Blackberries: Chester vs Triple Crown vs Prime-Ark

sakihAugust 9, 2014

Hi,
I am looking for some advice. If you could only plant one variety to plant, which one of these would you choose (and why)?

I ask because I have one blackberry bush that I bought at a local farmers market (not sure of the variety) and I'd like to buy some more through Stark Bros. (www.starkbros.com) for fall planting. I don't have enough room to plant more than four or five, and since they come in packs of six, this limits me to just one variety. Also, in case it's relevant, I definitely want blackberries that are good for making jams and baking. I live in hardiness zone 6B; my soil is only slightly acidic (pH is about 6.5), but I plan to add some soil amendments to lower the pH; and I will trellis them against a brick wall that is about 9 feet high.

Thanks for your help!

This post was edited by sakih on Sun, Aug 10, 14 at 0:21

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mrsg47(7)

I love Triple Crown, but my largest blackberry, filled with flavor is Ouachita. Many think it is too sour, but I love it and they are huge!!!! Mrs. G

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 12:48PM
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melikeeatplants

Prime Ark has nasty thorns....very vigorous and upright, no staking needed.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 7:11PM
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2010champsbcs

My Triple Crowns came from Stark and have produced well.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 10:32PM
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larry_gene

What is "blackberries that are jams"?

No need to lower the ph of your soil, 6.anything is fine.

Hardiness zone 6B may require some winter protection methods for some varieties.

I never recommend planting blackberries against a wall of any kind, reflected heat can affect ripening fruit against a south or west wall. Otherwise plant the canes a good 2 feet from the wall, attach the trellis above head height to the wall.

Mature plantings may shade the wall and reduce the heat effect; first couple of years, not so much.

Triple Crown is well-liked; in summers with many days over 90 degrees expect some fruit loss to UV sunlight damage, especially on S or W facing plantings.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 12:03AM
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sakih

Thanks for the helpful replies!

larry_gene, my apologies. I meant to write "blackberries that are good for making jams and baking". I just fixed the original post.

That's great news about the pH.

Can you elaborate on the the problems with planting blackberries against a wall? Does this mean the plants will bear less fruit, won't bear fruit at all, or won't survive? Part of the appeal of blackberries for me was that they might hide the wall. But my space is limited, and moving them 2 feet out will encroach on the rest of my garden. If I trellis them from above, but keep them next to the wall, might that be ok?

We get about 5-10 days above 90úF, typically in July, in my area. By fruit loss, do you mean the fruit ripening at that time will not fully mature?

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 12:25AM
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jtburton

If your space is limited, you may want to try Oauchita. The plants are erect and easy to manage. The flavor of the berry is fine for fresh eating or jam. Triple crown has the best flavor of the ones mentioned above but it's a large and unwieldy plant that requires taming. Chester is similar in growth to TC but produces more berries with less flavor. Prime Ark 45 has good flavored berries and can fruit twice a season but as mentioned it is thorny.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 9:41AM
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sakih

Thank you, jtburton. I am not familiar with Oauchita, but you are the second person to mention it, so I will do some more research about it in my area. If it doesn't work out, it sounds like triple crown may be my best bet. Thank again!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 4:00PM
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larry_gene

Smack up against a wall is doable, but know that the Triple Crown and other blackberry varieties are not two-dimensional plants unless pruned quite heavily to make them so.

They are productive enough that you will still get lots of fruit after pruning all growth going towards the wall (although that could be let go, the wall will deform them and they could curve back out). It's just that ripe berry clusters pinned against the wall will stain it, but if the wall is being intentionally hidden, no problem.

The UV damage causes portions of a berry to turn white and this affects the flavor. Your number of 90+ degree days is not excessive for this variety.

The Ouachita variety would certainly be easier to manage.

All varieties mentioned will make fine jam or baked goods.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 10:47PM
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sakih

larry_gene,

I am not terribly concerned about the staining, but I see what you mean about the pruning. Since everyone seems in agreement that Ouachita would be easier in that space, I am going to look for those.

I'm glad to hear the weather shouldn't be a problem.

The only other factor in the choice between TC and Ouachita now is that I would like to find some plants that are already two-years old, assuming that's possible. Since I am still new at this, I am hoping my chances of success will be higher with a more mature plant. I plan to put the new bushes in the ground in the fall, so I guess I still have some time.

Thanks again for your help!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 11:25PM
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jtburton

sakih,

You can find some potted blackberries later in the Fall at local nurseries and big box stores but size and age do not necessarily mean that the plants will be healthier. Ideally, put blackberry plants out in the Spring and you will have fruit the following year.

You can also buy larger plants from Berries Unlimited online. They have larger Oauchita. Osage is another decent blackberry variety. I have them but have only had a few berries from mine due to having just planted it late last year. The flavor seems on par with Oauchita and the grow habit is similar.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 8:29AM
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sakih

jtburton,

Thanks for the tip about where to find potted plants. Even if the 2-yr olds aren't necessarily healthier, would they fruit sooner? The blackberry bush I have now didn't fruit this year or grow as tall as I'd hoped (see attached photo). I planted it in late May and it was potted when I got it, so I think it was a year or so old at the time. Unfortunately, I didn't know enough to ask the age or variety when I got it.

My plan for the new blackberries is to plant this fall (2014) in order to have fruit next summer (2015). But is that short-sighted? If there is a reason it would be better in the long-term to plant in the spring (2015) and wait for fruit the following summer (2016), please let me know.

Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 10:36AM
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jtburton

Disclaimer: My experience may differ from other people's experience.

Generally, a 2-yr plant from a retailer will have its canes pruned back to make it easier to ship and to help it to better establish when it is planted. If the plant was grown in a pot, its root system may throttle back growth to adjust to the available resources. You may also have root circling in the pot which will need some pruning. While you may have fruit next year with a more mature plant, generally the amount of fruit you will get will be minimal. You are essentially buying the root system.

Blackberry Fruiting Schedule

Spring Y1 -> Blackberry planted in the Spring and grows until frost. Primocane growth limited by immature root system.
Spring Y2 -> Baby fruit crop on immature Y1 primocane growth (now called floricanes) but Y2 Primocane growth doubles (bigger plant)
Spring Y3 -> Y2 Primocane growth allows full fruit production and Y3 Primocane growth equals Y2 (biggest plant).

Fall Y1 -> More mature potted plant (2 yr) planted but minimal primocane growth due to season length.
Fall Y2 -> Limited fruit on Y1 primocane growth (now called floricanes) due to pruning; Y2 primocanes growth increases to allow mature yield in Y3.
Fall Y3 -> Full fruit yield from Y2 primocanes and full primocane going into Y4.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 2:22PM
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jtburton

One other note. An unpruned Oauchita blackberry will mature to a size of 5ft wide (in diameter) by 7ft tall. The triple crown blackberry plant mentioned above can be twice that wide! Blackberries are not small plants.

Your location in the photo is pretty small. :-(

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 2:48PM
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sakih

jburton,

Thanks for such a detailed explanation. That really helps a lot.

If I understand the fruiting schedule you provided correctly, I basically shouldn't expect fruit until Y3, regardless of whether I plant a young blackberry in the spring or a more mature one in the fall. In that case, I am inclined to get the younger plant and plant it the early spring -- which is what I think you recommended in the first place. :)

The picture is a little deceiving because the wall stops just a few feet past the patio (basically, just where the photo ends on the right). I have some tomatoes and herbs there now (it's blurry in the photo), but they won't survive past summer, and I will plant the blackberry there next year. I don't want to make things any more difficult than necessary, though, so I have decided to get a Oauchita blackberry because it seems more manageable for the space.

I realize this will still involve heavy pruning and trellising, especially during the summer months. However, I have time on the weekends, I enjoy being outside, and I the Oauchita is thornless, so I remain (naively?) undaunted!

Thanks again for all of your help!!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 3:19PM
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jtburton

In the second growth season (Y2) you will get a baby crop that would be less than 50% (probably closer to 25%) of what you should expect the following year when the plant is fully matured. Of course this varies by blackberry variety and the growth during that season.

For example, if you had planted blackberries this last Spring (2014), you would be getting some fruit next year (2015). A full crop would not arrive until 2016.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 3:31PM
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sakih

Ah, so if I plant a mature plant this fall (2014), I can expect about 25-50% of a normal crop in 2015 and a full crop in 2016. But if I plant a baby plant in spring 2015, I will get a little fruit in 2016 and a full crop in 2017, is that right? Sorry I am so dense about this.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 4:04PM
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jtburton

It is confusing...

Buy a mature plant now and you will get a little fruit next year (2015) and a full crop in 2016.

Buy a bareroot or tissue culture plant for Fall planting now and you will get a baby crop in 2016 and a full crop in 2017.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 6:01PM
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sakih

Ok, now I get it! Thank you!!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 8:21PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Once established even when injured they really can grow. I lost most of my canes last winter, and this coming winter looks bad too. The Great Lakes are cold, the summer has been mild, we are going to get hit again.
But my plants have grown crazy wild. It's going to be impossible to cover them all. I'm going to try anti-desiccant sprays. My only hope. That is one good reason to buy an older plant, the next few winters may be tough.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 9:50PM
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sakih

Drew51,

Thanks for the tip.

And good luck! I visited the Great Lakes region for the first time this summer ��" it was beautiful. But I guess winters are different.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 12:35AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Some love the winter here, but I'm not one of those people. I just got back from a week on the St Clair River. I took my baths in the river, the water is so clean these days. Beautiful! I foraged for wild blackberries. But most are still green. I will go again next weekend. One day I will cross these wilds into the domestics to create a cultivar that is hardier for this area.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 5:45AM
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