By: Carol Williams, Mobile County Master Gardener | www.MobileCountyMasterGardeners.org
Summer must be coming! Signs are on the roadsides offering “Blackberries for Sale,” and small groups of people are stopping alongside country roadways to pick ripening berries, Rubus trivialis Michaux, the southern dewberry. Akin to blackberries, both are in the rose family, hence they have stickers. Dewberries thrive in hardiness zones 6-10.
(Photo courtesy of ACES.)
Many of us have memories of heading out to an undeveloped field with playmates or our grandmother, armed with a stout stick for easing the sticker vines around to reach the juicy, dark fruit. The vines often grow in brambles and can reach lengths up to sixteen feet. It’s a dewberry if those trailing vines are covered with reddish-purple hairs and stickers. The berry, a collection of tiny drupes fertilized by bees and other pollinators, is carried home in bowls and baskets to quickly become jams and cobblers. A dewberry cobbler, often a Mother’s Day tradition in zone 8, tastes like summer!
The dewberry bramble houses all sorts of small wildlife, dependent on its protection and food. Small birds, rodents, and the snakes that come to eat them depend on the dewberry brambles throughout the countryside. Brambles protect endangered species, too. However, less useful are the dewberry vines that invade our own landscape shrubs and features, “planted” by visiting birds resting momentarily in the landscape. These invading vines seem almost impervious to herbicides so hand-weeding with leather gloves and sharp clippers bring the quickest end to them.
Fortunately, less invasive domestic versions of the blackberry family have been developed for the home gardener, producing beautifully sweet large fruit like some grocers occasionally carry. Many varieties grow erect so do not need as much space as the trailing varieties which require trellises but are more productive. Choose trailing or erect, thorny or thornless varieties, both early and late bearing. The erect varieties with thorns, such as the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Shawnee, and Kiowa, offer more disease resistance and grow faster for more productivity. Although thorny, Kiowa is recommended for home gardens. The thornless erect varieties, such as Apache, Arapaho, Natchez, Navaho, and Ouachita offer early and late varieties also and often large, thumb-size fruit.
When choosing a planting site for your blackberry plant, look for full sun (six to eight hours a day), good drainage, and a water source for irrigation as needed. Also consider possibilities of cold winter temperatures. Blackberries like to start blooming before the danger of frost is past so planting on a slope to allow cold air to flow away downhill may save blooms in some years. Be sure to avoid planting in low-lying areas as cold winter air settles there and can cause more cold injury. If you don’t know the pH of the chosen site, send in a soil test (For instructions see Soil, Forage & Water Testing Lab | Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station (auburn.edu). Blackberries produce best in a soil pH of 6.0-6.5. Start early so that you can add lime if needed before planting. Also, work the soil and prepare the site but wait until a drenching rain has fallen and dried before planting.
In the second year after planting, expect fruit beginning in June for early varieties. One caveat: deer love to munch thornless blackberry vines so if deer pester your landscape, plan to use wire or fencing to protect your thornless vines.
Garden Events for Your Calendar
What: Become a Mobile County MG in 2021
When: Classes (early August-early Nov)
Every Thursday: 8:30am - 2:30 pm
Fee: For materials used in 12-week training
Where: 1070 Schillinger Rd N, Mobile
Application Deadline: June 15, 2021
More info: www.mobilecountymastergardeners.org/about-us
Or call 251-574-8445 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
What: Marketplace at Mobile Botanical Gardens
Plant Retail venue at end of our parking lot
When: Fridays, Noon to 2 pm
Saturdays 9 am to Noon
Where: 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile 36608
More info: www.mobilebotanicalgardens.org
What: Market in the Park
When: Saturdays – 7:30 am to noon through July 17, 2021
Where: Cathedral Square, 300 Conti Street, Mobile
Look for the Master Gardener Tent!
What: Alabama Garden Chat, a Zoom
Space to learn about seasonal garden problems
When: Wednesdays, 2 - 3 pm (April through August)
Questions: Email AlabmaGardenChat@gmail.com
Join with this link: auburn.zoom.us/j/82398811386
What: Walk the Mobile Japanese Garden
Accessible entrance through trail #1
Where: 700 Forest Hill Drive, Mobile
When: Daylight hours daily
Fee: Free, but donations appreciated
More info: www.MobileJapaneseGarden.com
Master Gardener Helpline 877-252-4769