Things I’ve Learned About Boysenberries

May 30, 2011

In January 2010, I planted, on the advice of my nursery-man, four little sticks. In the intervening year and a half, I’ve learned a reasonable amount about said little sticks, and I’m going to share it now. (: I am pretty sure that ‘long around September I’m going to have an addendum to this post as I try to figure out what needs whacking back. But before I launch into the lecture, let me muse for a few minutes.

I’m a native Californian. I grew up less than two hours from Knott’s Berry Farm. If you’ve ever been to Knott’s, you’ve heard the story about how Walter Knott found the last few vines in an abandoned field once owned by Rudolph Boysen, and how he turned those nearly-dead hybrid raspberry-loganberry-blackberry vines into history, fame, and delicious jam. Maybe you’ve had the chicken, biscuits, and boysenberry pie at Knott’s Berry Farm. For me, that’s a childhood memory that made a lifelong imprint. But it wasn’t until I was older — and when I started growing my own food — that I began to wonder why it was that in California, the birthplace of the boysenberry, our very own special native fruit — I couldn’t find them in the grocery store, except as jam.

So I decided I’d grow them myself. And I did.

First thing I’ve learned: boysenberries love my lousy Mira Mesa clay soil, full of rocks, minerals, and under-the-surface retained water. Those four little sticks have grown into this:

North Side Boysenberries

South Side Boysenberries

Second thing I’ve learned: you really, really really don’t need four boysenberry plants for a family of two. {: Unless you love them even more than I do. I have so far in the past week made boysenberry cobbler, boysenberry pie, and have boysenberry jam cooling in jars right now.

I picked berries on Friday. I picked them again this morning. This is what I picked this morning:

Berry Harvest This Morning

That there is four and a half pounds of boysenberries. And you can see in this picture that the plants are nowhere near done.

Boysenberries growing

They do pretty much grow, flower, and fruit all at once, it seems — one gigantic harvest a year. I’ll try to make sure that I post when they are done, so that I have a record of how long they produce.

Third thing I’ve learned: bees adore boysenberries. Plant them and the bees will be all over your pretty white flowers, buzzing away happily. They like the boysenberries better than my lavender!

Fourth thing I’ve learned: unless you’re way better at trellising than me (certainly likely!), pick from the bottom up. That way you don’t step on ripe berries when you’re going for the ones in the middle and at the top.

Fifth thing I’ve learned: Just because the plant is “thornless” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have thorns at all (these have little tiny ones that are just a nuisance, rather than painful), and just because it’s thornless to begin with doesn’t mean the new canes will be thornless too. Obviously these are adapting very, very well to my yard!

Sixth thing: I know why you never see boysenberries in the grocery store. I know you might find them in the farmer’s market, but it’s 99.99% that you won’t find them in the grocery store, because a boysenberry goes from underripe to overripe in, oh, about three days. They may have cores like blackberries, but they’re soft as the raspberries they were cross-bred with. Pick a bowl of fresh ones like those in the picture above, and the almost-overripe ones will squish from the weight of the other berries. Freshly-picked perfectly ripe or just-barely-underripe boysenberries last about two days in the fridge. That’s it. You want ’em raw, better grow ’em yourself, or find someone who’s growing them and maybe they’ll share. (;

Seventh thing: boysenberries are terrific raw — slightly underripe, they’re much like raspberries. Closer to overripe, they’re more like blackberries. Either way, they have a honey-sweet tang all their own. But great as they are raw, they’re even better cooked. Cooking naturally mellows and melds the flavors in the berries into one cohesive taste of pure awesome — as if every point of flavor you could taste separately raw are all together at once when they’re cooked.

You can use boysenberries pretty much anywhere you’d use their cousins, but sometimes the simplest way is the best.

Pure Knott’s Nostalgia Boysenberry Jam

Makes about 11 half-pints, or 5-6 pints.

  • 4 1/2 lb. boysenberries, freshly picked, well rinsed, and cleaned of any remaining caps and leaves (have a mix of mostly ripe and some slightly under-ripe so they’ll set better)
  • 6 1/2 c. sugar (I like evaporated cane sugar, which still has a little cane flavor)
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Set up your boiling water-bath canner, jars, and lids.

Place all of the berries in a large pot and crush them gently. You can use a potato masher if you have one. I don’t, so I use a pastry cutter. You can also use the back of a big metal spoon. Just remember that boysenberry juice, like its cousins, stains like crazy. Wear an apron when you do this.

Add the sugar and the lemon juice and stir well. Bring the berries to a boil, making sure all the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat so that it boils gently, and cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until it sheets off a metal spoon.

I like mine softly-gelled. So I check the big metal spoon I stir with, after I take a break from stirring for a while, before I put it back in the pot. If the jam has gelled on the spoon between now and the last time I stirred, that means it’s pretty much done. It took me about half an hour to get to a good gel.

Ladle hot jam into hot jars, wipe the rims, screw the lids on finger-tip tight, return the jars to the canner, bring to a rolling boil, and process in the boiling-water canner for 10 minutes for either pints or half-pints.

Twelve half-pints full of jam

Sweet and tangy boysenberry jam

48 Responses to “Things I’ve Learned About Boysenberries”

  1. Thank you for the help on the boysenberries. I have a speech to prepare for my class at Le Cordon Bleu and it helped answer alot of questions in regards to the flavor. Thank you

  2. You’re welcome! Good luck with your speech! (:

  3. Thanks for all the information. I really enjoyed it. I’m planting a thornless boysenberry plant this weekend (I live in Riverside County, CA) and hope to get enough berries from one plant to make enough jam for friends and friends. I’m planting it beside my recently planted thornless blackberry. I hope that my berry crop and my jam looks as wonderful as yours!!

  4. Awww, thank you! Good luck with your plants! I think one would be enough once it’s a couple of years old. (:

  5. thanks fot the page, it is rather hard to find out online what “thornless” really means with the boysen berries

  6. After searching everywhere I finally bought canned boysenberrys online. I am going to try to grow some because we love them! What nursery did you get your sticks from?

  7. Walter Anderson nursery in San Diego.

    Good luck!

  8. So, I guess I have just learned that the NINE little sticks I got free today will be too many for a family of 3? Actually the lady who gave them to me wasn’t sure if they were boysenberries or tayberries, since she forgot which were growing where when these starts came up. Do you know if tayberries are tended the same way? I am putting them in large pots on a deck against a house with a trellis.
    Thank you for your post and photos. I love blogs and sites with lots of photos!

  9. Oh my gosh. Nine?! Hope your family likes pie! (:

  10. WOW! I can’t believe how much you answered for me in one website. Use to make boysenberry pie
    when I was in high school, it was my favorite. Been looking for the cans in stores for years. I finally decided
    I was going to look on line for them. Bingo, I wonder if those plants would grow in Dallas,Texas soil?
    Thanks so much for taking the time to put this information out, it was so helpful.

  11. I’m pretty sure they’d grow fine in Dallas, as long as they’re protected from too much frost. And they may still be fine anyway, we just don’t get much frost here. Be warned that they do grow like weeds and keep them appropriately contained if you don’t want them taking over your yard.

  12. As a kid growing up I’d help Mom make boysenberry jam. Usually because I was the one who wanted it. We used a ricer to crush the berries. This proved to be a more productive method. Just a thought

  13. Thank you for the informative article I fell in love with boysenberries many years ago at an ice cream shop called Baskin Robbins They had a flavor called Boysenberry Cheesecake.
    I have a question if you know I have a smaller yard and have planted blackberry bushes. Since the boysenberry is a cross between blackberry , raspberry , and some other berry do you know if I plant the boysenberry near the blackberry it will cross pollinate and make all my blackberries boysenberries? Also I live in Texas and it can get very hot here I wonder if I should plant them in partial shade
    thank you

  14. Hm. I honestly don’t know about the cross-pollination. You’d probably have better luck inquiring of your Master Gardeners in the area, they might be able to tell you. I would be inclined to think not, as they’re self-fruitful, but I don’t know for sure.

    I live in southern California, and it gets pretty warm here too. I don’t think you have to put them in partial shade, but I don’t think it would hurt them either. They may just bloom and set fruit a little later. The ones that were in the shadier part of my yard were a bit slower than the ones in the sunny side.

  15. We discovered boysenberries last summer and instantly fell in love! Particularly with boysenberry cobbler 😉 Thank you for the insight into this unique, somewhat elusive berry!

  16. You are most welcome! Enjoy them! I am currently growing mine in a large hydroponics tub, and they are doing quite well. I didn’t want them to escape into the yard at my new home. ^_^

  17. I also live in So Cal and wondering where you bought your plants? They are my fave berry and would like to try and grow them.

  18. Hi Julie! I got mine at Walter Anderson Nursery in Poway. Pretty sure Green Thumb in Vista also carries them.

  19. Hello,

    I had read your article regarding rosenberries. And if I am not mistaken you live in San Diego Ca.You actually living in Mira Mesa close by where I reside also the same place. I planted a black berries whom one my friend give it to me and I started about 8 fruits to mix with my cereal.My question is what’s the difference between blackberry and rosenberry plant?

    Pete Abalos

  20. If anyone in Dallas is wondering – These do quite well. I bought them from Simmons Plant Farm in Arkansas. They shipped the bare root and I planted in the Spring.

  21. Thank you for your post. My plants flower but they don’t produce fruit. What am I doing wrong?

  22. Thanks for the article.
    However, my plants are about 1 year old and have a lot of vines but only 1 o 2 berries.
    I planted them in partial sunlight with sunflowers.
    Should I move them to full sunlight?
    And when should I cut back the vines.min have thorns?
    Northwest region . Coeurd’ Alene, Idaho.

  23. Hi there! Boysenberries are biennial, so you won’t have many berries this year. They fruit on two-year-old canes, and you should cut them back after fruiting, but retain the current year’s growth. Mine like full sunlight, but I think partial should be okay.

  24. Hi Pete! A boysenberry is a cross between blackberry, raspberry, and loganberry. It’s sweeter than a blackberry but has a tart edge like a raspberry.

  25. Most likely you are pruning too far back. Boysenberries produce on biennial canes, so the first year they will not produce, but will produce on the second year. Prune the vines after they’ve fruited, but leave that year’s fresh growth for more fruit next year.

  26. My renter just destroyed my 25 year old Boysenberry Bush. Any idea what the replacement cost would be?

  27. I would like an explanation why my boysenberries are so small. Only 3 or 4 segments each. This is the second year since I planted the vines. Thanks.

  28. Honestly, no idea. My uneducated guess would be poor pollination. Do you have enough flowers to attract bees?

  29. Unfortunately there’s not much of a replacement for time. /: A bare-root boysenberry cane is not too expensive, though. I think we paid $5-8 for our canes, but it does take a couple years for them to fill in.

  30. I love berry pies and boysenberry is my favorite. I was at Knotts Berry farm a few months ago and had the chicken dinner with a good size slice of boysenberry pie. Now I know my berries. That pie was NOT boysenberry, or not boysenberry only. It tasted like blackberry! A flat, dark flavor, certainly not sweet and sassy as anticipated. I was sooo disappointed! BUT a fraud boysenberry pie at Knotts Berry Farm????

  31. Hi Marian! I haven’t been to Knotts in years, but they were the people who inspired me to grow mine. Couldn’t tell you what was up, but given how poor the weather was last year and the year before, maybe the berriest they used weren’t great, or maybe they had to supplement them with other berries. Boysenberries only fruit from May to July in my experience, so whatever they’re using in the offseason could be frozen, and they could have run out.

  32. Is there any way to make sure you have boysenberry or other berry vines, I got some and the people diddent know what kind they were. They start out redish and go to purple,small thorns and will spread like wildfire. And lastly when you pick them , do you get them before the are at their peak maybe a little redish. If i let the go to long the purple ones dry up, shrink. OH YES if i let them go a little to long FLOYD the mockingbird goes after them, im always chasing his tale,he can have some but not all of them. thank you keith

  33. Any advice on how to move a boysenberry plant? Looking to take one from my dad’s house in CA when I am there this summer and try to plant it in TX.

  34. Freezer jam is better! Then the true boysenberry flavor is preserved and there’s no cooking! Love, love love it!❤️

  35. My daughter has several plants on wire stand and they are loaded but the plants are 3 years old, in the fall I would like to plant shoots along another fence, so what do I do? Dig up the plant and separate roots? Lived on a farm as a kid and we grew wheat, that is as high as my green thumb matured, ja Thanks.

  36. Red-to-purple is a good possibility for boysenberries. They tend to be more plump and rounded than blackberries, but without tasting them I couldn’t tell you for sure. And yes, the birds think they’re tasty! They think my blueberries are too.

  37. Easy! Just dig up some suckers, wrap the roots up well, and replant where you want them at the new location. Be sure to water them in well and they should be fine. They are very hardy!

  38. I’ve never tried making freezer jam with them. I’ll have to do that sometime!

  39. You should be able to dig up some canes and replant them with no trouble. They are very hardy! Just be sure to water them well when you do.

  40. Thanks for your information boysenberries. Even tho I’ve been growing them for a few years, (I’m in Clairemont…..Not far from you) I really don’t know what I’m doing. My question is – these were thornless, but I’m getting new sprouts everywhere, and they have horrible thorns. I pull them out, as I’m not interested in being scratched to death. But my friend says I shouldn’t because the thorny ones will produce fruit that’s even better. I thought they were just like suckers on a rose & wouldn’t fruit. What do u say? Also, these loooooong tendrils that are growing now without fruit………. that’s where next year’s fruit will be.? So should I let them grow as lo-o-o-ong as they want to, or will trimming them encourage some lateral growth? And how long should I let one get? Thank u so much for all the help. This is a great site.

  41. I need to know if they can be used as a privacy screen, I really want to grow boysenberries and the best place is right between 2 yards

    What do they look like in the winter time? Are they green at all? Or will I have to add something in the winter to maintain the privacy goal? I’m in orange county California

  42. Trimming will encourage lateral growth, yeah. I would trim up the long shoots. Boysenberries do have the tendency to revert to thorny. They will still fruit on the thorny branches, but I personally haven’t noticed much taste difference between the thorny ones and non-thorny. Maybe it’s just the extra taste of victory from snatching fruit from the claws of the plant! You can pull the thorny shoots with no problem, as long as you’re still getting some thornless canes. You’re welcome, and good luck!

  43. Hi there! You will need to plant something for wintertime, because they do drop their leaves in winter. Unfortunate! But you do get the pretty fall colors on them before they do. They are rampant growers and grow via roots and runners, so I would be hesitant to plant them too close to a neighbor you like. (;

  44. So very helpful, thank you! I’m very excited to see my 3 little bushes get crazy big and bear fruit!

    Sending u love and gratitude from Escondido,

  45. hello Anti agin. i picked a bunch of my berrys, whats the recipe for boysenberry pie that you use. boysenberry is my sisters favorite pie. thank you keith

  46. Hi Leanne, I am just dying to grow some boysemberries, I live in Penasquitos off Black Mountain Road. Could you please tell me where to get a plant or 4 and also do you have any you are willing to part with? Gosh I am so excited to have stumbled upon your post!! Looking forward to spe!king with you!!

  47. Hi Leanne, I am just dying to grow some boysemberries, I live in Penasquitos off Black Mountain Road. Do you have any you are willing to part with? I perfer to get heirloom non gmo plants whenever possible. Gosh I am so excited to have stumbled upon your post!! Looking forward to spe!king with you!!

  48. Hi Erin! Unfortunately, I have moved out of California as of the end of March! Sorry about that! I would absolutely recommend ordering some through Walter Andersen Nursery. That’s where I got mine. Alternatively, you might want to check around on Facebook for the local Backyard Food Exchange in PQ — someone there may have some they’d be willing to share. I highly recommend the barter groups, they’re full of great people and I miss them already!

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