Not everyone loves blackberries. The fruit can be sour and gritty sometimes, but I think the flavor and texture is really great. There are more than 200 species of blackberries in the US. Some species are native to New Jersey while others are not. Some native species in the east are actually considered invasive to states in the west.
If you want to grow edible plants in your backyard that are low maintenance, need no watering and can tolerate partial shade to full sun, blackberries are a great choice. There’s, at least, 15 native species to New Jersey…and even more within the NYC Metro area (if you include Long Island, Westchester, Buck County and Connecticut). But of all the native options, the most popular is Rubus Canadensis. Its common name is smooth blackberry. Why you may ask? It is practically free of prickles, spines and thorns..hence having "smooth" branches and leaves. This is a good thing when it comes time to pick the beautifully blackened fruit in the warmer months of the year. The thornless branches also make it super friendly to kid’s little fingers.
The smooth blackberry does best in sun and moist soil, but will thrive in shadier spots. It just might take it a couple of years to begin to bare fruit. Other things to know about smooth blackberries; they don’t climb, so adding them to trellises or fences isn’t very useful. The fruit is nice and sweet. You can use it to make jams and pies.
Of course, the Rubus Canadensis is but one native option. Rubus allegheniensis is a very common species for the east coast of the US. So common in fact, it is known as the “common blackberry”. It’s also goes by the name of Allegheny blackberry. It, unlike its Canadian cousin, has thorns and is mostly shade intolerant. It will thrive in sunny parts of your yard. If you want to find out about all the other natives, you can check out the USDA webpage about blackberries. There’s a map for every blackberry in the US and shows which geographical areas each is native.
Best Time to Plant
Depending on whom you ask, blackberries have an array of optimum times for planting. Some suggest to plant blackberries 30 to 45 days before the last front of winter. For North Jersey, a month before the last frost is early March…late February. I’ve planted blackberry bushes in client's yards throughout the spring and summer months with success. Just remember to keep them away from heavy deer areas. A fenced backyard is best, or you can add some protection for them with netting or some type of enclosure if you don't have a fence. With a little love and some patience, you'll be baking your garden-grown-blackberry-pie in no time!