Blackberries and black bears?

Published 11:13 am Sunday, June 2, 2019

I had an “Ask an Expert” question come in this week regarding black bears and blackberries. The question was about the diet of black bears, which, of course I am not qualified to answer because it does not involve horticulture. A question of this sort is best asked of a certified wildlife biologist or a Wildlife Resources Commission biologist. Do bears consume blackberries? Of course they do, but I can’t tell you to what extent their diet is made up of these small fruits.

However, it really got me thinking about blackberries and how good they are fresh from the garden. In my case, they are actually growing in my flower bed! This quickly led me to thinking about how great my Great-grandmother Esta’s fresh blackberry pie tasted. The next thing I knew, my diet was shot, and I was looking for something sweet! Once my cravings had subsided, I realized the North Carolina Black Bear Festival is this weekend in Plymouth. The festival includes and celebrates blackberries as well as black bears! They have a blackberry-eating contest that is sure to turn you purple with laughter. All of the food vendors are asked to have a blackberry dish that will be judged for a winner. Sadly, I am hungry for blackberry pie, once again!

Blackberries are one of the easiest small fruits to grow in the home landscape. They come in many varieties, including thornless varieties (which I highly recommend). They are divided by their growth habit as trailing, semi-trailing and erect forms. There are also primocane and floricane fruiting types. Primocane fruiting types can be grown to produce fruit twice in a season. They will produce fruit in the fall on the tips of new canes and lower down on the cane in the second year. In the coastal plains, however, primocanes do not double fruit as well due to our heat. Floricanes only produce flowers and fruit the second year of growth. After a cane produces fruit, it will die off. It is best to prune the old canes out after harvesting the fruit.

Blackberries need full sun and room to grow. The soil should be well-drained with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Blackberries will benefit from higher organic matter in the soil, so it is a good idea to add compost prior to planting. They must be trellised or have poles to support the canes. Trellis new growth, and in most cases cut the tips to promote branching. You can harvest blackberries for several weeks by selecting early, mid and late-season varieties. Remember to select varieties that will perform well in our area and are hardy for our zone (USDA Zone 7-8). A few recommended from North Carolina State University are Arapaho, Natchez, Apache, Von and Freedom. There are many others.

Contrary to popular belief, blackberries are not raspberries. Raspberries are not recommended in the coastal plains because it is too hot for them. Raspberries will perform best in an area that has a long and cool winter with mild summers. As with most things in the horticultural world, it is possible but not recommended.

There is a great publication from NCSU about how to grow blackberries, the Southeast Regional Caneberry Production Guide, for commercial growers. I will have this and many other publications with me at the Washington County Extension Center this Saturday. If you are going to be at the North Carolina Black Bear Festival, please stop by the Center with your horticulture questions. If you can’t make it to the festival this weekend but you have a question, stop by the Farmer’s Market in Washington and see the Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Beaufort County.

If you have a horticulture question, call the Extension Master Gardener volunteers in Beaufort County or Gene Fox at 252-946-0111 or email Gene at Your question might just make the paper!

Gene Fox is the area consumer horticulture agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.