Pruning blackberry canes

Adam Taggart
By Adam Taggart on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - 6:00pm

A quick question: is this an OK time of year to prune blackberry canes?

I spent the weekend clearing a massive blackberry bramble and constructing a 2-wire fence to tie the living primocanes to (pics coming soon). Some of them, however, are 10-15 feet long.

From what I've read, you want to prune (or "top") them to the height of your fence. But the readings disagree on when you should do that (I've read late fall, winter, early spring and late spring).

I live in the relatively temperate Northen California growing zone. It has been dropping below freezing at night, though that should likely end soon.

I *think* it should be fine to top them now, given the plant's winter dormancy. But if anyone has advice to confirm or contradict that plan, I'd love to hear it.

thanks,
A

7 Comments

Don35's picture
Don35
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 4 2012
Posts: 39
Fall pruning

Adam,

I've always read and done fall pruning so I would confirm.

I've also read about burning the old canes to prevent disease, but I never did it. One mistake I made was planting raspberries close to my blackberries. Raspberries can carry a fungus that will spread to the blackberries! It destroyed a crop of blackberries before I realized what had happened. And I remember berries so ripe they falls off in your hand. Yum! I also used composted manure around the berries and they grew wonderfully. Hope that's helpful.

Don

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 2763
raspberries

We pick wild blackberries from surrounding woods, hence do nothing to control their growth.  However, we cut our 2 yo raspberry canes that produced last year to the ground.  The one year canes we just let grow.  Of course, they don't get 15' long, the longest may reach 10'.  Also, we don't treat them with anything.  Maintenance includes the thinning of old canes, pulling out invasives and killing japanese beetles.  They've been doing fine for close to 20 years with that minimal care.

Doug

Nate's picture
Nate
Status: Gold Member (Online)
Joined: May 6 2009
Posts: 461
blackberry

Adam,

UC Davis has tons of crop studies on their website. 

http://coststudies.ucdavis.edu/files/blackberrycc_2008.pdf

Nate's picture
Nate
Status: Gold Member (Online)
Joined: May 6 2009
Posts: 461
general garden planting guide

Adam,

I use this planting guide for my garden.

http://ucanr.edu/sites/mgslo/newsletters/Vegetables_at_a_glance28113.pdf

Organic Raw Veggies's picture
Organic Raw Veggies
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 24 2012
Posts: 49
Anything seems to work

I have trimmed out dead canes and composted in winter, tied up all canes on wires, even 15 ft ones. Some get hit with lawn mower seem fine. Had a super crop. Pick often, pick all ripe. There is a fruit fly that can invade if berries rot on the canes. Had some flies last yr. Blackberry wine is great for left over yr old frozen berries. Most blackberries are disease resistant.

I used to leave all the dead canes and let them crush up and mulch under the canes. This worked fine. I trim some year round as I create walking areas. Now everything is trellised.

Spreading compost in the winter over the ground around any fruit seems to help. I have a 50 yr old full size apple tree that explodes with apples when you spread a ring of compost about 1 inch thick.

I'm east coast though. Yes plant raspberries in their own space 150 ft from blackberries. Plant black raspberries away from blackberries and red or golden raspberries. Black raspberries are the most susceptible to disease.

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 1876
Before and after pics

Thanks for the advice everyone. I trimmed the canes and am now waiting for spring, when I will prune any flourocanes back to 2'.

For the curious, I've captured the before and after of this process.

Here is how the wild tangle looked before I started the project. Snarly, thick and approixmately 90% dead canes:

And here's how things looked at the end (before I tipped the longest canes):

I'm excited because with the added sun and space, the berry yield this summer should be several multiples what is was last year. Plus, I can walk between both fence rows here, so I'll be able to access 100% of the berries - whereas last year, I could probably reach less than 40% of the berries (they were nestled too deep in the thorns).

AND, I'm happy because this project has removed the poison oak that sidelined me for several weeks a few months back.

I'll provide an update during the summer to confirm whether or not this new setup indeed performs better.

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 1876
update: pruned blackberry bushes

Happy to report that the pruned (actually, "tipped" is the more appropriate term) canes are doing well.

They've survived the winter nighttime frosts, and are coming to life nicely with the arrival of warmer weather (high 60s/low 70s) here in Northern California.

As hoped for, the tipped vertical canes (primocanes) which grew last year are now sending out lateral shoots (flouricanes) which will bear this year's blackberries.

Here's a shot from a distance. Note the many green shoots popping out along the canes:

An here's a shoot up close:

In about 2 months or so, I'll prune these lateral flouricanes back to about 2', and then wait for the berries to come in. Will send another update then.

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