Thornless blackberry plants are some of the easiest fruits to grow for a home harvest because they don’t grow the thorns that normally make blackberry picking a challenge. Thornless blackberry shrubs are also very productive, and a mature shrub can produce as much as twenty pounds of berries in a season. Blackberries have a variety of uses and can be eaten raw or used in jams, cakes, syrups, sauces, and ice creams. Better yet, they are full of vitamins A and C!
Blackberries have been eaten for thousands of years. Wild blackberries can flourish in rather cold climates, while cultivated varieties are mostly adapted for zones 4 to 5 (find your zone). Cultivated blackberries come in thorny and thornless varieties. The thorny varieties are easier to care for, but many people prefer the thornless blackberry varieties because they are easier to harvest.
Thornless Blackberry Varieties
Apache Thornless Blackberry – One of the highest yielding blackberry varieties
Arapaho Thornless Blackberry – One of the earliest ripening thornless blackberries
Chester Thornless Blackberry – One of the hardiest and most productive varieties
Navajo Thornless Blackberry – A heat-tolerant variety with large berries
Ouachita Thornless Blackberry – Doesn’t need a trellis and is heat tolerant
Triple Crown Thornless Blackberry – A heavy producer of flavorful blackberries
How to Plant and Care for Blackberry Plants
Planting Thornless Blackberries
Thornless blackberry bushes are typically grown from seedlings. You can also grow them from seeds, but they will take much longer. It’s best to plant seedlings in the fall, which gives them time to grow roots before spring. Choose a sunny spot to transplant your blackberry, although some varieties can tolerate partial shade.
Blackberry stems grow several feet long, so you should space plants three to seven feet apart. If you buy your seedlings in a pot, plant them at the same depth as in the container. If they are bare-root, not planted in soil, dig a hole deep enough for the roots of the plant and spread the roots gently before planting. Fill the hole with loosened soil.
Watering, Fertilizing, and Trellising Thornless Blackberry Plants
A blackberry bush can live for up to 15 years so you’ll want to take care of your investment. Blackberry shrubs are low maintenance, but to get a good fruit harvest it’s important to care for blackberry plants by properly watering and pruning them.
Water thornless blackberries whenever the top inch of soil is dry to the touch during the first two to three weeks after planting. After three weeks, blackberries need about one or two inches of water per week during summer.
After the first year, blackberry plants will have established healthy roots. You can apply nitrogen fertilizer every year according to the package instructions.
Since the canes of a thornless blackberry shrub can get long, your plant will benefit from some support, especially when the canes are heavy with fruit. Whatever type of trellis or fencing you choose; the canes should be gently attached with garden twine as they grow.
How to Prune Thornless Blackberries
In the first year, leave blackberry stems unpruned. In following years, you will want to cut any canes that have already produced berries. The cycle of berry production for a new blackberry cane is: one year for cane growth, the second year the cane will produce its berries, then after that the cane is done, it no longer produces berries.
Removing canes that have already produced blackberries encourages new growth and keeps your shrub productive. Cane removal can be done from late fall through early spring and canes that are no longer producing should be cut down to the ground level.
You can also prune blackberry shrubs to manage their size. Maintaining blackberry canes at 3-4 feet helps stimulate side branching that can result in more fruit and promotes stronger stems that won’t bend as easily when they are loaded with berries. Maintenance pruning is best done in spring, before new growth emerges.
Protect Thornless Blackberry Shrubs from Birds
Once a blackberry plant starts to produce fruit it should be protected from birds, especially if it’s a thornless blackberry variety. The sharp spines that make harvesting a challenge also offer protection from birds, deer and other wildlife that are attracted to the flavorful berries. That means thornless varieties will need protection in the form of mesh netting to keep birds at bay or fencing to protect from deer and rabbits.
Harvesting and Storing Blackberries
It takes two years for a blackberry plant to start producing fruit. After three years, each plant will typically produce a full crop of 10 to 20 pounds of fruit. The berries may appear ripe when they turn black and shiny but leave them until they lose their shine and become so soft that they detach easily. That is when they are truly ripe and at the peak of their sweetness.
Store harvested blackberries in containers, not bags, to avoid crushing the berries and refrigerate immediately. The berries shouldn’t be washed until they are used because they will spoil faster. Blackberries kept in the fridge have a shelf life of about five days. For a large harvest, consider freezing your blackberries to use later in jams, smoothies, and for baking.
If you want to have more types of berries, another tasty fruit you can grow is strawberries. The plants come back every year and are simple to grow!