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Blackberries as an Alternative Crop for Central Florida

Interested in trying to grow thornless blackberries?  Are they a good crop here? The Arkansas breeding program with Dr. John Clark is the source for the majority of new blackberry cultivars on the market. Arkansas conditions are not the same as ours, so it is amazing that these cultivars work here at all. There are several growers who have been successful with this crop, but more who have not.

Blackberry Basics

Blackberries have perennial roots, but biennial tops. That means the canes grow vegetatively the first year (primocanes), and produce flower buds and fruit the second year (floricanes) after winter chilling. The floricanes are pruned back to the ground after harvest while new primocanes grow up. Primocane tips that touch the soil will root in as the canes grow. Summer prune to avoid this problem, or an impenetrable briar patch will result. Summer pruning also stimulates more branches on the primocanes, providing more sites for flowering (larger crop) the following year.

Trellising
Blackberry T trellis

Blackberry T trellis

Long, flexible primocanes require some type of trellis. This can be as simple as a T shaped support with wires on either end of the T that you keep the canes growing up through. Some prefer a V-shaped trellis where they train the primocanes to one side and the floricanes to the other, tying them to the wire on their respective sides. Cutting the floricanes after flowering is easier with the V trellis because you don’t have to sort through the canes to separate the floricanes from the primocanes.

Chilling

Current blackberry cultivars do need some amount of chilling in the winter to stimulate flowering the second year. Many cultivars may not perform well here because they are not adapted to our warmer climate. Dr. Shinsuke Agehara at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, is working on using plant hormones to overcome dormancy so that more places in Florida can grow thornless blackberries. At the same time, Dr. Zhanao Deng is working on blackberry breeding and evaluation of current cultivars. However, it will be a few years before we can expect some results from this work.

What Can We Do Now?

Several commercial growers have had success with ‘Arapaho’, ‘Ouachita’, and ‘Osage’, but it may be because of their microclimate, soils, or management practices. There are several diseases and insects that will plague Florida blackberries. More on that in another post.

The Arkansas breeding program recently released new “primocane-fruiting” thornless blackberries. These blackberries fruit on the tips of the primocanes in the fall, and continue fruiting the second year when the canes become floricanes, producing two crops. Primocane fruiting types can also be grown as an annual crop with perennial roots if you sacrifice the floricane crop. After primocane fruiting is finished in the winter, the canes can be removed and the next year new primocanes will emerge to provide fruit.

This system seems like it might be ideal for our area, but we have not had time to test it out. Theoretically, the roots will still need chilling to continue to produce vigorous canes. Also, I have heard reports that the primocanes do not produce flowers in our excessive summer heat. So we don’t know when the fall crop of fruit will be produced, if at all, in our area. I hope to do some trials on these next year to see what can be done while we wait for our UF researchers to come up with a better solution.

More information

13 Comments on “Blackberries as an Alternative Crop for Central Florida

  1. Good day,

    My name is George Shepherd and I recently purchased property in Lake Wales, FL to start a blackberry farm. The property is on the east side next to Tiger Lake and is roughly 7 acres. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you

    • There is a free “virtual field day” on primocane-bearing blackberries if you are interested. Registration at https://uaex.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_XQeD0lTGQdmUIWWCkl-v8g. This is a webinar type of field day and is not produced in Florida. Florida blackberry production will be different, but there is a lot to be learned from growing up north. These primocane-bearing blackberries may have potential here, but they will not produce flowers above 90 degrees F, so we may not get a fall crop. Some growers I know who are trying them get a crop in March.
      Of the current cultivars (floricane bearing) being grown here, I hear the best producer is Osage. You will need to keep a close eye on orange felt disease – the early stem lesions do not look like much, but need control before it grows too much. The UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma is now doing a cultivar evaluation and will be working on breeding cultivars for Florida. Keep an eye on them and their field days – https://gcrec.ifas.ufl.edu/.

  2. I have 5 blackberries that I grow. They are the thornless Prime-Ark Freedom. I get two seasons of blackberries once in the spring – April and once in October. They grow very well in Pensacola. They taste very good too.

  3. I have been experimenting with high-tunnel blackberry production here in FL using both PrimeArk Freedom and Osage. Both were treated with shade cloth to limit the heat index inside of the tunnels and also sprayed with copper in December of this winter to try to induce dormancy. It seems to have worked for the Osage (it has already started flowering), but the Prime Ark Freedom has not even show any signs of new growth yet. Any suggestions for commercial growers like me trying to succeed here? I would really like to manipulate the Prime Ark variety to bear during the spring and fall (winter?), if possible. Thoughts?

    Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

    • Research on blackberry production in Florida is just starting, so I really only have grower experience to report on. No one has reported problems with Prime Ark Freedom. In fact, that is one of the best cultivars to plant currently according to several growers. The problem is that flowers will not set if temperatures are above 90 F, so we don’t get a “fall” crop. However, we do get an early spring one. The growers in Oxford who have this cultivar say they fruit in March and through the floricane season of June, so you get a very long season. Osage is also a recommended cultivar, seeming to have the best disease resistance of the floricane cultivars. I have not heard of anyone using copper to induce dormancy. That is not a treatment that is being tested in research either.

  4. I have a blackberry that volunteered in my yard. It produced a pound of berries the first year in late spring 2020. We are located in Baker. We keep it mulched and with compost applied when I think about it. I will water it from our deep well. The temp of that water is 69-74 degrees and keep it deep mulched year round with wood chips. I also has the shade of a large pecan tree to block the heat of the afternoon sun. It has since doubled in size and I was able to get 7 additional plants from the original. It has thorns. My question is what cultivar could this be? Seems to be a primocane but I thought primocanes were thorn less. I would also appreciate any new information on raising blackberries.

    • The blackberry is most likely a wild blackberry because it volunteered in your garden. Wild ones are always thorny. As it came up from a seed, it will not be any specific cultivar because there are two parents involved in the production of the seed. Primocanes are just the first year canes that do not have any flowers or fruit. The next year they will flower and fruit. They will be thorny or thornless depending on the mother plant. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs104 provides information on blackberries and https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_blackberry provides a list of other UF/IFAS publications on blackberries. A new blackberry initiative is beginning with research at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center with demonstration plantings around the state, and we hope to have more information in a few years, including new Florida-adapted cultivars.

  5. I have loved in my home for 12 years. We have a conservation area behind us but we put up a gate.This week I found what seems to be 8 volunteer blackberry trees,they have thorns. I no nothing about blackberries and quite honestly have never bought blackberries either.If it turns out to really be blackberries,how should i care for them? I really hope they make fruit and that they are edible,we live in Kissimmee,Osceola County.

    • Wild blackberries will be thorny and the yield is variable because they have not been selected for fruit size and numbers. However, they may be more resistant to diseases and insects because they are wild. You should expect that they will grow vegetatively the first year and flower and fruit the second year. Every year new primocanes (the vegetative canes) will come up and you should cut out the old finished floricanes after you harvest the fruit from them. You may want to make a small trellis to keep them off the ground. You can pinch off the tips of the primocanes when they get long enough that they start to arch over to the ground or reach the height you want. Pinching causes them to branch, providing more flowers and fruit per cane. It also keeps them from touching the ground and rooting out, which is their natural way to grow and produce a briar patch. A briar patch is not so easy to maintain or pick, so best not to let them root out unless you want to increase your plants, and dig up and cut off the rooted little plants.

  6. Looking at a property for purchase near Williston, Forida. While walking the propety, I noticed blackberry sprouts everywhere about 6″ tall which I assume are “wild” as they do not appear to be planted in rows. Some appear to have blooms on them (it is early April). The property is 20 acres of flat land and has very few trees. My questions are, is it feasable to try and grow these for blackberries to sell and to provide an Agricultural deduction and would I need to invest in a well for irrigation, or are they somewhat “self sufficient”. How much care do they need.
    Thanks for your blog!

    • Wild blackberries are not predictably productive. Sometimes you can find a patch that yields well, but it is not predictable, and never as productive as using selected genetics. Many wild plants are infected with viruses or have poor genetics that keep them from producing large desirable fruit. They are also very thorny. Wild ones are weeds and may grow somewhat erect or trailing on the ground. It would not be productive to try and harvest from these. Some type of trellis is needed to keep the fruit off the ground and easier to pick. For agricultural tax exemption you must show that you have put something into the land (costs and labor) as well as getting income from the land. I do not believe that wild blackberries would count. Irrigation will be useful to help size up berries and to keep canes growing if there is a drought. Blackberries, whether wild or domesticated, will survive despite conditions, but will not produce as well with drought. The fact that wild blackberries grow there may be a sign that your land has good potential for growing domesticated blackberries, but in agricultural production we recommend removing any wild berries because they can be a source or viruses that may infect your domesticated plants.

  7. Thank you for your informative response. This leads me to a few more questions. What would be the best and/or most economical method of eliminating the existing wild blackberries?… A chemical spray, or must they be uprooted physically ? If I choose to replant with more deirable thornless varieties, can these be purchased from the University of Florida, or the State of Florida?
    Once again, I appreciate your time and expertise.

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