Growing Blackberries in Florida: Tips and Recommendations

If you’ve ever wanted to grow blackberries in Florida, you might have heard that it can be a bit challenging due to the state’s warm climate. However, with the right knowledge and cultivars, you can still enjoy a bountiful harvest of these delicious berries. In this article, we’ll explore how to grow blackberries in Florida, including the best cultivars to choose and essential tips for successful cultivation.

An Introduction to Blackberries

Blackberries, scientifically known as Rubus fruticosus, are a popular fruit that belong to the Rosaceae family. They are native to Europe and Asia but can also thrive in certain parts of Florida. Alongside blackberries, this plant family includes other well-known fruits like raspberries, strawberries, apricots, plums, cherries, and apples.

Understanding the Climate Requirements

Blackberries thrive in temperate climates, and while some species are native to Florida, they may not possess desirable marketing characteristics. Native blackberry varieties in Florida, also known as wild blackberries, often have small berries, lack uniformity, and have low yield and late maturation. If you’re considering growing blackberries in Florida, it’s important to choose the right cultivar that suits your specific location.

Blackberry cultivars generally require 300 to 900 chill hours below 45 °F for optimal growth and fruit production. Insufficient chill hours can result in poor bud break and less fruit set. To determine the chill hours in your area, you can visit Agriclimate’s Chill Hours Calculator. Based on the chill hours in your region, selecting low chill cultivars becomes essential for achieving the best results.

Chill hours in St. Lucie County. Data from Florida Automated Weather Network

Recommended Cultivars for Florida

When it comes to blackberry cultivars suitable for Florida’s climate, one of the top choices is the ‘Prime-Ark Freedom.’ This cultivar is recommended for medium to large farms due to its high yield. For those interested in U-pick operations, ‘Ouachita’ or ‘Osage’ are also excellent options. These cultivars have been selected for their ability to thrive in regions with warmer climates and limited chill hours.

Propagation Methods

Blackberries can be propagated using various methods, including stem cutting, root cutting, suckering, and tip layering. Commercial growers primarily rely on stem and root cutting due to their cost-effectiveness. Stem cutting involves using the apical 4-6 inches of a succulent but firm cane. The application of rooting hormone can enhance rooting rates and efficiency. Perlite, peat, or a mix of peat and sand are commonly used as the rooting media under a mist system.

Root cutting, on the other hand, is the fastest way to propagate blackberries. Roots with a diameter of ¼-½ inch are cut into 6-inch pieces. These root pieces can be planted directly in the final location or in pots. For the best results, it is recommended to plant roots during winter when the plant’s growth is dormant.

Flowering and Fertilization

Blackberry plants typically require a specific number of chill hours for bud initiation and flower production. The flowers appear in late spring and early summer, forming on short racemes at the tips of the flowering laterals. Each flower is approximately 0.8-1.2 inches in diameter and exhibits five white or pale pink petals.

When it comes to fertilization, it’s important to be cautious as blackberry roots are shallow and excessive fertilizer can damage them. In general, blackberries do not require heavy fertilization. It’s recommended to apply fertilizer at least 18 inches away from the main stem to avoid potential root damage. A well-balanced fertilizer with N-P-K (10-10-10) and micronutrients is suitable for blackberry plants. During the planting stage, no fertilizers are needed as the root system is not yet established. However, once the roots have established, a ¼ lb fertilizer application in late spring or summer can be beneficial.

Irrigation and Weed Control

For irrigation purposes, drip irrigation is recommended over overhead irrigation. Drip irrigation minimizes weed growth and reduces labor costs associated with weed control. Weed control is crucial in blackberry farms, as it can easily get out of control if not properly managed. Mulching, cultivation, herbicide application, and mowing are effective methods for weed control. The use of plastic mulch has proven highly effective in keeping weeds at bay in blackberry cultivation.

Managing Pests and Diseases

Blackberries can be susceptible to various pests and diseases. Insects such as the strawberry weevil, red-necked cane borer, thrips, gall midges, stink bugs, and beetles can pose a threat to the plants. However, not all of these insects require immediate control and some may only be occasional pests.

Common diseases of blackberries include anthracnose, leaf spot, crown gall, rosette, and orange rust. To effectively manage pests and diseases, it is advisable to consult with your county Extension agent for the most up-to-date information on recommended pesticides and their application rates.

For more detailed information on growing blackberries in Florida, you can refer to the following resources:

Now that you have all the essential tips and recommendations for growing blackberries in Florida, you can embark on your own blackberry-growing journey. Enjoy the satisfaction of growing these delectable fruits in your own backyard, and indulge in the flavors of freshly harvested blackberries.