Auburn, Alabama—Did you know that the yummy berries you see growing on the side of the highway are actually Alabama’s official state fruit? That’s right, the blackberry is Alabama’s state fruit and appreciated by many throughout the area.
There are several types of blackberries that are grown in Alabama. According to Regional Extension Agent Gary Gray, “There are different types of blackberries including erect, semi-erect and trailing types. The trailing types require a trellis, whereas the erect types do not.There are certain ways to grow and enjoy plentiful blackberry bushes.”
Gray explained that blackberry plants are available in many varieties including both thorny and thorn-less types. “One of the best adapted varieties for Alabama is ‘Kiowa,’ a long-lived, very productive thorny type,” Gray said. “Kiowa produces very large fruit and is virus tolerant, which allows it to outlive most other varieties in Alabama.” There are many thorn-less varieties available as well. “Many of these have been bred by Dr. John Clark at the University of Arkansas,” Gray said. “Examples of two of the newer blackberry varieties include Oachita and Osage.
Blackberries are versatile plants that can be planted in a wide variety of soils. According to Gray, blackberries do best in well-drained sandy loam or clay loam soil with a slightly acid pH of 6.0 – 6.5.
Blackberries may be bought and planted as containerized or potted plants, dormant bare-root plants or root cuttings. “While all of these can be planted during winter, containerized plants can be planted any time of year as long as they are not allowed to dry out during their establishment,” Gray said.
One of the fun parts about a blackberry plant is getting to pick the berries when they become ripe enough for eating. “The flavor of most blackberry varieties is tart until fully ripe and plump,” Gray says, “and the flavor continues to sweeten as the fruit color changes from shiny to dull black.”
Blackberries can be enjoyed in a multitude of ways from fresh out of hand, in a blackberry cobbler with home-made vanilla ice cream, in a fruit smoothie, or made into blackberry jam and spread on a hot, buttered biscuit.
Janice Hall, a regional agent in Food Safety and Quality with Alabama Extension, has other great recipes and links to publications on safely cooking blackberries.
However you choose to enjoy your blackberries, be sure you plant them right the first time to so that you can continue to pick and savor them each year. Anyone interested in learning more about growing their own fruits and vegetables would really enjoy attending the Annual Farm, Home and Wildlife Expo at the Chilton Research and Extension Center in Thorsby the first Saturday in August each year.
Information on all of these programs and a wide variety of publications can be found on the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.