Vicki W. inquired about growing blackberries.
Blackberries grow real well in McKinney, and I therefore assume they grow real well all throughout North Texas. They are relatively low maintenance, and they’re perennial—so once they’re in, they’ll keep producing year after year.
In my current garden I grow boysenberries (which are a cross between blackberries and raspberries). They consistently do well every year, and we love them.
When I first planted them I worked a few amendments into our horrid clay soil with a tiller, but I didn’t know what I was doing at the time and didn’t use near enough, and really didn’t even use the right amendments. But as I said, the boysenberries have been prolific despite my mistakes, and I suspect they’d have done just as well if I simply plopped them into the hard, dense clay. I’m not recommending that, however….
At the same time, I do NOT recommend planting them in a raised bed with the SFG soil mix, but in regular soil that you’ve improved with expanded shale and compost.
I also strongly recommend you buy thornless varieties of whatever type of berries you’re planting.
Black/boysenberries grow canes that need to be trellised. Unlike grapes or peas that produce tendrils to grab hold of things, berry canes need to be secured. The primary reason for trellising them is that, by nature, the end of the cane wants to bury itself in the ground to spawn new plants. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it changes the plants’ primary goal from bearing fruit to propagating itself. Assuming your goal is to eat fruit, you need to keep the ends of the canes off the ground.
You will not get fruit the first year, as fruit grows on year-old canes. Beginning in Spring of the second year, last year’s canes will sprout new leaves as well as flowers that become berries. The plant will also begin growing new canes for next year. After the harvest is over, it is important to prune off all the canes that bore fruit. It is also important to NOT prune the new canes that will bear fruit next year.
It is easiest to distinguish the two types of canes right after the harvest has ended, since you can easily identify which ones had contained berries. Unfortunately, this occurs after the weather has turned miserably hot and steamy, so motivation to perform this task may be really low…. You can certainly prune at other times of the year; you just risk removing the wrong canes.
I spray the leaves of my plants with “living” compost tea every 2 weeks during the growing season, and fertilize them with high-quality compost, and also keep the soil below them well mulched (to retain moisture and discourage weeds).
The other challenge with berries is predators—mainly birds. You essentially have two options: plant so many berry plants that you can still harvest how much you want despite the loss from birds, or build a “cage” around the plants to keep birds out. I need to write a whole separate blog addressing this bird guard issue, because it pertains to way more than just blackberries….
As with anything, when you’re first starting out you may feel it’s not worth it: soil amendments cost money, the plants cost money and time and effort, and then building a bird guard costs money, time and effort, and you don’t even get one single berry for 15 months or so after you put in the plants. And the first harvest, to be honest, won’t be that impressive (at least compared to all subsequent harvests), so that you may be thinking that each one of these stupid berries possibly cost you 25¢ apiece.
But if you go ahead and pay the price now, you will be really glad you down the road.