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  (Portage, Michigan)
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Pruning Blackberries

when to prune blackberries

We have blackberries. Just a small section of canes growing on a portion of our backyard fence. I didn’t plant them. Either the previous owners placed them there or nature was just crafty about placement. Whichever is the case, I have to confess that they weren’t even noticeable until the spring of 2010 (four years after we moved in) when I looked out into the yard and saw a beautiful spray of white flowers over the back fence. Ever since I’ve been making breakfast-time trips to the backyard every spring and summer to add fresh berries to my yogurt. In 2013 we received the most and biggest berries ever! Other than a bit of pruning this spring and training a few pliable canes through the fence I haven’t done much with these plants. They’re starting to get a bit unruly so I decided to look into best practices for caring for blackberries. Namely, my goal was to prune them. Here’s what I found…

Why prune blackberries?

when to prune blackberries

Pruning blackberries has several straight-forward benefits. First, pruning helps to encourage growth during the next season. Pruning enables growth in cane strength but especially encourages lateral branching (which is where new berries will come from). Pruning also reduces the ability of diseases to spread.

At the end of this fall I noticed that my blackberries had taken on the same spots as my beans and cucumbers. I’m beginning to notice a trend that plants most impacted by what I’m currently guessing to be anthracnose are often located near a mulberry tree, and my mulberry leaves are spotted as well. There’s certainly more research to be done, but that’s another post. Meanwhile, I discovered yesterday that the majority of my blackberry leaves are spotted and diseased. Time to prune for sure!

When should you prune blackberries?

There are two times to prune blackberries: Spring and fall. In the fall (or better, at the end of the summer when berries are no longer being produced) pruning is done to remove dead or 2-year-old canes. Turns out blackberries only produce food on canes that are two year sold. After they’ve produced you’ll never get fruit from them again. Cut those puppies out to make room for new growth! This is also a time to prune away diseased canes and leaves (although this can also be done in the midst of the season to promote plant health).

At spring time blackberries will benefit from tip pruning where you (brace yourself) cut off the tips. Tip pruning causes the canes to branch out and provide more space for fruit to grow.

How do you prune blackberries?

Pruning blackberries is very straight-forward. Use clean pruning shears and cut the canes off at the desired height. If your canes are not supported, keep them around 3 feet tall. For supported canes, cut them off at the height of your support (i.e. fence). I cut mine about 1 foot short of the fence this year to encourage more growth and to give me time to tie them to the fence this spring before they get too large.

I wasn’t expected my own blackberry pruning experience to be quite so… extensive. Between old growth and disease, I ended up chopping off nearly everything, including new growth. It was a little scary, but these plants are so hardy that I know they’ll come back aggressively. I plan to let the branches dry out a bit over the next few days, chop them into small sections and have a little campfire evening.


when to prune blackberries

Our blackberries in the spring, 2013.

when to prune blackberries

Our blackberries in the fall 2013, before pruning.


when to prune blackberries

Our blackberries in the fall 2013, after pruning.
{Note: Most of the green you see is just the pile of pruned canes piled behind the fence.}

when to prune blackberries

The remaining, healthy canes are now woven neatly into the supporting fence.

I can’t wait to see what the blackberries look like next spring!

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Planting Garlic


Garlic is a staple in the kitchen for many of us. The fact that it’s so easy and inexpensive to grow means it would also be a great staple in your garden. With just a small amount of garden space you can enough garlic to be self-sufficient for the better part of a year.

If you’re like me, you’re destined to spend a decent amount of time this winter dreaming about what you’ll plant in the garden when spring arrives. But if you plan to incorporate a garlic harvest into next year’s season, you’ll need to act much sooner. Though you can plant at any time, for the best results, garlic should be planted in the fall. According to Lynn Byczynski, owner of Seeds from Italy, “Your goal should be to plant within two weeks of the first frost (32°F) so that the cloves develop roots but do not emerge above ground by the time of the first hard freeze (28°F).”

Since we experienced our first frost this week, I’m planning to have my garlic in the ground by the end of this weekend. Here are some things I’ll be keeping in mind as I go (and that you’ll want to take note of as well) for a successful harvest next summer.

Choose Between Hardnecks and Softnecks

Garlic falls into two main categories: Hardneck and softneck. The Daily Green describes the difference like this:

Softnecks, the standard garlics of commerce, are the easiest to grow in regions where the weather is mild. They keep longer than hardnecks, but they are less hardy and more prone to make small, very strong-flavored cloves. Hardnecks do best where there is a real winter and are more vulnerable to splitting – or simply refusing to produce – when grown in warm climates.

Prepare Garlic Seed

Garlic is traditionally planted from cloves which are the smaller sections that can be separated from the larger bulb. It is recommended that you plant garlic from “seed garlic” rather than from a bulb of garlic purchased from the grocery store. However, you can certainly plant garlic from bulbs purchased at a farmer’s market or from the produce section. The risk here is that garlic from the grocery store may be an imported variety that is not well-suited for growing in your climate, or it may have been treated with chemicals that make it difficult to sprout/grow. I’m going to experiment with planting from three sources: Farmer’s market garlic, seed garlic (Chesnok Red Organic) and organic garlic purchased at the grocery store.

Start your planting process by pulling the cloves apart from the bulb. Be sure to leave the papery skin intact. As an optional step, Organic Gardening recommends soaking cloves in the following mixture for two hours prior to planting in order to “prevent fungal disease and encourage vigorous growth”:

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon liquid seaweed

Avoid planting cloves that are tiny, dried out or that show signs of discoloration and mold.

Prepare the Soil

Garlic grows best in well-drained, fertile soil. Garlic does not do well in clay soils, which means you may need to amend with sand or vermiculite if you have predominantly clay soil. The soil should also be free of weeds.

Plant the Cloves

To plant your garlic cloves (“seeds”) first dig a 3-inch-deep furrow in the garden bed. Place the seeds with the flat root section down and the pointed section up. If the weather has been dry and you don’t expect rain any time soon, you may want to water the seeds before moving on to the next step.

For those of you with square foot gardens, you can plant either 4 (large varieties) or 9 (small varieties) per square foot. For those of you who garden by the row, 6-8 inches between cloves should be your guideline.

Garlic should be planted in full sun.

Side-dress Furrow with Organic Matter

To make sure your garlic has a rich, fertile environment in which to grow, you’ll want to side-dress your seeds with organic matter. Suggested materials include composted manure, alfalfa meal, garden compost or other organic fertilizer. Personally, I plan to use rabbit manure.

Mulch Away

After you’ve planted your seed and added fertilizer, cover everything with 6-8 inches of straw mulch. I’ve also used grass clippings and mulched leaves. The mulch will help to keep weeds at bay but will also help to retain moisture and moderate soil temperature. In the spring, carefully rake back the mulch to allow the green shoots to more easily emerge and soak up some sunshine.


That’s it! With these few simple steps you can easily grow all the garlic your family will need for the summer, perhaps even for a whole year. Later in the season I’ll share information with you about caring for, harvesting, curing and storing garlic. But for now you know all you need to make sure you don’t miss this perfect opportunity to get out there and plant your garlic before the garden is covered in a blanket of snow.

Alternative Garlic Growing

An alternative way to grow garlic is by planting garlic bulbils. This is a method I discovered while preparing to write this post and is something I’ll spend more time studying this winter. I do love a good experiment so I hope to harvest some garlic bulbils and attempt to propagate more garlic this way in 2015. For more details, click here.

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