How and When to Prune Blackberry Bushes

Ready for your best harvest ever? Learning how to prune blackberry bushes is an important part of growing a successful crop.

In addition to keeping berry brambles from becoming overgrown and unmanageable, pruning improves yields and creates healthier, stronger plants.

Blackberries are perennials, which means once you establish a patch, you can have a berry harvest every year!

A close up vertical image of a blackberry bush with ripe and unripe berries in desperate need of pruning. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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But if you don’t prune them regularly, blackberry brambles can quickly get out of control, creating a mess of unruly thorns, and ultimately, fewer fruits.

Luckily, all it takes is a bit of annual maintenance to keep them happy. Continue reading to learn how and when to trim blackberry bushes.

What Are Primocanes and Floricanes?

To prune correctly, it is important to first understand how these shrubs grow and set fruit. You can read all about planting and growing blackberries in our guide.

A horizontal image of large blackberry bushes with ripe and unripe fruit growing in the garden.

But I’ll begin with a quick recap here on their habit and structure.

While blackberries are perennials, the individual canes are biennial, meaning they grow and fruit over a two-year cycle.

For most varieties, fruit is produced on the two-year-old canes. Once a cane has set fruit, it will not produce berries again.

A close up horizontal image of new spring growth on a berry vine.

The first-year shoots are called primocanes. These shoots grow vigorously with thick green foliage, developing buds late in the season. Unpruned, these can grow several feet tall.

Floricanes are the second-year shoots. These woodier canes blossom in the spring and set fruit during midsummer, dying back after harvest.

A close up horizontal image of blackberry bushes with ripe and unripe berries growing wild with stinging nettles in soft focus in the background.

A mature plant should have both primocanes and floricanes at the same time, each with different pruning requirements and necessary timing.

A close up horizontal image of blackberry bushes that need pruning.

Pruning of first-year primocanes during late winter and spring encourages healthy plant growth, and improves fruiting.

Fall trimming of the second-year floricanes is useful for cleaning up the garden, and promoting new shoots to grow the following spring.

Find a more in-depth discussion of primocanes vs. floricanes here.

Springtime Primocane Pruning

In the winter or early spring, thin the first-year canes to four to six per plant, being sure to remove any that are damaged or diseased.

You should also cut off the tips of the primocanes once they have grown a few feet tall. Do this during the spring, before flowering begins.

A close up horizontal image of two hands from the left of the frame holding a pair of pruning shears and cutting a blackberry cane pictured on a soft focus background.

This will encourage side branching, which will lead to heavier fruit yields the following season. This also creates stronger canes that are less likely to flop over when heavy with fruit and foliage.

Take a pair of clean, sharp garden shears and cut the canes back to about two feet tall. You can also prune back side shoots to about a foot.

Those that are already shorter than two feet should be cut just an inch or so, to force them to branch out.

Late Summer Floricane Pruning

After you have enjoyed this season’s blackberry harvest, it’s time to clean up!

A close up horizontal image of a pair of large pruners cutting back blackberry canes in autumn.

In late summer or fall, once fruiting has finished, use clean and sharp garden shears to cut the two-year-old canes back to the ground, and remove them from the garden.

Always be sure to wear long sleeves and gardening gloves if working with thorny varieties!

Fall-Bearing Varieties

It is also worth noting that there are some newer blackberry cultivars called everbearing, fall-bearing, or primocane varieties.

Instead of producing berries only on second-year canes like other types, these will also produce a smaller amount of fruit on the tips of the primocanes in the fall.

For this type of blackberry, you should prune back the dead tips of the primocanes after they produce in the fall, in addition to the trimming described above.

Prune the tips back a couple of nodes below the dead portion of each primocane.

A Berry Good Harvest

While it may seem like a lot to consider, once you get the hang of blackberry pruning, it is actually quite simple – and absolutely worth it.

A close up horizontal image of a blackberry bush with ripe and unripe fruits growing at the edge of a field.

Keeping these shrubs trimmed appropriately will minimize trouble down the road, and leave you with more berries each year.

Have you had success improving yields and keeping your plants fresh and healthy with regular haircuts? Any questions? Feel free to get in touch via the comments below!

And if you are looking for more information about growing delicious berries in your garden, you will love these articles:

Photo of author
Heather Buckner hails from amongst the glistening lakes of Minnesota, and now lives with her family on a beautiful homestead in the Vermont Mountains. She holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental science from Tufts University, and has traveled and worked in many roles in conservation and environmental advocacy, including creating and managing programs based around resource conservation, organic gardening, food security, and building leadership skills. Heather is a certified permaculture designer and student herbalist. She is also a fanatical gardener, and enjoys spending as much time covered in dirt as possible!
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Eric Vincent
Eric Vincent (@guest_17828)
1 year ago

What if I didn’t know to cut back or “top off” my first year canes which are now 6 or 7 ft tall!? Can I do it now even though the berries are growing? It’s mid June in Ohio.

Kristine Lofgren
Kristine Lofgren(@kristinelofgren)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Eric Vincent
1 year ago

Hi Eric, no big deal. Just leave them as they are and do it next year. Canes regenerate pretty rapidly, so you’ll have some fresh new ones to focus on in no time, anyway.

jaci wallace
jaci wallace (@guest_18043)
1 year ago

Hello it is very hot in June and my my BlackBerry bushes Have gigantic tall very thick shoots coming out that are about 6′ plus tall now they’re covered with blackberries they’re not what are these shoots? I’ feel like they’re taking away from my fruit as it’s taking a long time for the blackberries to ripen as summer time should I cut these back ? what are these gigantic shoots there about a 1/2 inch in diameter very thick very tall with leaves and some 8 ft severa shoots l 4 to 6 on each blackberry bush’ 8 ft… Read more »

Kristine Lofgren
Kristine Lofgren(@kristinelofgren)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  jaci wallace
1 year ago

Hi Jaci, do you know what kind of blackberries you’re growing? I suspect that you might have a Himilayan blackberry invader. Take a look at one of the older leaflets. Any leaflet with three or five leaves will do. Turn it over. Does the underside look much lighter, with a somewhat white appearance? Look at the original blackberry leaves in comparison. They should be the same color whether on the top or bottom. On those gigantic stems, if the leaves are whitish on the undersides, that’s a Himilayan blackberry and you want to get rid of it right away or… Read more »

Darla (@guest_18536)
1 year ago

I live in Western NC. I have blackberry bushes all over my property. They have been here for years. They are out of control. Can I get rid of some of them and prune the rest in fall? I do get fruit, but not a lot.

Kristine Lofgren
Kristine Lofgren(@kristinelofgren)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Darla
1 year ago

Hi Darla, absolutely you can thin the herd. Identify that plants that seem to be producing the best and that look healthy, with no signs of disease like spots on the leaves or fungal bodies. Look for those that are in the right sun exposure, as well. Keep those and rip out the rest. You really can’t over prune once your berries get out of control. Once you have a few remaining plants, focus on pruning those following the guide above.

Next year, you should see a much better harvest.

Drew (@guest_19309)
1 year ago

Hello. I have some 2 year old Arapahos that are growing like crazy. At least I bought them 2 years ago as 1 yr old plants. The problem is the shoots are going horizontal and down…reaching for the ground and then sending out roots. What do I do with dozens of the sideways runners? Also, can the cuttings I have made be turned into new plants? Thanks!

Kristine Lofgren
Kristine Lofgren(@kristinelofgren)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Drew
1 year ago

Hi Drew, there are two things you can do about your wayward blackberries. If you have enough upright canes, just prune off any horizontal canes at the base. Otherwise, grab some tomato cages or some other form of support and prop those lazy canes upright. You might have to cut a few off where they’ve rooted into the ground in order to free them up. You can absolutely replant the cuttings that you take since the canes will often form roots wherever a leaf bud touches the ground. Just cut off the excess cane around the section that rooted to… Read more »

Maria (@guest_20334)
1 year ago

I think I have thornless apache blackberry plants that we put in pots year ago – they grew thick sturdy canes….they grew like crazy!! (Like 8-10 feet tall) I’m a total novice and have NO idea what to do with them now!! Do I cut them back? How far?

Connie Estrada
Connie Estrada (@guest_20696)
1 year ago

I decided I didn’t want my blackberry bushes any more and dug them up and threw them away. I moved away for 2 years then moved back. I noticed last year that they were growing back and left them alone. They grew back again this year and I decided I want to keep them. I don’t know which vines produced berries and which ones didn’t but most of the vines are super long. I just kept wrapping them in with my fence. What do I need to do now???????????????

Mark Hein
Mark Hein (@guest_26259)
1 year ago

After many years of cutting the brown canes to the ground, does there ever come a time when the bases are so heavy and woody that they should be removed? I’m in San Francisco.

Jacquie Shorter
Jacquie Shorter (@guest_26484)
1 year ago

In southern Florida. Our blackberry bushes are just domes of scraggly branches right now (early March) due to our unusually dry period this year. Not sure what variety of bushes we have. We have had them for over 10 years. We have let them go and not trimmed them regularly for several years. They have very few leaves and no blooms on them right now.
What would you suggest at this point – cutting, pruning or replacing?
Thank you!!

Claudia Todack
Claudia Todack (@guest_26763)
1 year ago

I just bought some blackberry plants. I potted them in pots since it is to early to plant them in a permanent location. They are only ten inches tall and starting to bloom. Should I pinch off the blooms or let them stay? Your help would be very appreciated.

Mike Pilgrim
Mike Pilgrim (@guest_26997)
1 year ago

Hi, I am brand new to anything green, and I decided to start with blackberries and raspberries. I’ve little, or no, idea what I’m doing but I’m keen to get this right. I bought four young plants, two of each, and followed instructions on how to plant them in the garden, which I did in late summer. They stand around 12″ tall and are beginning to show signs of new growth. I haven’t fed them, but they were planted in John Inness #3. I’m now wondering if I should prune them? Everywhere I read says prune late winter early spring,… Read more »

Clare Groom
Clare Groom(@clareg)
Reply to  Mike Pilgrim
1 year ago

Hi Mike, I’ve managed to retrieve your picture, it uploaded and didn’t attach to your message.

Screen Shot 2023-03-24 at 2.25.03 PM.png
Mike Pilgrim
Mike Pilgrim (@guest_28157)
Reply to  Clare Groom
1 year ago

Thanks. The dead leaves have now been removed, and new growth is showing. I have also noticed shoots coming up around the base of the main stem. Should I remove them, or nurture them?

Kristine Lofgren
Kristine Lofgren(@kristinelofgren)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Mike Pilgrim
1 year ago

Hi Mike, welcome to the world of gardening! Blackberries and raspberries are good plants to start with. I would definitely prune them asap. Follow the advice above for pruning primocanes in spring. Plus, remove all those old, damaged-looking leaves on the blackberry. You’ll have tons of new, healthy growth to replace it soon enough. Enjoy!

Mike Pilgrim
Mike Pilgrim (@guest_28155)
Reply to  Kristine Lofgren
1 year ago

Thank you Kristine. To be honest I did not expect any reply, so I’m super grateful to hear from you. There has been a bit more growth since I messaged, and it’s more obvious to me now where to prune. I’m on it ????, thanks.

Mike Pilgrim
Mike Pilgrim (@guest_28156)
Reply to  Heather Buckner
1 year ago

Thank you Heather, advice much appreciated. I wonder, would you advise any sort of feed for them?
Thanks for taking the time to answer my initial cry for help. ????