Blackberries are not only a food source for wildlife but a place of refuge, too. This article covers basic information about blackberries and how to plant blackberries for your wildlife population.
Blackberries. They’re delicious straight off the vine or in pies, cobblers, jams or other treats. They not only taste great but they’re chock full of vitamins, antioxidants, and nutrients that make these berries a beneficial addition to any person’s diet.
The same qualities that make them so healthy and desirable to people also make them attractive and beneficial to Alabama’s wide variety of wildlife.
Many critters, including deer, turkeys, rabbits, quail, raccoons, opossums, and even coyotes love the sweet fruit and seek it out as it begins to ripen in midsummer. Plus, the shrub’s flowers provide nectar and pollen for numbers of insects and songbirds.
Not only does the plant provide nutritious fruit and nectar for wildlife, but the naturally thorny shrub provides shelter for small animals year-round.
Many refer to blackberry plants as “brambles” because the plants form dense stands of rambling, non-climbing shrubs that have thorns and bristles. Small animals and birds take refuge in the brambles as they provide protection from predators. Some species of birds will also nest within the brambles.
Andrew Baril, regional extension agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, says he considers blackberries to be one of the top three “families” of native plant-type food for Alabama’s wildlife.
“Oak trees, pine trees, and blackberry bushes are used by more variety of Alabama wildlife than any other species of plants,” Baril says.
Blackberries are perennial plants, which typically bear biennial stems (“canes”) from the perennial root system. Blackberries grow wild throughout the state and play an important role in the state’s ecology.
The cane grows the first year and can measure three- to six-feet tall. They are green at the growing tip and are brown or reddish brown elsewhere with stiff prickles, straight or slightly curved.
The base can measure an inch through. The leaves can measure up to four inches long and three inches across. They are usually oval with a coarse, double-serrated edge, and they may have scattered white hairs on the upper surface with the lower surface being light green and hairy.
“The berries are usually consumed from June to October. However, dry fruits are eaten by some wildlife species in fall and winter. “
The blackberry shrub’s flowers measure approximately an inch across and have five white petals and five green sepals with pointed tips. Each flower has numerous stamens with yellow anthers. The flower blooms late spring to early summer for a month and produces little or no fragrance.
The berries start off as a white or green in color and eventually turn red and then black, ripening mid to late summer and measuring 3/4 to 1/3 inches long. The berry’s size varies according to moisture levels in the soil.
The berries are usually consumed from June to October. However, dry fruits are eaten by some wildlife species in fall and winter.
Baril said blackberries are a perfect native Alabama plant for both backyards and for large pieces of property. He recommends that land managers who want to attract and hold deer, quail, turkey, and other game plant the shrubs along a football field-length fence constructed in the middle of the woods.
“Disc around the fence so that when you do prescribed burning, you don’t burn the fence,” Baril said. “Then, plant blackberries all around the fence. That blackberry-lined fence will become a haven for wildlife. “
Baril said deer will eat the cane, leaf, and berries. Quail will pick berries off the ground, take sand baths in the disked dirt and will find shelter from raptors among the brambles. Adult turkeys will eat the berries while the poults will hunt bugs in the sandy areas.
Rabbits will eat the berries and chew the cane while the briars shelter them from predators such as fox. Wild hogs like to eat the berries and bed down in the brambles where they feel safe. Even coyotes will eat the berries, as they love fruit as well.
Blackberry shrubs are hardy plants that grow well in a variety of soil conditions, but there are some steps you can take to help ensure that your plants flourish.
“According to Gardenguides.com, you’ll want to plant your shrubs in an area that receives more than six hours of sun each day.”
According to Gardenguides.com, you’ll want to plant your shrubs in an area that receives more than six hours of sun each day. Choose a well-drained area located near a source of water because blackberries need steady moisture during production, which is from April until mid-July.
Each plant needs to have an area 24 inches by 24 inches to grow. Rows need to be at least six feet apart because the trailing thorny vines can overwhelm the planting area over one season, making harvest difficult.
Plant container-grown plants at the same depth they are growing in the container in fall, spring or early summer. New blackberry plants that are sold as root cuttings should be planted in fall, winter or very early spring.
Plant them lengthwise into the soil at a depth of three inches. Plant all plants and root cuttings two feet apart. Water new plants or root cuttings and keep the planting area damp, but not wet throughout the growing season.