July 2, 2003 | By: Haven Miller

Disease resistance, fruit quality and yield potential are some of the characteristics tested in blackberry trials conducted by University of Kentucky researchers at several sites.  The goal is to find the best blackberry varieties to recommend to growers around the state.

“One variety may perform better in one area than another, that’s why we conduct experiments in west Kentucky, central Kentucky and east Kentucky,” said Joe Masabni, Extension fruit and vegetable specialist in the UK College of Agriculture. “Weather conditions in west Kentucky, for example, are a little warmer and the growing season starts a little earlier than in Lexington or at Robinson Station, so farmers would want to select the variety that is best suited for where they live.”

Interest in blackberries is growing as Kentucky farmers look for new crop opportunities.  Demand for blackberries often exceeds supply in many parts of the state.  Kentucky’s climate is well-suited for this bramble crop, which begins to bear fruit the second season after planting.

“Blackberries don’t like severe winters,” Masabni said.  “Kentucky’s winters are generally not too severe, and although we have some disease pressure that comes with the high humidity and temperature, we can control them.”

Blackberries prefer well-drained, deep fertile soil that is high in humus.  Varieties can have thorns or be thornless.

“Chickasaw is an example of a thorny variety that’s a good producer, and Apache is an example of a thornless erect variety that attracts clients who don’t want thorns,” Masabni said.

In a typical blackberry trial, varieties are planted with six plants per variety (for a total of 30 plants).  Differences are measured and analyzed statistically. In addition to yield and disease resistance, research trials also examine harvest time for different varieties, and size of fruit.

Studies in Lexington are evaluating two training systems for growing semi-erect blackberries, and also are looking at whether erect thornless blackberries should be grown with or without a trellis.

“In Eastern Kentucky Terry Jones and John Hartman of UK are testing varieties to see which are most resistant to diseases that are more prevalent in that part of the state and make growing blackberries in that region more difficult,” said John Strang, UK Extension fruit and vegetable specialist.  “We’re also in the process of surveying the state for incidence of orange rust and double blossom diseases so we can put together a map of Kentucky that will show the places that are better for growing blackberries.”

In addition to research trials, UK has established blackberry demonstration plots on cooperating farms throughout the state.  The demonstration plots show producers how different varieties perform under local growing conditions.  UK Cooperative Extension and the College of Agriculture make information available to growers through publications and meetings.

“Blackberry producers will want to attend our New Crop Opportunities conference later this year because it will feature a small fruit grower’s panel discussion,” said Christy Cassady, coordinator of UK’s New Crop Opportunities Center.  “The panel will consist of blackberry and blueberry growers, and two of the blackberry growers have demonstration plots.”

The New Crop Opportunities conference will be November 15 in Lexington.  For additional information contact Christy Cassady at 859-257-1477, or by e-mail at  NEWCROPS@UKY.EDU ORCGCASS0@UKY.EDU.


Sources: Joe Masabni, 270-365-7541; John Strang, 859-257-5685; Christy Cassady, 859-257-1477