to grow on.

All blackberries are perennials and self-fertile, meaning you only need one plant to produce fruit.

The top of the plant above the soil is biennial — the canes grow vegetatively for a year, bear fruit the next year, and then die. However, every year the plant sends up new canes to replace those that died.

Prune by removing the old canes that have already borne fruit and let new ones grow in. Pruning is an important part of blackberry culture. For detailed instructions on pruning, consult the LSU AgCenter publication “Blackberry Growing Guide” that’s available bit.ly/lablackberries.

The easiest way to grow blackberries is in a row trained like a hedge, with the plants spaced 3 to 4 feet apart. If you plant several rows, space them 5 to 6 feet apart.

While the best time to plant blackberries is when the canes are dormant, preferably in early spring, they can be put into the ground into early fall. Much later and temperatures could drop, damaging some hybrid varieties.

The plants should go in areas that receive full sun for the best yields. Mulch to conserve moisture and reduce weeds. Make sure plants are well watered, but also insure good drainage. Fertilize in early spring with an all-purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 16-16-16.

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Now for the good part: the harvest.

Pick only the blackest berries. Mature berries are plump yet firm with a deep black color and pull freely from the plant without a hard tug. Berries do not ripen after being picked, and once blackberries start to ripen, they must be picked often — every couple of days.

Blackberries are highly perishable and will only last a few days once harvested, even with refrigeration. They can be canned, preserved or frozen.

A few of the recommended erect varieties include Brazos, which bears large fruits of fair-quality that make wonderful pies, cobblers and jellies. Cheyenne, an Arkansas release, produces large, sweet fruits that have a slight raspberry flavor. Brison is high-yielding and well-adapted to south Louisiana with fruit that’s firmer and sweeter than Brazos. Rosborough produces high yields of fruit with smaller seeds and is firmer than Brazos. Shawnee produces its large fruit heavily for several weeks.

Several erect thornless varieties include Navaho, Arapaho, Ouachita and Apache.

The trailing types are boysenberry, youngberry and dewberry. Boysenberries produce soft, large, tart, reddish fruit. Youngberries produce a very large, wine-colored, sweet berry and are of Louisiana origin.

Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.