A field study was conducted in 2014 and 2015 in an established 5-yr old commercial blackberry planting to determine the effect of vegetation-free strip width (VFSW) on ‘Navaho’ blackberry vegetative growth, yield and fruit quality parameters, identify the optimum VFSW for blackberry plantings in the southeastern USA, and provide practical groundcover management recommendations that can increase the productivity of blackberry plantings. In Fall 2013, tall fescue was seeded in-row and allowed to establish. In Spring 2014, VFSW treatments (0, 0.6, 0.9, 1.2, and 1.8 m) were established in a randomized complete block statistical design with four replications. Blackberry growth measurements included primocane and floricane number, cane diam, individual fruit weight and yield. Fruit quality measurements included, soluble solids concentration (SSC), titratable acidity (TA) and pH. Primocane number increased with increasing VFSW in both years. Floricane number increased with increasing VFSW in 2014. Primocane diam decreased with increasing VFSW in 2014 but had a quadratic response in 2015. Berry weight and cumulative yield increased with increasing VFSW in both years. The only berry quality component affected by VFSW was pH, which decreased as VFSW increased. Results indicate that widening the VFSW in blackberry from the current recommendation of 1.2 m to 1.8 m could provide growers a means to increase plant growth, berry weight, and cumulative yield blackberry of a planting.
Nomenclature: Blackberry, Rubus L.; tall fescue, Lolium arundinaceum (Shreb.) S.J. Darbyshire FESAR