Brambles – Growing Blackberries and Raspberries

Brambles are berries with long canes, and usually thorns. They are generally reserved for plants in the genus Rubus. These may include blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, and boysenberries. I have a great fondness for black raspberries, because my grandparents grew them in their backyard, and I spent hours among the canes.

My grandma made jam and pie with those fruits, many of which I picked. It was prickly business, with all the tiny little thorns lining the canes. the canes were in a big jumble, about 30 feet square. But is was the pie that I still remember. See a similar recipe here.

I also have experience with growing red raspberries, but it was many years later. Many do not know that I did my college internship in east Central Minnesota, just 30 minutes from the Twin Cities. Near Hastings, MN is the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center. In the summer of 2005 I worked in the apple orchards, helped maintain 1/2 an acre of red raspberries, and designed garden beds for the nature center.

And now, in my own gardens, I grow blackberries and red raspberries. No need to grow dewberries or black raspberries, they grow wild on the edge of the oak-hickory forests around me.

Distribution of Brambles Across America

Across North America, there are at least 200 species of blackberries, dewberries, and raspberries. All fall under the genus Rubus. It has been conjectured that there some 700 or more species worldwide of Rubus.

Many of the species found are not widespread, but limited to small areas within states or provinces. Here in the Central Great Plains, there around 25 species, mostly dewberries. There 12 species native to Kansas alone, 4 dewberries, 1 raspberry, and 7 blackberries. In my own backyard, as it were, there is Hancin’s dewberry, common blackberry, black raspberry, Pennsylvania blackberry, northern dewberry, and oldfield blackberry.

Rubus genus distribution map
Distribution of all Rubus species across the United States.

Growing Blackberries

Blackberries are perhaps one of the easiest fruits to grow in your home backyard. There are few pests and diseases, the fruit is large and easy to pick, pruning is once a year, and there are thornless cultivars available. And they thrive in full sun and heat. For the Central Great Plains, where heat and sun is abundant in summer, what fruit is easier than that?

Are blackberries berries? No. Although the fruit of brambles are called berries, they are actually and aggregate of drupes. But it is often easier to call things by the wrong name.

Grimm's Gardens blackberry patch
Grimm’s Gardens’ former blackberry patch

Types and Cultivars of Blackberries

I am going to separate blackberries into 2 types, thornless and thorny. It is mostly recognized that thorned blackberries have tastier fruit, though that may be a personal trait. I used to hate the taste of blackberry fruit from thorny varieties, but once I planted thornless in my own yard (my wife loves blackberries), I now eat every fruit.


  • ‘Kiowa’ – a good variety for southern climates. Has a low winter chill requirement.

What is a winter chill requirement? It is the minimum period of cold weather needed, after which a plant will set and open blooms. Some fruits set their bloom buds the previous winter (peaches) and do not require this chilling. It is often expressed in hours.

  • ‘Nelson’ – one of the most cold hardy varieites, surviving and producing fruit in Zone 4 and warmer. Tall canes grow 8 to 9 feet. Very disease resistant.
  • ‘Prime Ark’ – bears fruit on first year canes. Just prune to the ground each year. Needs warmer climates, Zones 6 to 9.
Blackberry plants and fruit
Blackberry plants and fruit


  • ‘Arapaho’ – Cold tolerant to Zone 5. Does not require trellising. Disease resistant to rosette. Ripens in early summer.
  • ‘Chester’ – one of the more commonly found varieties. Large berries ripening from August to frost. Resistant to cane blight and rosette. Hardy to Zone 5.
  • ‘Loch Ness’ – From Scotland (my ancestral home), needs trellising. Ripens in late summer through frost. Hardy in Zones 5 to 9.
  • ‘Triple Crown’ – very sweet berries, huge canes that can grow to 15 feet long. Ripens in mid-July, hardy to Zone 5.

Planting and Trellising Blackberries

Here in the Central Great Plains, blackberries are easy to grow. Give them full sun, protection from weeds, and adequate moisture, and they will be happy. To start your blackberry patch, pick a spot in full sun that does not sit in water when it rains. A sloped area facing south would be ideal. Do a soil test.

Why do a soil test? Soil testing reveals not only the amount of sand, silt, and clay particles, but also how much phosphorus, and potassium in it. Also, you will learn about soil pH. For more on soil testing click here.

Once you have your soil test back, you will know what amendments if any are needed. Because blackberries are found throughout our area, they are not finicky about soil, but may prefer a medium or higher pH soil. This range on the test should be between 4.8 and 7.2 for growing blackberries. They prefer rich soil, free from weeds. I recommend killing the grass in the bed before planting by laying down cardboard and 4 to 6 inches of wood chip mulch, for at least 2 months prior.

Or you can build 6 to 18 inch tall raised beds, 36 to 48 inches wide and as long as needed. Plants should be space 4 to 6 feet apart, depending on cultivar. Be sure to check if your selected cultivar needs trellising before building beds.

blackberry trellis
Example of one of my client’s blackberry trellis


While not all blackberries need to be trellised, some varieties do. The best trellis system I have seen is 2 tight wires, spaced 2 feet apart vertically, ran from 1 post to another on each end of the bed. There are other ways of course, and everybody needs to find their own best method. Some examples of blackberry trellises are found here.

Pruning Blackberries

example of primocanes and floricanes

This all has to do with the type of blackberry canes you get. I do not mean thorny versus thornless in this case. I mean primocane versus floricane.

What are primocanes? The primocane is the new, fleshy-green cane that grows in the current season. It becomes a floricane in the second year. In many varieties, floricanes die after bearing bruit.

The first thing I do when pruning blackberries is to remove all the dead canes back to the ground or back to live growth. Dead canes are grayish tan in color and snap easily. Then I cut 6 to 18 inches off the previous year’s primocanes (this year’s floricanes) to induce shorter growth and branching which results in more flowering. Most varieties produce flowers and fruit on floricanes, then those canes die afterward.

Cultivars which bear on primocanes should be tipped or pruned back 6 inches when the canes reach 3 to 4 feet tall. This will result in 4 to 6 lateral branches from that cane, which can also be tipped again when they reach 18 to 24 inches long. Be sure to not tip branches that have already set flower buds, as this will reduce yield.

Pests and Diseases of Blackberries

All brambles share diseases and insect pests. Therefore, what works for blackberries will work (mostly) for raspberries as well. Try to find and grow disease resistant cultivars is the first line of defense. Pruning out infected canes or cane sections, and burning those pieces is the next important task.

Botrytis Fruit Rot

This fungal disease is especially prevalent in extended warm, wet seasons, such as we had in 2019 and early 2021. It looks like a grayish mold that can affect bloom, fruit set, and ripening fruit. Prevention can be done by thinning canes in dormancy to improve airflow, removing debris (leaves and fallen fruit), and adding a layer of compost to the ground around the canes after leaf removal.

botrytis fruit rot
Botrytis fruit rot (photo from NC University)

Japanese Beetles

One of our most destructive introduced pests, Japanese beetles feed on both the fruit and leaves of brambles. However, feeding may be sporadic unless you have a large number of plants. I have yet to observed them feeding on my brambles within the garden, nor have I observed them on wild species. But, if numbers are large and there are less of their more desired foods, they will eat brambles. I would suggest handpicking them into a bucket of soapy water or covering large plants with insect netting before berries begin to ripen.

Cane Borers

These insects are the larvae of beetles. Red-necked cane borers may feed on the foliage at night, causing large holes, while other species cause tip dieback and eventual cane death. If you see tip dieback on a cane, remove the whole cane and burn to kill the insect.

Spotted Wing Drosophila

This introduced fruit fly is an annoying pest of all brambles. It is tiny, only about 1/8 inch long and lays its eggs into healthy, ripening fruit. The larvae that hatches then eats inside the fruit, causing a brown spot and invasion of fruit rots and other insects. To control, harvest fruit as soon as it is ripe and throw away any mushy fruit. I give spoiled fruit to my chickens and ducks, but you may not have that option. Do not compost spoiled fruit from brambles right away, but rather destroy it in a bucket of vinegar water (1 to 4 ratio) for 12 hours, then discard into the compost pile.

Growing Raspberries

Another easy to grow fruit, raspberries are one of my favorite fresh fruits to eat off the plant, right up there with blueberries and grapes. As I mentioned above, I have fond, though prickly memories of black raspberries from my childhood. I was not acquainted with red raspberries until much later, in high school and then college. My mom never even bought red raspberries at the store and we did not grow brambles at our house.

There are actually 3 types of raspberries; red, black, and gold. But red and black are the most common, though I have never seen black raspberries at any grocery store, and rarely at farmer’s markets.

Types and Cultivars of Raspberries

Red Raspberries

  • ‘Autumn Britten’ – red everbearer that ripens in August through to frost. Winter hardy to Zones 4 to 8.

What are everbearing raspberries? They are varieties which produce 2 crops in the same season, one in summer and one in fall. They are self-pollinating, meaning you do not need 2 separate varieties.

  • ‘Boyne’ – summer bearing reds with good flavor. Spreads by suckering. Hardy to Zone 3 with no disease issues.
  • ‘Heritage’ – common, long lived variety. Everbearing, hardy to Zone 5. Does not like wet feet.
  • ‘Caroline’ – most productive everbearer. More tolerant of root rot than ‘Heritage’, but is less drought tolerant. Ripens in early fall. Hardy in Zones 4 to 7.
  • ‘Taylor’ – late summer producer, considered the best flavored. Subject to mosaic virus, hardy in Zones 4 to 8.
red raspberries
Red raspberries

Black Raspberries

  • ‘Allen’ – large berries on a short harvest period in summer. Disease free plants hardy in Zones 4 to 8.
black raspberries
Black rapsberries
  • ‘Black Hawk’ – very large, nearly round fruit. Loves hot, dry weather, ripens late summer on floricane laterals. Good disease resistance to anthracnose. Grows in Zones 5 to 9.
  • ‘Jewel’ – very well-known cultivar which is great for jam and pie. See recipe for jam here. Canes can grow 10 feet tall, hardy in Zones 5 to 8.
  • ‘Cumberland’ – large firm berries on smaller plants. Hardy in Zones 5 to 9.
  • ‘Bristol’ – grows 3 to 4 feet tall and ripens in midsummer. Grows best in Zones 5 to 8.

Planting and Trellising Raspberries

Red raspberries and black raspberries require slightly different plant spacings and trellising. Reds should be planted in single rows, with rows 6 feet apart and plants spaced 2 to 3 feet apart within the row. Black raspberries spread mostly from cane tips rooting at ground level, so plant them 3 to 4 feet apart in rows and put rows 8 to 10 feet apart if possible.

Black and red raspberries share diseases, so it is recommended to plant them 100 feet apart, unless you are doing a fruit tree guild or have a very biodiverse landscape which promotes disease prevention.

Mulch raspberries with 3 to 6 inches of partially composted wood chips.

Trellising Raspberries

I have never built or used trellises for red raspberries. They can be trellised, if necessary, but I do not think they need it. Most plants grow 3 to 6 feet tall, producing both a summer and fall crop.

Black raspberries may benefit from some initial trellis system, similar to those of blackberries. This will support the larger canes and help guide pruning practices. Plus, it will slow the spread of plants by cane tip rooting.

Pruning Raspberries

All brambles need to be pruned. Raspberries are no exception. Too many times I have seen patches disappear from neglect or get so tangled that they are unable to be pruned properly.

Raspberries produce fruit on either primocanes or floricanes. This means they produce fruit in either 1 season or 2. After fruiting on floricanes, the canes die. Those dead canes should be removed during the dormant season. If you have multiple rows and time, you should remove all the canes from 1 row in one winter, and leave all the canes in the other. Then switch rows the next season. Pruning dead out of mature, older raspberry plants is a very time consuming process, if you have rows longer than 20 feet.

Primocane fruiting only varieties can be mown to the ground each fall, as soon as the first hard freeze comes. These will produce flowers and fruits on the next season’s primocanes.

Black raspberry primocanes should be tipped in summer to produce laterals and stouter canes for the next season’s floricane production. Prune off 6 to 12 inches depending on variety and length of canes.

Pests and Diseases of Raspberries

The pests and diseases of raspberries are shared by other brambles. For more information, refer to the above section on diseases and insect pests of blackberries.

Pollination of Brambles

While most blackberry and raspberry cultivars are either partly or completely self-fruitful, they often benefit from pollination from bees.

What is self-fruitful? This means the plant is capable of producing fruit without the aid on insects, by having both male and female flowers on the same plant, and often within the same flower structure.

All kinds of bees visit brambles, although many commercial growers put out honeybee hives to aid pollination. Honeybees have multiple benefits in the orchard, provide pollination services and extra products like honey, pollen, beeswax, and royal jelly. If you decide to add honeybees to your garden, find more information here.

Honeybees are hardworking members in the orchard


Brambles are easy to grow, provide us with many wonderful fruits, and there is one for nearly every niche in North America. Growing thornless blackberries can make up for the excessively thorny black raspberries. You can make jam, jelly, pie, ice cream, and much more from the fruits of these berries. Add some to your garden today.

Happy planting!

author of brambles

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