The rubus is a perennial shrub, sarmentose, semi-evergreen, native to central-southern Europe. It is a large stump, from which depart many thin stems, ribbed and arched, covered with many small arched thorns, every year the rubus produces many suckers, which can develop for a few meters in a single season, the stems are densely branched and sometimes prostrate, to form a thick and impenetrable tangle.
The leaves of the rubus are composed, formed by small oval leaves, toothed, of dark green colour on the upper page, white on the lower one. The one-year-old stems produce, by late spring, or at the beginning of summer, terminal panicle-shaped inflorescences, formed by small white or pinkish flowers; in late summer, they produce small green fruits, which become black when ripe, edible.
They are roundish, formed by some small round drupes, which contain a single seed; after the fructification, the stems dry up. The blackberries are very appreciated raw fruits, or utilized for the production of jams or liqueurs; R. fruticosus is much cultivated also in the gardens due to the particularity of not having thorns, the fruits of this bramble are not very sweet when raw, but are ideal for preparing jams.
Some brambles are cultivated as decorative plants, with very showy blooms, such as R. spectabilis and R. odoratus.
The blackberry is part of the so-called “small fruits”: various perennial or slow-growing shrubs that produce soft and juicy fruits. This category includes currants, gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes and blackberries. Unlike fruit trees, which need a lot of space to grow well, these crops are ideal for a sunny or slightly shaded position in a small garden. Some can even be grown in containers and are perfect for courtyards or balconies.
Family and gender
Rosaceae, rubus idaeus, rubus ulmifolius (in cultivation)
Type of plant
Full sun, half shade in the south
Rich, sub-acid or neutral
Generally not necessary
Good amount of potassium, little nitrogen
Black or purple drupes, shiny, acidulous.
There are also red varieties
From July to October, depending on the variety
Fresh consumption, for confectionery or for jams, jellies, syrups and juices
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The brambles prefer sunny places, in nature they develop on the edges of the woods, along escarpments and in sunny clearings; they do not fear the cold and adapt to many conditions, sometimes becoming weeds.
Usually they can endure even long periods of drought, settling for the rains; to get a better harvest, however, it is advisable to provide water regularly from May to August, always letting the soil dry well between one watering and the other. For a correct development of the plants it is best to bury at the foot of the mature organic manure strain, in autumn and early spring.
The blackberry and the one in cultivation
The cultivated blackberry has been hybridized starting from the wild one (robus idaeus) that can be found spontaneously in all the hilly or mountain areas. Domesticated species are generally free of thorns and are more rustic and vigorous, also produce larger fruits and in greater numbers.
The spontaneous bramble is a shrub that every year produces new branches that tend to sarmentose usually last two years and that bear fruit in the last year. On the stems and petioles there are arched thorns. The branches, arched, can reach four meters in length. In the wild, during the second year of life, the apex reaches the ground to take root through layering and continue with the work of colonization of the area. Quickly it forms agglomerates commonly called brambles.
The leaves are alternate, composite, palmate and toothed, usually composed of five to seven leaflets. The flowers are white or pink, with a diameter of two centimetres, grouped in corymbs. They have five sepals and five petals with numerous stamens. The fruits range from black to bluish and are formed by the aggregation of small drupes that remain adherent to the flower receptacle.
Planting and spacing
Blackberries should be planted between late autumn and early spring, unless the soil is frozen or too wet. Less vigorous varieties should be spaced about 2.5 m from each other, those instead of medium vigour need from 3 to 5 meters from each other.
We choose a sunny and sheltered place so that the shoots are not damaged by the wind.
As for the raspberries, the fructification takes place on the branches of the previous year. Consequently, these must always be preserved to the maximum.
The best way to support the drums in a small space is to create a single fence using poles about 2.2 meters high and spaced 4. The poles should be inserted at a depth of 60 cm. They should then be connected by means of rigid galvanized wire with a diameter of at least 2 mm, if not more. The individual wires should be spaced about 75 cm apart in height from each other.
The drums should be tied and addressed horizontally as this helps to slow down the flow of the sap and the activation of the intermediate buds. As a consequence, there will be a more abundant and better distributed fructification.
Usually it happens by offshoot or by cutting; the new suckers root very easily if separated from the main stump at the end of winter or at the beginning of spring. The blackberry multiplies with great facility both with the one year old branch cutting and with the offshoot or tip layering. The most practical method is to bury branches of the year during the summer period.
Rooting takes place within two months and you can transfer the plants in pots or directly at home before the arrival of winter.
Pests and diseases
This plant is very rustic and resistant, but often the inflorescences are attacked by aphids, and sometimes the leaves are affected by bad white.
The bramble is basically a very rustic and resistant plant. In fact, it lives spontaneously almost everywhere, succeeding without difficulty in fructifying and multiplying. It defends itself very well against parasite attacks and is therefore an excellent choice for those who want to practice organic farming.
Unfortunately, however, it is rather sensitive to various cryptogams, in particular rust and grey mould. Above all, the latter can severely compromise the harvest in the presence of particularly wet years due to rain or the presence of morning dew (and perhaps with exposures not too correct).
To avoid this problem it is important to avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization in order to keep the vegetation open and ventilated at all times. The soil should also always be cleaned of grass and debris on which could settle and survive the fearsome spores.
It happens quite frequently that in summer these fruits become a strong point of attraction for birds, in particular for sparrows and magpies. In order to protect our cultivation, it will be better to set up special nets that cover the specimens up to the ground. Let’s remember, however, to check often to release any specimens that may be caught.
Planting and setting up of the backrest
It will have to start in autumn digging a groove in an already prepared soil, 80 cm wide and 60 cm deep. The base should be covered with 8-10 cm of mature manure. Let’s put the soil back into the furrow and even it out. Let’s put the fork in the soil several times and let a slow release granular fertilizer in the dose of 85 gr per square meter. Let the soil settle for a few weeks before planting.
At that point we will insert the plants at a distance of 45 cm from each other, widening the roots of each. The ideal depth of the collar is about 8 cm. The stem should then be cut at the height of a bud about 25 cm above ground level.
Let’s mulch with garden compost to protect from the first winter.
When spring arrives, the stems will be cut at ground level in order to stimulate the birth of totally new ones. In summer, these new branches will be tied to the support wires. At the end of the first winter, they will be cut at the level of the highest cable. The secondary branches should also be trimmed.
By the end of the following year, these branches will have to be cut at ground level (since they have fructified), leaving room for new ones.
Climate and soil
The brambles develop on any soil, preferring the stony soils, very well draining. The varieties grown vegetate and produce well in hilly or foothill soils as long as well exposed and very sunny that allow a complete ripening of the fruit even in September and October. The most appreciated substrata are light and rich of humus, neutral or sub-acid (pH 6-7).
They adapt well to both mild and cold climates. They tend to want a sunny position throughout northern Italy and slightly shaded in the south.
For the fruit to be sweet and juicy, it must be harvested perfectly ripe. Once detached from the branch, it will not ripen further. The presence of groups of small drupes still unripe at the point of harvesting as well as causing resistance to detachment can cause a taste too harsh and therefore unpleasant to the palate. Generally, the fruit is ready for harvesting when it tends to detach spontaneously, without effort by the operator.
Usually the steps for harvesting must be done every about 4-6 days (depending on the time of year and variety).
The fruit is characterized by scarcity of flesh. It must therefore be harvested with the utmost delicacy to avoid injuries and crushing that will cause early deterioration and depreciation.
It is also recommended to proceed only when the drupes are completely dry. If they are wet with dew or rain, moulds will almost certainly develop inside the packaging or in the place where we store them.
Rovo, More di rovo – Rubus: Cultivar in cultivation
One of the most well-known and widespread varieties in cultivation is the black satin: it combines all the good characteristics already listed for the domesticated varieties with the advantage of starting production very early in the year. Its fruits are medium in size and have a very glossy black-purple color, whose flavor is markedly acidulous.
If the climate is optimal, harvesting can start in July and continue throughout the month of September.
Another much sought-after cultivar is the thornfree. As the name says, it is characterized by the almost total lack of spines. It produces very large and very abundant drupes. The ideal climate is warm and sunny. Also suitable for dry areas as the lack of water is not for her an insurmountable problem, as it is not a rather poor or unsuitable soil. In fact, it tolerates even heavy clay substrates.
As we have said, it has elongated fruits of a deep black colour, juicy, acidulous, but pleasant when fully ripe. Unfortunately, it is affected with a certain assiduousness by the grey mould and therefore it is necessary to pay particular attention and to make a certain prevention if we live in an area where the humidity is very high. Harvesting in this case begins at the beginning of August and ends at the end of October.
Other interesting varieties to consider are: Dirksen, Lucrezia, Boysenberry, Longaberry, tayberry.
Blackberries are loved by a multitude of wild animals and their leaves are also of vital importance to the environment. In fact, under the shelter of these plants, ladybirds and many types of butterflies develop. Dormice, squirrels and foxes make up the den. It is also an irreplaceable plant for a multitude of birds.
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