Blackberries in Zone 5 or Colder

dmtaylor(5a (WI))October 5, 2012

Is anyone else having success growing blackberries in Zone 5? I've got a Chester that's been fruiting for two years now. Mine has not been vigorous at all -- I get a grand total of about 10-12 berries on the one plant each year, and only one primocane developed for next year so I am expecting more of the same result in future. Perhaps I just need to buy like 5 or 10 more plants, as one just isn't enough!? I find Chester berries are sweet and flavorful IF picked when they are super soft and virtually falling off -- any earlier and they are very tart and not worth eating -- timing is everything.

Based on research it looks like Triple Crown is probably the best choice for me to try besides Chester, and I'll no doubt plant some next spring. However I am also curious if anyone in Zone 5, or colder, has comments on how other hardy varieties such as Darrow and Prime-Jan, maybe others, compare with Chester and TC with respect to flavor and yield. I'd love to try a Boysen but I'd rather not risk it dying at -20 F, as I see they are rated for Zone 6. I am not concerned about thorns, or trailing vs. erect. I am just interested in best flavor and yield of the hardiest varieties. Unfortunately, there just don't seem to be a lot of good options for cold climates. Perhaps I should just plant everything I can find and see what works best here; but if anyone else in Zone 5 or even Zones 3 or 4 has the experience, I'd love to hear about it. Thanks much.

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canadianplant

I have a chester up here in zone 4 ontario. Its the plants second year as well, except that it has done very well for me. It went from a 1 gallon potted plant, to pushing out 4 or 5, 15 foot (and rowing) canes. Theyre planted a foot away from the house wall, and they get flattened in winter by snow (which protect them).

Since they prefer a bit of acidicy in the soil, I put some peat in the ground before planting, and multch with some every spring, along with compost. I dont do anything else.

I find the taste of chester to be tart, but not too bad.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 6:33PM
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Beeone(4 N. Wyo.)

I've planted Prime Jim & Jan. Haven't had any fruit yet although they've been in the ground for several years. I did have my first blossom open earlier in the week, but the heavy frost last night has probably taken it so I'll have to wait another year.

The berries have had severe challenges every year I've had them. Failed to get frequent watering so they drouthed out a few times, then they were discovered by deer, and the last 2 years they were also discovered by grasshoppers.

Due to the deer and grasshoppers, I've had no canes survive into fall so don't know how the canes will overwinter, but the roots seem to do OK. With all these challenges, the Prime Jim has had better survival.

I think I've gotten a decent handle on the deer (electric fencing) and grasshoppers (bio-control & regular spraying) so I'm hopeful that next year I'll be able to keep them regularly watered and get some real results.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 2:42AM
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glenn_10 zone 4b/5a NewBrunswick,Can.

dmtaylor, I am in zone 5a and also grow chester.It grows good for me. I would not bother with triple crown as it is not cold hardy at all,It dies down to the ground every year despite the very mild winter we had last year (minus 7F,-20C). I have not gotten a single berry from them in 4 years.The triple crowns are getting ripped out in a few weeks.A few years ago I grew a thorned variety called Balsors hardy and it grew like a weed(that's why I pulled it).It had big really good berries and it was loaded year after year.Other than the thorns and suckering it was a really great plant.I wish I didn't pull it to replace it with thornless:(

Glenn

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 6:33AM
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camp10

I'm in southern Wisconsin.

I've been happy with my TC. Before winter, I lay the more pliable canes on the ground and cover them with straw. The stiffer canes stay on the trellis.

I've always had some canes survive. One year it was just the ones I had covered.

Last year, every cane overwintered and I had a bumper crop. And that was a year went most of my other fruits were affected by the crazy weather.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 3:20AM
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alan haigh

Sounds like the problem right now is the plants don't have a well drained loamy soil to thrive in. Plants may freeze to the ground in extreme cold when left unprotected but that shouldn't affect vigor of primocains (shoots coming from the ground).

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 6:57AM
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matt_ohio(5b/6a)

With Triple Crown and our normal low temps (usually -5F to -10F) they do die back. I think if they are exposed to cold dry winds in the winter, this is what kills the canes. Because I have covered with straw and most will survive. Last year our low was about 5F and I still had dieback(not covered, longest canes died back to 2'-3'). So I don't think it is just low temps. I still had a bumper crop though, with irrigation.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 12:34PM
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dmtaylor(5a (WI))

Thanks for all the comments thus far. I am continuing to research hardy varieties. Does anyone in Zone 5 or colder have experience with the Illini Hardy variety? From what I have gathered so far, this one might do well in the cold, although the thorns are supposedly pretty nasty, but if it crops well then I don't care.

Also sounds like Prime-Jan is no good here as the canes absolutely won't survive a winter unless very well protected, and if expecting fruit on primocanes (this is one of those primocane bearing varieties), the berries will still be green and unripe when the first frosts hit in October, so that's no good either.

So I'm still considering TC, plus protection. And maybe I'll just plant a few more Chesters as well, as I know they are capable of surviving, even though I can't get them to fruit very heavily so far here.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 2:07PM
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don555(3a)

Hopefully inspiration for blackberry growers (especially of Chester Thornless) in zone 5 or colder:

I'm in zone 3 (Alberta) and I've been growing Chester Thornless for the past 4 years. I put in 2 plants in a south-facing location in spring 2009 so no production that year, just getting floricanes. Canes laid down along the ground and mulched heavily with leaves for winter.

In spring 2010, only one of the 2 plants came back and by the time a killing freeze came in mid-September I had only picked one ripe berry, with about 30 unripe berries left on the vine to freeze. Got another Chester to plant in a west-facing location, which did not produce as it was just establishing floricanes. Another leaf-covering added in early November, on canes that spread up to 8 feet long.

In spring 2011, the long trailing canes died back to a central core area that survived on both plants. The first berry was picked at the end of August, but a warm fall with the killing frost not until mid-October made for a harvest of 449 blackberries from the two plants, and totally hooked me on blackberries. The blackberries we can buy in the store here are grown in Mexico and picked before full ripeness and shipped north, often sour, half the time rather bland. The stuff I can grow -- when I can grow it -- is so much more wonderful! Sweet, and oh so full of flavour! Mulched these plants heavily in the fall with every leaf I could find. Plants now getting big, with a 15 foot spread from end-to-end on just one plant.

Spring 2012 -- despite mulching last fall, only one plant survived above ground. The other plant died to ground-level, but came back strongly with new floricanes that might yield a crop in 2013 if I can keep them alive. As for the plant that lived -- a warm summer combined with a killing frost that held off until early October, resulted in a harvest of 524 blackberries from just the one plant! I remain hooked. In Fall 2012 I skipped the mulching with leaves that tended to compact quite a bit over winter, and went with a thick layer of fluffed-up straw, covered with burlap. Winter came early and hard, permanent snow cover was around October 20, earlier than I've ever seen it. I got the blackberries put to bed in the first days of November, just before some big snowfalls. Now everything is buried under a foot of snow, so I await April to see what's up, or what isn't.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 2:57AM
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gator_rider2(z8 Ga.)

When I study up on Blackberries in your zone 2001 zone 3 and 4 cover plants with 6 foot of straw was thing to do after lay on ground then cover. Planting along fence so wind want blow straw away a rail Fence was best.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 10:31AM
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