Behold, the Blackberry plant (as interpreted by me)
When I moved to Vashon almost seven years ago, my property’s frontage was framed by a field of brambles so thick and impenetrable that I half expected to stumble upon a sleeping beauty and lurking dragon during my attempts to breach its maze. I (and my lower back) quickly came to the conclusion that the wild blackberries were more determined and deeply rooted than this naive Seattle interloper. The brambles may have prevailed in our first few skirmishes, but this growing greenhorn was out to win the war.
Barbed Berries at the Gate
Himalayan blackberries are to the Pacific Northwest as Kudzu is to the South, an invasive nonnative species that has achieved regional iconic status. (Just ask Sasquatch.) And while the wild blackberry plant is considered a noxious weed by most, the determined vine also produces some of the best berries to grace a pie, cobbler, tart or sorbet. It’s a love-hate relationship with seasonal truces and a la mode alliances.
- I will not pull up an acre of blackberries by hand.
- I will not use any chemicals of herbicidal sprays on this sunny corner (a place where I plan to grow fruit trees and other edibles).
Forget the backyard lawn mower; I called upon the mighty bush hog (rotary cutter) to make handy work of my bramble wall. Because the massive and gnarly root system remains (my drawing is only a slight exaggeration), a few simple steps must be taken to see that the plant is sufficiently weakened in placed, which then leads to death and decomposition. (Ah, the circle of life in action.)
How-To: An Easy and Green Way to Eradicate a Field of Blackberries
Step 1: Mow down the brambles
- I hired a friend with a better tractor and bush hog attachment to mow down the brambles to the ground. I left the dead blackberry canes as mulch for my next step: seeding.
Step 2: Seed the area
- I spread grass seed by hand
- When the grass seed sprouted, I added more grass seed to the bare spots.
- I watered regularly.
Step 3: Allow grass to grow
Step 4: Weed whack or use your mower to down any tender new blackberry vines that re-sprout (and they will).
Step 5: Continue to reseed bare areas and water.
Step 6: When the grass carpets the ground, begin to mow regularly.
- Every time the blackberry sprout is cut back, the plant is weakened. Within months, the entire blackberry plant dies, chocked out by the new grass and an inability to photosynthesize and produce food for the plant.
Patience pays off. The same swath of brambles a couple months later and not a drop of herbicide used, nor an army of hand weeders needed. This really works as you can see, thanks to a little mowing, seeding and time.
Now should you worry that I’ll have no blackberries for baking, let me assure you; a walk in any direction on this island will yield a wild patch to pick from. (Photo: Blackberry-Apple Sour Cream pie, construction phase)