Chester Thornless Blackberry
Chester is an early, fine tasting, semi erect thornless blackberry. I remember sampling Chester when it was a numbered seedling at the University of Maryland’s Cherry Hill Research facility, and I enthusiastically promoted its flavor. Hardier than many varieties. Fruits are sweet and juicy, though as all blackberries they must be left on the plant until they come easily off the calyx. Zone 6-8. Space 5-6′ apart in beds 5′ wide.
|Pest Resistance||Very Good|
|Disease Resistance||Very Good|
|Wet Soil Tolerance||Poor|
|No Spray||Very Good|
|Fresh for Kids||Very Good|
|This information is accurate to the best of our knowledge, comments/opinions are always welcome|
Size: 1YR #1 • Hardiness: Zones 5-9 • Height: 5′ • Spacing: 4-6′
Botanical: Rubus fruticosus ‘Chester’ • Fruit: Jet Black
Foliage: Large Green • Exposure: Full Sun • Harvest: Summer-Bearing
Pests: Anthracnose, botrytis and verticillium wilt can be serious disease problems. Cane borers and crown borers are potential insect pests. The Chester is most resistant to Cane Blight caused by Botryosphaeria Dothidea.
Notes: Chester performs well in the deep South. Will not soften or lose color on hot, sunny days. Blackberries fruit on two-year old canes. After they have finished fruiting, the canes should be pruned away at the base. The fruit attracts birds. The brown thrasher, gray catbird, northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, and white-eyed vireo commonly nest in blackberry and raspberry thickets. Flowers attract butterflies, notably the western tiger swallowtail. Although the flowers are attractive, this blackberry is grown primarily as a fruit crop and is not considered appropriate for ornamental use.
Planting instructions: May be planted in any well-drained soil. Dig a hole large enough to encompass the roots without bending or circling. Set the plant in place so the crown (part of the plant where the roots meet the stem) is about 1-2″ below the soil surface. Cover with soil to the original soil surface and water thoroughly. Fertilize at planting and again in late spring.
Choose a sunny site in your garden with good air circulation and water drainage and a pH of 6.0-7.0. Keep roots moist until planting. Work plenty of organic matter into the soil and mulch to keep out weeds. Plant as soon as the soil has warmed. Trim canes to encourage new growth. Plants should be set out at least 2 feet apart in rows 7 feet apart. Trellising is beneficial for cane support. These summer-bearing berries produce fruit on second year canes (floricanes). In the fall of the 2nd year, prune spent canes at ground level and thin others to approximately 4 canes per foot of row. Cut off suckers which grow outside of rows. Trim remaining blackberry canes to 7 feet.
Blackberries are perennial plants with a biennial growth and fruiting habit. The perennial part is in a storage root, which has enough cold hardiness to continue above ground growth from year to year. Their biennial part is in the new growth (primocanes) which can over winter, flower (floricanes), and bare fruit the following season and die after fruiting. This makes it necessary to prune or remove the canes which have produced fruit.
Should be a well drained high in humus or organic matter, no less than 2%. The soils should be slightly acid 5.8-6.8PH. They prefer sandy loams with course sands or clays.
Planting can be done year round weather permitting. Plant depth is critical as in other plants. Plant at the same depth they were in the pots. Blackberries are not deeply rooted plants and @ 4″ of top soil, weed free in rows @ 5′ wide will give the plants a great start.
Plant 5′ apart in rows @ 5’wide. They are vigorous growers and need considerable space, especially late in the season. Arapaho, Apache and Schultz need no trellis and Triple Crown and Kiowa may not need a trellis or wire for support. The 3rd season after planting canes will be very strong and upright. It could be that these semi-erect varieties will not need staking once established.
It is much easier to grow blackberries if they are mulched. Mulches are applied from 4-6 inches deep either to the row areas alone or to the whole soil surface. Straw, old hay, sawdust and shavings may be used, but should be weed seed free. Mulch should be applied sometime between late fall and early spring when the soil moisture is plentiful. Mulch can act as a fertilizer as well. Adding manure in the winter months to existing mulch is a great idea. Follow instructions on bag or sprinkle lightly the total area of your planting.
Blackberries should be picked when they are black firm and falling to your hand with a slight touch. When they first turn black they are tart. Wait, they’ll get sweeter.
A plentiful supply of water is especially important from early spring until harvest. Drip irrigation is labor saving. An inch of water per week generally will keep plants healthy. It seems in our area it gets dry @ harvest time for blackberries, so easy available water at that time will result in larger fruit.
Weed control and pruning
Aisle ways are usually sodded and mowed or mulched. Hand weeding is not too difficult if plants are mulched. Some cultivars are very vigorous growers and vigor will also depend on climate, soil conditions and fertility. If the planting bed looks as though it could be too crowded with new shoots, dig up any plants that have rooted from the tip of a mature cane. These “tips” are fine plants but should have space of their own to grow.
The height of the canes should range between 4 to 6 feet, so if they are taller just tip the canes back when chest high in the growing season. This will induce the cane to make laterals. Keep the laterals @ 15″ long. They may need to be pinched to keep from becoming too long during the growing season. Once the cane has matured with height and laterals, tremendous yields should follow the following season. A 3 year old blackberry can have 3 – 6 canes coming from its crown 4 -6 feet tall, so keep the laterals from each cane uncrowded from each other.If plenty of sun can penetrate harvests will be easier to pick and fruits will be sweeter. After these canes have fruited they will slowly die, so by winter they should look different from the new canes and can be pruned and taken out of the bed.
Blackberries and Raspberries made easy
The word bed connotes what you sleep on. But it also describes where one’s raspberries or blackberries thrive. Beds we sleep on come in twin, double, queen and king and the terms defines size. The size and width of a garden bed is most important for the plants “comfort” as well. Over the years I’ve planted a lot of fruiting plants and I have some very good tips about starting a raspberry or blackberry bed. Saving time and labor, not only in the first year, but future years as well.
Most of us have yards that have grass. Usually it’s more convenient to concentrate garden beds as close to the kitchen or home as possible. So, that usually means the yard. At our home we have a long garden about 130′ long and 30′ wide. The top part we’ve never used and I mow the grass there. It grows thick and is mostly field grass or fescue.
For a few years I’d mow this 80′ x 30′ area thinking I’d like to plant varieties of blackberry and raspberry that we sell, that aren’t included in the orchard at Edible. I hesitated for a few years since we have so much growing at the nursery. I needed the bed to take care of itself or it might end up a weedy area with dismal results.
One day I started to mow on a low cut setting about 80’x 10′ section of the unused garden. The ground was easy to work and I tilled the middle of the 80′ length about 2″ to 4″ deep. I didn’t till the whole 10′ width, just the middle 5′. The mowing and tilling took about 2 hours. I enriched the soils organic matter by adding old potting soil to the tilled area. (We keep old soil in a huge pile at the nursery). I’d come home with a few buckets and drive over to the area and dump the buckets after work. I added about 2″ of this soil to the surface of the tilled area. The next 2 steps, weed cloth and mulching are where I’ve really saved time over the years. I rolled 3′ wide x 100′ long weed barrier cloth on both sides of the 5′ wide bed. 8″ staples are tamped down with a hammer every few feet to fasten the weed cloth tight to the ground. I squared off the ends of the bed too with the cloth.
This has kept the grass from entering my bed over the years. When I mow around this bed now, I put my mower deck on the highest position to make sure the blades don’t grab the fabric. But I’m ahead of myself here. I planted 3 Wyeberry about 5′ apart. Then 3 Kiowa blackberry about 5′ apart, 3 Triple Crown blackberry 5′ apart, 3 Heritage red raspberries about 3′ apart. I did this around September. After planting I pitch forked hard wood mulch about 3″ deep the length and width of the 5′ bed. (about 2 pickup loads).
The following year the plants grew and I’d do a little weeding after a rain but the mulch kept that chore to a minimum.
I added some support stakes about 5′ high on the inside running edge on both sides of the weed barrier cloth for the Wyeberry and blackberries, with a wire attached at the top running from 1 pole to the next. When finished, they had the shape of 3 sets of parallel bars with the plants in the middle.
Mature Stand of Blackberries
The Heritage did not need any trellis. For the past few years I don’t spend a lot of time on the upkeep. In the fall I’ll take out the old dead canes that fruited and clean up the beds generally.
The Wyeberry is first to ripen. Kiowa starts to ripen a little before Triple Crown but they overlap too. Heritage has been harvested July thru August at this writing, ripening a few weeks after the Wyeberries started to ripen and past the blackberries.
I spend more time picking the fruit than upkeep. The yields are eaten fresh and we’re able to freeze a lot for winter use. Plus, I’ve learned more about these varieties. I hope this helps your planning and planting practices with raspberries and blackberries. For a limited time we are selling weed barrier fabric (Lumite) at $1 per foot.