Mulching Thornless Blackberries

barberberryfarm(8A)October 17, 2010

The recent "mulch" post regarding fruit trees was quite interesting to read and got me thinking again about mulching my three new 300-foot rows of Natchez blackberry plants I planted last winter. To prepare the soil, I tilled the new rows periodically (down to maybe 7-8 inches) that previous spring and summer to initially minimize the weed growth and add organic matter to the soil to give the plants a fighting chance to survive the following spring. Then in November I got some organic compost and spread about an inch or two on top of my 5-foot wide 300-foot rows, then tilled that in and planted my 900 bare root Natchez plants 3 foot apart in December. In March, I walked down each row and threw a handful of 13-13-13 ammonium nitrate-based fertilizer (with micro-nutrients) around each plant and watered them every other day with drip irrigation. Then, periodically throughout this past year, I would use my weed-eater to knock the grass and weeds when they would start to get out of hand.

I have avoided using wood mulch as a weed/trash-grass deterrent when planting my berry plants because I've always heard fresh wood mulch will use the nitrogen to speed up the decomposing process instead of letting it pass through to the soil where it is needed.

If I were to put 4-6 inches of mulch around each my now one-year old Natchez berry plants, my questions are these:

1. Will the mulch use up all the nitrogen before it actually gets to the roots (about 2-3 inches below the soil)?

2. If so, any idea how old the mulch has to be before it will allow the nitrogen to pass through to the soil with the other nutrients? In other words, do I need to let the mulch sit idle for a year or two in a big pile before I lay it on top of the beds?

3. If the mulch only uses a partial amount of the nitrogen, should I just double the amount of N? In other words, after I throw the handful of 13-13-13 (with micros) on top of the mulch around each plant, should I then follow up with a handful of (urea-based) 33-0-0 to make sure my plants get some nitrogen too?

I've thought about using a fertigation approach laying my irrigation lines under the mulch, but it would be too costly at this point for me, based on my existing setup, to implement that strategy. But I am getting tired of weed-eating my 7200 row-feet (in total) of thornless blackberries and thought I might try using mulch on my 3 new rows of plants to see how well it does to minimize the weeds.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated?

Ken Barber

Millbrook AL

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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I haven't seen anything that would indicate that the mulch would be a significant problem. The type of mulch you use might make a little difference. More durable wood or well-aged mulch would surely pose less of a potential problem, if such a problem would exist in the first place.

Weed-easting that that much does sound terribly inconvenient. I wonder if a plastic fabric mulch along each side of each row and an appropriate pre-emergent between plants wouldn't be a good option. I have no experience with such a setup for this type of crop, but I think I've seen this somewhere for a similar application. In other words, you may want to take my recommendation with a grain of salt.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 12:53AM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

Putting the mulch on top of the ground will have a minimal effect on your soil nitrogen. As the mulch breaks down, the nitrogen absorbed during decomposition will then be released back into the soil. Any pull of nitrogen to decompose the mulch will happen at the soil surface and bottom of the mulch. So, if you continue to fertilize and either get rainfall or irrigate sufficiently to carry the nitrogen down to the soil, the blackberries will be able to get it. Some of the nitrogen will get caught up in the woodchips during this process and help to break them down more quickly.

Where you get a problem with nitrogen deficiency is when you till the mulch into the soil so that it is all breaking down as quickly as the soil nitrogen will allow--and tying up that nitrogen temporarily as part of the process.

Go ahead and lay the mulch down, and just remember that you will have to re-up the mulch every year or two as the lower parts decompose and feed the berries. If you decrease surface applied nitrogen, it will slow the decomposition of the mulch and how often you need to add more, but you will still get huge nutritional benefits for the blackberries at the soil surface where the decomposed mulch is releasing its nutrients back to the blackberries.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 2:05AM
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gator_rider2(z8 Ga.)

Blackberry planting in zone 8 is productive for 12 years. Takes 4 years for applied mulch to brake down in zone 8 so you lost year 3rd through 8th year most productive. N.C. university did all mulch blackberry tricks in there study after one year all mulch need tobe removed plastic are chips so normal fertilizing and new growth take place. In the use mulch after first year planting. Chemical control is cheapest Georgia pest management book covers blackberry weed control premergence in that use of surlan for grass and simazine for weeds, but use atrazine in place of simazine same chemcial weed control atrazine has different enert so go down in ground faster. burndown control use Gramoxone Inteon listed as weed control grasses come back in few weeks most weeds after kill bud you got them. No mulch supply needed nitrogen in zone 8 there no snow in winter to help with nitrogen. Mulching different term than mulch, mulching with mature is best sores of nitrogen as rain falls are irrigation will carry liquid from mature down in soil along with nitrogen rainy winter months are best so December fits appication time in zone 8. In zone 6b and 7a September fits as good timing as Don Yellman has said many times. As adding wood chips to blackberries there no way to deturnmon amount of nitrogen sook in chips and have left over for berry plants New chips very high older be less its more likely nitrogen go up in air than down in soil once chips dry all nitrogen goes up. At lease a pile up wood chips needs frontend loader turn pile add water as turn pile see co2 goes to high temp goes to high moisture goes to low a probe for co2 and probe for temp all probe 36 inches long needed. Google row mulcher did show application methods that very costly I brodcast chicken nasty because low supply of horse nasty. bfore planting your next crop berry plants Gin trash from that year ginning is best way to get organics in soil use high tonnage per acre I use my spread truck hold 7 tons as lite material 4 loads per acre are all can mix in soil big harrow are PTO tractor tiller tractor driven one guy pile gin trach in field spread with motorgrader then large harrow to mix in soil the smell is nitrogen goig up in air so mix quickly in soil.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 9:25AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


I've been using various mulches for several years now. My preference is wood chips.

I think wood chips (as a mulch) will provide you excellent weed suppression w/ little risk of tying up N.

This is not only supported by my own experience, but commercial literature indicates the same.

In field testing, blueberries perform much better with wood mulch. Fruit Grower News had an article last year highlighting research done by Cornell on orchard floor management (for apples). Wood mulch was rated as very good w/ the only disadvantage being too much vigor increased pruning costs.

Similarly, I've not at all experienced N deficiency from wood mulch. I've experienced exactly the opposite, too much vigor, even in the first two years of establishment (for peaches).

I've always mulched my blackberries (dinky planting compared to yours) w/ leaves because people deliver them for free. But I think I'm going to start using wood chips for the blackberries as well, since wood chips don't have to be replenished as much.

One thing to mention, is that if you are in an area they gets a lot of rain w/ sub-par drainage, mulch of any kind will exacerbate drainage problems.

Had some trouble getting wood chips this summer, but after lots of phone calls, I ended up getting all I needed.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 11:11AM
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Thank you all!! That was some great information and you've got me all pumped up to go and get a couple trailerfulls of wood mulch and lay it on my berry beds. Drainage is good around my plants, so heavy downpours shouldn't be an issue.

I tried a few years ago to lay black plastic mulch on the row beds with holes in the middle for the primocanes to grow out, but when I would bush hog the row centers, every once in awhile I'd get to close to the plastic and it would get sucked in to the blades. As you can imagine, it wasn't a pretty picture and shortly afterwards ripped it all out.

As far as tilling wood chips into the soil, I've tried that too and you are right, nothing grew. I had planted 200 raspberry plants and they all eventually died. Hey, what can I say, I was in the computer business for 35 years before jumping full time into farming about 6 years ago.

Again, thank you all for all the great information you continue to unselfishly provide every day ... :o)

Ken Barber
Millbrook AL

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 2:37PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Where I've seen plastic or plastic fiber mulch used for crops, the plastic covered the area between the rows. I can imagine if your rows were far apart and had to be mowed between, that could complicate things. In the applications I've seen, the plastic was there to eliminate the need for a bushhog or tractor work between the rows.

BTW Ken, Just curious which varieties of blueberries you grow (I visited your website).

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 6:43PM
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We have 5 Rabbiteye varieties growing - Climax, Premier, Brightwell, Tifblue and Powderblue and have been very pleased with all five. Climax and Premier are the earliest to ripen (around the first of June), followed a week or so later by Brightwell and then a week or so later by Tifblue and Powderblue.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2010 at 8:55AM
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Are pine needles good for mulching thornless blackberries?

    Bookmark   June 6, 2011 at 8:56PM
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justjohn(8 AR/LA Stateline)

Roseanna, my thornless are mulched with pine needles. This is my first year, though. So far no problems. Maybe someone will chime in and let both of us know.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 10:37AM
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gator_rider2(z8 Ga.)

No reason once pine needle brake down have no value same with bark blackberries heavy feeder and crown needs stay dry.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 11:02AM
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This is a really good thread so I will bump it up with my question instead of starting anew.

My first question is, is there a type of wood chip that I should not use and what type would be best to use.

Is there anything wrong with using the bagged wood chips from the big box stores?

Lastly, if I put the wood chips down thick enough do I need to put down fabric or plastic underneath?


    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 7:05PM
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gator_rider2(z8 Ga.)

Aged wood chips is okay for Blueberries because they like to root shallow like all acid loving plants.

Blackberries are not acid loving plants and deep root they also heavy feeder wood mulch can never provide heavy feeding. And applied as mulch its in way of proper feeding Blackberry plants.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 7:51PM
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I am more interested in keeping the weeds out than feeding. I am using drip irrigation on my berries but want to keep maintenance down.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 5:40AM
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I would put down a good layer of compost first, then mulch & forget about it till weed started to come though.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 3:38PM
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Has anyone any experience mulching blackberries with old hay?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2012 at 9:38PM
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How often do I need to fertilize my blackberries? I have them in raised beds with all amended soil and compost since I have red pottery for soil in north Texas.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2014 at 1:13PM
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gator_rider2(z8 Ga.)

Fertilizer for fruit production once at 5% bloom and another at 100% bloom if miss that time table use just the 100% bloom fertilizer. Pick to sides of plant use hand full this what grasp in one hand apply fertilizer 18" inches from plant on each too sides chosen. This same amount after fruit pick off plant, but chose two different sides plant. Fertilizer well blackberries almost like any because heavy feeder 10-10-10 are 13-13-13 keeping NPK numbers close good what find to fertilizer with is good. Premium Fertilizer has all small needs for plant.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2014 at 7:19PM
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