Triple Crown Blackberries - trellising and care

jcjrogers(7)February 4, 2010

I currently have a mix of erect blackberries in a bed in my back yard (Navaho, Arapaho, Apache). I have another bed where I want to add Triple Crown (semi erect). That bed is about 28' long and 6' - 7' wide. I can easily extend another 2'+ by putting my trellis stakes 1'+ away from each end of the bed. My questions are as follows:

1) I plan to make a simple two wire trellis. I had hoped that I could treat like trailing varieties, but not sure that will work. In other words, I wanted to allow current year primocanes to sprawl along the ground, while training flouricanes to the trellis. That way after fruiting, I could remove the flouricanes and the following late winter/early spring, train the prior season's primocanes (current season's flouricanes) to the trellis. That next season, I would again allow the primocanes to sprawl on the ground. This would allow me to keep flouricanes and primocanes separated, and would give me a systematic method for trellising the plants. My question is, will this work with Triple Crown?

2) I plan to have one row of 5 plants, spaced between 5' - 6' apart. Does this sound about right?

3) I plan to use a simple 2 wire trellis system, using 3 metal stakes (those green stakes you get from Home Depot/Lowes). Will that suppoort the weight of these semi erect blackberries?

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IMO, not a good idea. I have significant experience growing blackberry canes and I can assure you that those trailing primocane tips will grow their way back into the ground and you will spend as much time fixing that situation as you would pruning a trellis.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 7:34PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Sorry cutnrunn, I'm going to have to disagree. As far as I understand Mr. Rogers, his method is exactly what I do.

If you cut the floricanes right after fruiting, there shouldn't be any primocanes tip rooting yet (Triple Crown grows straight up for quite a while.) Then you can start tying the new primocanes to the trellis. I've done this for a couple years with Triple Crown.

Spacing is fine at 5 or 6 feet.

In terms of the stakes supporting your weight, that's hard to say. The canes really don't weigh that much. I've had a bigger problem with the wind wanting to make the trellis lean. All that foliage attached to the trellis catches a lot of wind. I've got one trellis buried around two foot in the ground and another buried three foot. I like the one buried three foot better. 'Course we get a lot of wind in KS.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 8:14PM
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Thanks for the responses.

I like the idea of doing this way because it creates an organized method for removing flouricanes. With my erects, it is hard to remember which is which after berrying so I just wait and remove the canes that die.

Related questions:

1) Will the Triple Crown primocanes be strong enough to support themselves until after berrying or even through an entire season?

2) Sort of related to #1, would it be best to wait until the second season to train the 2nd year canes (flouricanes) or should I train 1st year canes (primocanes) immediately after the flouricanes berry and are subsequently removed?

Also, if tips tend to grow back into the ground, maybe I could loop the primocanes over the lowest wire or even add a 3rd, lower wire to loop over. Hopefully, that would provide enough additional support to keep the tips out of the ground.

As far as the stakes are concerned, I figured the weight shouldn't be that much. The Triple Crown canes should be thinner, but longer than my erects, which are pretty light. I have stakes/wire running through my erects, but only to add additional support and protection for the canes from wind, weenie dogs, and so forth. I don't think leaning will be a problem, but I'll have to watch. If so, I'll have to brace somehow.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 8:45PM
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1. I have been growing Triple Crown blackberries for over 15 years, and they are the most vigorous caneberries I have seen. In rich soil with full sun, it is possible for primocanes to grow 25 feet long in one season, while simultaneously forming laterals up to 10-12 feet.

2. I don't know how Olpea does it, but if I were to allow the primocanes to sprawl and grow as they like, I would have primocanes growing in all directions -- out in the lawn, over the adjoining fence on the other side, and everywhere underfoot. By late September/early Occtober, many of them would begin to tiproot -- which is fine if you need more plants, but a nuisance otherwise.

3. I see no advantage to keeping the primocanes on the ground while dealing with the fruiting floricanes. Both can easily be supported simultaneously on the same strong trellis, preferably about 7 feet tall. If they grow as mine do, they will require heading back several times during the growing season to keep them under some degree of control. Primocanes that have been allowed to grow flat or even at a significant angle will often break off at the base when an attempt is made to raise them to a trellis. I agree that spent floricanes should be removed promptly after fruiting. They are easily identified by their berry panicles, and they are a noticeably different color than the new growth.

4. My trellises consist of 8-foot treated 4x4's sunk 18 inches, with two treated 2x4s screwed together with deck screws in a T shape across the top, then screwed into the tops of the end posts. I have three heavy No. 9 wires across each trellis. A 14-foot span is quite practical for this type of trellis, though you can find 16-foot 2x4's. I am always grateful that I took the trouble to build something that is a little over rather than under-engineered. These trellises have stood the test of time. Stamped steel posts with a couple of wires strung across will not.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 9:16PM
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I've been growing these for about 10 years, and amen to what jellyman recommends.

3 field stakes will not support a 28-foot row of 3crown blackberries long-term.

The part about lifting the trailing primocane to a more erect position the next year and breaking the cane base is a distinct possibility. They can get the size of broom handles and are not that flexible.

All 3crown canes should be trained and controlled as soon as possible, whether they are first or second year canes. They are easy to tell apart. If they become interlaced, it is still easy to trace the post-fruited laterals back to the main cane and prune them out from the protocanes.

I use heavy-duty field stakes myself, but connect all stake top rows and columns with 2x2 cedar, giving the trellis system a third dimension that resists leaning. This requires no hole-digging or cementing.

Your bed is wide enough that you could incorporate some stakes perpendicular to your main row, l______l______l , like so (this is a top view), and if you can join them all together, it would provide more stability to the whole system, and you could train laterals out onto the perpendicular segments, gaining more linear feet.

Given your dimensions and a modest success, you should easily get 100 pounds of berries per season by year 4 or 5.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 11:11PM
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Thanks for more good info.

Regarding the trellis, the simpler the better. How about hammering down larger wooden stakes right next to the field stakes. I could even bolt the two together or wrap wire tightly around the two. If I understood it correctly, I also like the idea of putting a secondary metal stake behind each primary stake, running wire between the two. That would give more growing room and take away some weight bearing from the primary 3 stakes, and would also help from leaning-- at least in one direction.

I could also increase the number of stakes, which would also reduce the load. These stakes have a 3"-4" wide metal plate that helps to anchor, but also helps to keep the stake from leaning back and forth (doesn't do much side to side). If I added a 4th stake and then alternated the direction of the metal plates, not only would the system support more weight, but it would have some support against leaning in all directions. Does this make sense?

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 11:49PM
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I generally agree that, for many things, simpler is better. But not for this particular thing. Do it right the first time. Strong. The long-term results will be well worth the trouble.

Skip the stamped steel posts, with their little flanges that rust out in a year or two. Sink treated posts at least a foot deep. I can dig an 18" post hole in about ten minutes, and I am old and barely getting around. No need for concrete, which causes premature failure of wood.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 12:09AM
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glenn_russell(6b RI)

Hi jcjrogers-
I made the mistake of making a couple inadequate blackberry trellises until I decided to do it right. If you look at my "My Page" pics, you'll see that I use black iron pipe, though Jellyman thinks I use too many wires. :-) I agree with everyone else here that the stamped steel posts won't cut it. Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 8:52AM
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I agree with Jellyman on training primocanes as they grow. My berries send out 20 ft. shoots regularly and side shoots almost that long. I think that for triple crown 6' is much too close. I planted my first ones 8' apart and then planted the others 10' apart and still have a jungle of shoots and side shoots. I disagree with opinion that steel posts do not last. My trellaces are now a single wire(took the bottom wire out a couple yrs. ago since 3crown is so vigorous also keeps the tips a bit farther frm the soil) between steel posts that have been up 10 yrs. and is as good as when I first put them up.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 10:02AM
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I tried the cheap green posts on my raspberries and they didn't work at all. The main problem was that they weren't sturdy enough to tighten the wire on and they didn't go deep enough so they leaned inward. The result was a very loose wire that didn't do much to hold the canes off the ground. I had my dad make wooden T-posts for me which we pounded about a foot or so into the ground and those are much better. The wires are attached to metal loops screwed into the top crosspiece.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 10:18AM
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If you put guy wires and anchors on each end as you should, neither steel posts or wood posts will sag. If you don't, eventually any post will lean from the weight of the vines

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 11:21AM
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I definitely agree with treated 8 ft 4x4's. Mine are sunk two feet and have two cross braces, one at 2 ft and another at 4 ft, strung with heavy clothesline wire. I use turnbuckles to adjust tension periodically and guy wires on endposts. This is the setup for all my cane fruits, but I'm going to experiment with the hill method on some new black raspberries this year.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 12:38PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Roger I misread your original post. What I thought you were planning is to cut the floricanes immediately after fruiting. That is what I do. At this point the primocanes are not above my trellis (my trellises are fairly tall). There is some tying of primocane laterals, but I don't put a lot of time into it at this point. As long as one wraps the laterals around the wires to keep them off the ground, they don't tip root. When the floricanes are removed (right after fruiting) you can securely fasten the primocane laterals to the wires. If you securely fasten the primocanes before the floricanes are removed, it makes it harder to remove the floricanes. Occasionally I do get some primocane laterals that I accidentally left on the ground and start to tip root. When that happens I pull them up, cut the roots off, and stick them on the trellis. The primocane laterals will continue growing after the floricanes are removed, so you have to keep securing them.

There's a million ways to do a trellis. The main point is to make sure it's sturdy. You can either brace it well, or make sure your posts are plenty deep. The tension on the wires pulls on those end posts and will lean them in, if they are not braced in some way.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 12:52PM
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One of the main reasons simple is better for me is that I have an adult form of Muscular Dystrophy, which gives me muscle weakness. I can drive the metal stakes, though it isn't a fast process. I don't have a post hole digger and handling and setting 8' treated 4"x4" posts would be quite difficult. Originally, I had blackberries and elderberries growing and had a wire system to support bird netting. I used wooden posts that eventually weakened. Some I could break by hand. Switching to the metal stakes made it easier to drive plus, they have held up quite well. True, tightening the wire does cause the metal posts to bend inward some. Anchors would alleviate somewhat, but I think the the farther the anchor is from the post, the better support it would give. Hence, putting an anchor 1' away might not offer much support (don't want too far away as it becomes a pain to cut around and such).

Currently, I have 5 unused metal stakes. If I planted 5 plants, that should certainly take a lot of weight bearing. I might even go with 4 plants, having each one between 2 stakes.

My longterm plan is if these blackberries really take-off and the metal stakes become a problem, I might just pay somebody to replace with wood. I would finish out the season with the metal stakes and then train the new primocanes to the new structure after removing the old flouricanes from the old structure, thereby migrating to the new structure. If I started with a large, strong, wooden structure not only would I have some money invested, I would have to pay somebody to remove the whole thing if the blackberries didn't grow well.

Also, as far as spacing is concerned, I plan to use a 2 wire system, looping the flouricanes around both wires. The diagrams I've seen show the two wires about 18" apart. Wrapping this way should take up a lot of cane length (one complete loop should take up over 36" of cane). Does this make sense?

Here are some links showing what I'm trying to do: (scroll down to middle of page) (scroll down to middle of page, labeled as "Two Wire Blackberry Trellis"

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 1:26PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


Again there are lots of ways to do a trellis. The key is to prune your canes to fit the trellis. My trellises are nearly 6' tall with 4 wires. When the primocanes reach the top, I start pruning the tops so they don't go over. The four wires give me plenty of options on placing the laterals. However, I've seen a blackberry U-pick with a two wire system about 5' tall that worked fine. I've seen a couple more with a V trellis system that was much shorter, but they seemed to work fine as well (the owners simply kept the canes pruned shorter. Same thing on plant spacing. Mine are at 6' spacing b/t plants. I keep the laterals pruned accordingly.

In short, I just can't see that there is one right way to build a trellis, or space the plants. One of the U-picks I mentioned above plants at 10-12' spacing but doesn't prune his primocanes at all. Consequently he gets 25' canes and not very many laterals. He just fastens the extremely long canes to the wires. I wouldn't want to do it that way, but he swears by it. So I would say build your trellis so it's comfortable to you (think here of the picking) and as sturdy has your health permits, and prune accordingly.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 3:31PM
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Good advice. I just want to make sure these canes are going to grow and thrive before I put too much money or effort into it. I also realize that what I'm planning isn't ideal. I just want to make sure that it has a reasonable chance of working. My thought is that since Triple Crown is a semi erect blackberry, which obviously offers some support on its own, the trellis system shouldn't have to be that elaborate or strong. It would be different if I was growing grapes.

That being said, I don't want to enter into something that has no chance of success. I guess I'm really looking for a reasonable short-term solution so that if all goes well, I can make the decision to keep status quo or change to something bigger/stronger.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 11:10PM
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With some varieties of caneberries, it is not the weight of the canes/laterals that require heavy support--it is the weight of the fruit than can easily collapse a sturdy cane over a two-foot unsupported length.

The simplest method using stakes would be to use single stakes placed as close as 3 feet apart, tie your main cane to the stake as it grows, top it at 6 feet or so, and keep the laterals cut to about 3 feet or less. Pretend you are growing Christmas trees, you don't even need wires. Remember that every place there are leaves on a lateral may have a fruiting spur the next year. This will still give you lots of berries, and it is still easy to tell the 1-year and 2nd-year canes apart. It's OK to let laterals from adjacent plants overlap. The new canes sprout at the base of the old ones; they do come up far from the stake. If your protocanes want to veer sideways, keep an eye on them and force them up the stake while they are still tender and flexible. They grow fast, you may have to tend to them every three days to keep them in line.

The critical part is getting long enough stakes to drive them in deeply and still have at least 5 feet of stake above ground.

In your situation, keeping individual canes/laterals pruned on the small side and using single stakes would be simplest. It is not the most efficient method for tons per acre, but I assume you need less!

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 12:15AM
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One more thought I had. These metal stakes fit right into eachother (made that way so they can be easily stacked in the stores). I have 5 stakes. I could use two stakes at each end, bolting together and/or wrapping wire around to tightly hold together. That way, I would have the strength of two stakes on each end and one stake in the middle. I'm pretty sure it would take quite a bit of force to bend two stakes connected together like this. Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 4:10PM
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I still recommend using an an anchor placed about 2 to 3 ft. from the end posts. I am sure you are going to try to keep the berries clean either by cultivation or by mulch, which is what I use, so just crosscontinue the method out to the anchor. I have found that whatever type support you use, after a few yrs. the weight of the plants and fruit will pull them inward causing the wire to sag. Also remember on spacing that if you plant 8 ft apart you only leave 4 ft.for each plant to grow outward before they begin to cross each other. I have triple crown planted 8 ft. apart and am seriously considering removing every other plant. They produce so much growth it becomes a jungle in there and the weight of the berries is significant.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 6:36PM
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jcjrogers: Sounds good, stability depends on how solid your soil is. Camp10 setup is simple enough.

If you keep your cane count to a small number, the stakes may hold. Probably no need to keep more than two protocanes per clump. Never rely on just one cane; aphid and bird attacks can deform and stunt them. Once the canes become 3 or 4 feet tall, it becomes apparent which ones are the best choice to keep if you have many new protocanes sprouting in one clump.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 1:46AM
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I live in southwestern Pennsylvania I just prepared two 50' X 3' to plant blackberries in the spring. I am trying to decide between Triple crown or Apache.I'm new at growing black berries.I would like to see some pictures and or diagrams of trellises and any help on planting and care.

Thanks Vinniemac

    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 1:50PM
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I planted 6 vines last spring on 5' intervals and they put out thin, leggy canes that ran up to 12' on the ground. At the end of the summer I built a heavy trellis 32' long and tied them up on it and trimmed the canes back to 6' tall. They all survived our very mild winter and are nice bushy vines. The new primocanes are now about 6' tall themselves and I have pinch pruned the tops and there are side shoots all over them. The big difference is these new canes are about 1/2-1" diameter and self supporting.

This year they are covered with berries and today I just harvested the first crop of about 4 large Cool Whip containers full. The berries are huge--bigger than my thumb and have been turning black for about 4 weeks. They were not getting sweet though so I put on the soaker hose and that helped a little. Then over the last 2 weeks we got almost 3" rain which really did the trick. I also found out the secret for telling when the black ones are sweet--they take on a dullish look, slip easily from the vine, and also look like they're about to explode they're so full! And the best part is not a single scratch on me!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 12:02PM
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I Have growing Tripple crown berries for severial years and they have done quite well, in a raised bed and using a drip system to water them when they need to be watered, I started out with the plants ever three ft. they have out grown my rows as this is the4 th. YEAR for these berries I plan to take out ever other plant, My question is when would be the best time of year to transplant them, this is in zone 5 , I have my trellises ready, Can someone give me some advice as when would be the best time........RICH

Here is a link that might be useful: GardenWeb

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 7:02PM
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The best time was last October or November.

But now you should do the transplants as soon as the ground is not frozen and the soil is workable. Dig a foot from the canes and try to go down at least a foot. Expect less vigor of new canes sprouting from the transplants for the first year.

If the soil is still wet, not much water is needed during the transplant, just make sure everything is tamped down firmly.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 11:10PM
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