Need help selecting a blackberry for zone 5

I am considering Natchez , Chester , Prime Ark Freedom and Prime Ark traveler . I already have Triple Crown . I have tried others that have failed here . Kiowa and Arapaho failed . Triple Crown had fruit last year but this year I was busy and did not protect it . Not sure it will produce this year . We had -13 once . I have decided to order Nelson . So which primo cane would you pick ? Which Florocane ?

I am a blackberry novice and I don’t know zone 5, but…

I have Prime Ark Freedom and live in a warm zone 8a. We are having our coldest winter in a while. Our first really cold spell saw temps to 16 degrees and our most recent put temps to 14. My plants have not gone dormant yet. I know that is still warm for you. My floricanes were ripe last year on may 10 and I was picking from primocanes by July 4. They are planted in afternoon shade.


I put a chester in last year or year before. It is thornless and is pretty much an evergreen in zone 5b. It looses it’s leaves Jan Feb just before going into spring. It stands around 1.5 feet but have yet to see fruit. If I don’t see berries this year I will move it to a sunnier spot away from the house.

I have heard the thorny varieties are hardier. Both Iowa and Nebraska extensions list Darrow and Illini Hardy as the most hardy of cultivars.

In a cursory search I could not turn up Illini but Burpee has Darrow.

Thanks for the replies . I had Illini hardy about 25 years ago . Very nice berries and hardy . I did not get it again after I moved 20 years ago . Reason was vicious thorns plus the new canes covered the ripening berries . A real blood bath picking those . Nice large berries . I had Darrow about 30 years ago . It came virus infected . No useable berries . Only a crumb here or there . I did buy a Darrow last year at TSC locally . So will see if these are virus free . Really wanting thornless and hardy . I know the primocanes should do ok . Just wondering how hardy these are or if any are hardier than Triple Crown .

Yes, and I would add Nelson. I have a young Darrow plant. I’m in 5b
Jerry, I can tip root you a Darrow to try. Or any number of other cultivars. Like Chester or Natchez. It would not be till next fall, so you might be better off buying them. I threw away about 15 tip rooted plants this fall. From canes that got away from me. I pulled them all out, I don’t need more plants!
I’m going to try air layering this year, and might be able to produce by mid-summer.
I want to try Nelson some time. All I plan to add.
Currently I’m growing Siskiyou, Natchez, New Berry, Tayberry, Wyeberry, Loch Ness, Columbia Star, Black Diamond, Triple Crown, Navaho, Prime Ark Freedom (it may die, very small). Chester, and Darrow. I probably forgot some? Oh Marion! My very favorite! Dolt!

No, well Chester but the berries are not as good. I still like this plant myself.
Oh, I see you have it (Darrow).
I breed brambles, and want to try and breed a hardier thornless. Three different genes can cause thornlessness so far discovered. Columbia Star has the last discovered gene, and is the only cultivar (available commercially) with it. The berries are good after a season or two, they were better this year than last. It is not that hardy though. I will be breeding blackberries as soon as my Darrow matures more.
If primocane blackberries are like raspberries, you will not get a large crop off of them. The summer bearers way out produce the fall bearing.

I’m in zone 5b, I protect my plants and some are kept in the garage, so I zone push as the western blackberries are not very hardy, but I think the flavor is superior to eastern. I’m experimenting still to test the limits of the western blackberries. It’s well worth protecting for me.
Marion is unreal. Tayberry is like a raspberry-blackberry collision, fabulous fruit!

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Thanks for the replies . I think I will order Natchez . It would help if the zone ratings were accurate . They list my area as 5B now . I still consider it 5 . Maybe try Triple Crown and Natchez crossed to Nelson and Darrow when I have the plants . Bloom times may be a problem . Triple Crown and Boysen seems to be the last brambles to bloom for me . I think that is how the thornless ones are . Wondering about the thornless raspberries for crossing to blackberries . So many ideas . Best I can do in the winter is plan .

The main problem with blackberries and crossing is many are not at the same ploidy level, which is the number of chromosomes. We have 2 pair. For example sweet cherries have 2 pairs, but tart cherries have 4 pairs, Pollination results in sterile seeds. Blackberries are 2x to 14x, they vary a lot and cannot be crossed unless you change the ploidy level with chemicals, mutating cancer causing chemicals. So you have to be extremely careful with them.
I have the thorny Boysen as the thornless is said to be nowhere near as good. And mine is the first to bloom for me.
I myself find you have to save and dry the pollen to radically increase chances of a cross. So for me bloom times don’t matter. You can use frozen pollen from the year before.
Raspberries and blackberries are not at the same ploidy level.
Here is some info

Having said all that, it is possible to get a cross, but getting a good cultivar that fruits may be problematic. Your chance of success is low. Still I would go forward with your plans, they sound solid to me! So chances are low, but still possible. I know I’m going forward anyway! With Cherries it’s easy to double the sweet cherry to 4x with a couple different chemicals. I found the chemicals for sale. One day I may try using them. Many sweet-tart crosses exist using them. You coat a green twig in the spring with the chemical, and flowers from that twig will have double the chromosomes.


I would think most of the thornless blackberries are compatible with raspberries . Anything that traces back to Boysen , Logan . While researching the invasive Himalayan I see the USDA says it is in the Marion berry ancestry . The Boysen has California dewberry in the mix . So trailing . Himalayan is reported to trail to 40 feet . So maybe that explains the trailing trait in these complex hybrids . Both tip root . This should prove to be interesting . I see Himalayan listed as zone 6 . However I see the invasive species map shows it in colder zones even into Canada . So probably hardier than listed . Not thinking of using anything invasive . I see Himalayan show in a few northern Illinois counties but I have never seen any tip rooting wild ones in Illinois . So thankfully it is not common . The species name has changed a least twice for Himalayan so it is hard to spot its use in the ancestry of species used in the early crosses .

Columbia Star is the best tasting thornless I have tasted. It has Logan, Marion, and Boysenberry in it’s lineage. It has 35 cultivars or so in it’s lineage. Loch Ness is also very good, and has more upright canes. It’s super sweet, but only when fully ripe. Otherwise it’s sour. It’s very good I don’t know much about it though? I’m looking at these for crosses for the thornless gene. One of the genes that causes thornlessness is recessive, so you have to cross twice to get the feature, much like the nectarines where the fuzzless gene is recessive. Crossed with a peach you get a fuzzy peach, cross that again with a nectarine, you’ll get a nectarine. Peaches and nectarines are identical, it’s just a gene for fuzz or no fuzz.
New Berry was another developed from the Oregon breeding program like Columbia Star. Except it is thorny, and slightly better than Columbia Star. OSU allows breeders to use these for breeding as long as they are identified as being used if a commercial cultivar is developed.
I grow Columbia Star in the ground with protection. New Berry is in a pot. here it is.

I’m in zone 5a. So far I only have PrimeArk 45 outside in the ground. After last year’s mild winter (~ -11F) I got both floricane and primocane crops, decent flavor. Last spring I planted 5 thornless varieties in the ground in my unheated hoophouse and they grew great (still have their leaves) so I’m hoping for crops from them this summer. I will probably try moving a Prime Ark Freedom into the orchard as I’m willing to bet it will survive and provide at least a primocane crop after a colder winter.

Does Loch Ness survive without protection ?

I have found it needs some. I am trying just Wiltstop this year. And only one coat. And I may have missed spots. Last year I sprayed Wiltstop and wrapped in burlap. This year my new fig trees got the burlap. I had a great crop from the sprayed and wrapped trees. Also I piled on leaves wherever I could. It looked a mess! It worked well, All plants fruited. My freezer is stuffed! So if some die this year I still have ton’s of berries from other fruits, and I will probably have blackberries still in the fridge by spring. I want to see if the Wiltstop is worth it? It appeared to work last year. Well worked on blackberries, other fruits may not benefit? I can’t say for sure? Hoping for a cold winter to test the product. We have only been below zero once. If it does work. It’s easy to apply, takes 10 minutes.
Other nice features of this cultivar is the berries are firmer than some when ripe. When pulled they tend to fall right off when ripe. My first impression was bad as unripe they are very tart. Once ripe the brix tasted really high, lot’s of sugar to tame that berry. Also I don’t think I saw many white drupes? Although I’m getting old! I have found some of the thornless cultivars are more susceptible to white drupe syndrome.
Another comment:
Chester is not as good as Triple Crown. Yet it grows as well or better, it ripens later, extending the harvest, and if let to almost mushy ripe are not that bad. Nothing I have is as late as Chester. Natchez ripens early, extending the early harvest and keeps on ripening for awhile. Flavor is not great for me. Still this plant can take it, grows very upright, has the biggest berries I have seen. I have no plans to get rid of either. As hardy or more so than Triple Crown,
I also found that taste does vary. Good one year, not so good the next, I have limited experience on this though.

What I really enjoy is that once Chester is done, my fall raspberries are ripe. Keep ripening till the first hard freeze in November. I harvest strawberries and hopefully soon honeyberries in June. So I have a constant flow of fresh off the vine berries from June till November, I love it! I know in CA they can do it all year, I can accept 6 months of fresh berries, The other 6 months I enjoy them frozen.

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I really liked Natchez this summer. It was the earliest and it had very large berries. The taste was very good and sweet when the weather was dry. After several days of rainy weather it became just sour. But so was true for Triple Crown. When the weather dried out again they began to taste better. Two years ago both Triple Crown and Chester had some winter damage but they still had good crop of berries. Last winter was mild, so no damage at all. Chester overproduced, it had so many berries that the new growth was delayed and reduced. It is not good for eating, but it is extremely productive.

I’m in 4/5 Qc. I have Triple Crown. But it’s difficult for me to get it to fruit. The plant is 3 years old. The roots are very tolerant to cold, but the canes are not. Last winter, I layed all the 9-11 ft long canes on the ground and covered the whole thing with tarp + pine straw mulch. Everything is up on the treillis now, but I lost around 75% of the plant: I had to prune the canes back to about 6 ft and remove more than half the canes. I’m still hoping for a decent harvest, as I still have a good amount of healthy canes.

Here is a picture of the canes when I tied them on the treillis in late april (after I removed about 40%).

Here is a picture now (after I removed another 35%)

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If I don’t get a nice harvest this summer, I’ll give up thornless blackberries. I’ll remove the canes and plant more Black Hawk raspberries. 100% of the canes are cold hardy here and the berries are DELICIOUS…! IMG_6433[1]|690x920… + they grow on the north side of that fence! What an easy berry to grow in this zone!

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