Brambles Gone Wild: How to Remove Blackberries

Brambles Gone Wild: How to Remove Blackberries

How to Remove Blackberries

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

how to remove blackberriesBlackberry vines encroach at will, easily devouring  any plant, small car or stroller in their path. Above, the spiny green menace sets its GPS for my unsuspecting raspberry patch.

madrona branch fence in grassy fieldThe field fronting my house, once a formidable sea of  brambles, is now home to a kinder, gentler lawn, orchard and vegetable garden.

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.

In my attempt to reign supreme over this battle of the brambles, body and conscience, I knew I must follow two rules in in deciding how to remove blackberries:

  1. I will not pull up an acre of blackberries by hand.
  2. 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).

field of blackberriesThe arrows above point to the final stretch of brambles slated to be removed, an area about 150 feet long by 30 feet wide.how to remove blackberries - off to a good start

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. 

how to remove blackberries - the area a year laterPatience 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)



70 thoughts on “Brambles Gone Wild: How to Remove Blackberries”

  • I commend your patience! Brambles can truly be a nuisance. In terms of pie..that is my families favorite pie – gluten free of course! We have recently discovered a wild blackberry bush not far from us – the berries are considerably smaller than regular blackberries. The flavor however, is way more intense! Apparently there is also a wild black raspberry bush in the area as well! Can’t wait to try.

  • Hi Tom,
    I have two blackberry plants growing next to my house that haven’t pruned. Ever. They’re also growing in soil that has high lead content, so it’s a little scary to eat the berries. I want to pull them up and was wondering how to do that – then I saw your post. Thanks for the tips!
    Julia

  • I must say that is impressive.

    We nearly bought a house that had a pretty crazy bramble on it… so I did a bit of looking into it. I understand that another option might be to raise goat(s). Down here in Portland, there are actually people who will rent you their goats for this purpose. Crazy.

  • My now-departed neighbor attempted to keep his encroaching blackberry brambles in check with a hand-held torch. He succeeded in both killing the blackberry vines AND setting the fence on fire.

  • The pernicious blackberry can be a problem here in Texas (east texas) as well. We leave areas on the perimter and understory areas for birds and ground animals but the pastures have to be shredded (cut down). Particularly stuborn areas are repeatedly grubbed. We set a harrow or a disc to about 2″ deep and as the plant reemerges we knock it back down again. It may actually take a couple of seasons to subdue the plant and it is only temporary, the root systems as shown in your beautiful sketch, worthy of framing by the way, can be very deep especially on our old ranch. One of the benefits however is that the shallow grubbing brings old dormant grasses and prairie flower seed up to the surface to germinate . We will occasionally grub up near the fences for this purpose. Mulching with uncomposted wood chips will rob the soil of notrogen and kill about anything below as well. Anything is better than chemicals and overly disturbing the soil. Love the drawing.

  • Brion, interesting stuff, love to hear how it’s done in the Lone Star state. We have a native Pacific blackberry that’s a lovely ground covered and welcomed as it’s manageable, though getting rarer as the Himalayan blackberry outmaneuvers it at every turn. I’ll find an example and post it here. And thanks for the kudos on my drawing, I know MOMA will be calling shortly.

  • Nice, Tom. We’ve been doing a lot of clearing ourselves this spring–your story and photos are an inspiration!

  • We have so many thickets of these nasties vines on the property. When we first moved here I let some of the run amok, in the hope of scoring the fruit. But nooooo…the deer ALWAYS beat me to it! I hate pulling them too, and although with our slopes it would difficult to get machinery in to cut them, I do take the hedge shears to the plants as they pop up, and it does seem to help. My blackberries though will have to come from the Farmer’s Markets. Darn deer…they’re just so selfish! 😛

  • Very Nice, Tom. Congrats….
    Though, I was secretly hoping for a demo of the ‘Weed Wench’… I mean ‘Wrench’. 🙂

  • I can’t imagine that blackberries would become a nuisance! I love to eat the wild ones in Lebanon and there is a famous drink there called “sharab el-toot” made with the syrup from mulberries: to die for! Great that you are not using chemicals

  • Joumana, “sharab el-toot” now there’s a name worth remembering. I’ll have to check this out and find a recipe–one where I can substitute blackberries.

  • Amazing job. Thank you for posting it, love it ! I am about to attempt the same on a slightly smaller scale, will take a pic before and after! thanks

  • Tom,

    Great post – thank you! We’re about to build on the southern Oregon coast – 950 ASL about 2 miles from the shoreline. LOTS of BBs – especially in the patch flat enough for a garden – ruhroh.

    Does the type of grass seed matter? One of our goals as we age is not to spend more time mowing than gardening. In fact, mowing is not really on the agenda. I’m considering a no-mow fescue – mow it once a year after established.

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks again.

    meh

  • I live just a few miles W. of you (Gig Harbor) and don’t have a large thicket to kill, simply thorny canes or branches if you will, popping out of my Rhodies and just about anywhere else. I suspected that they must be an invasive species to our are, given their vigorous takeover. I do love eating them though…

    I’m about to resort to Roundup or Triox,,, unless of course I get some better ideas. I’ve heard that Rhodies can be severely affected by some herbicides, and I certainly don’t want to kill any of them.

    Since these are only a branch or 2 and in a dozen different places around my yard (just a typical suburban neighborhood lot), I don’t feel that goats are warranted, or would even do the job. For anyone dealing with a thicket on an area which is on a hillside or other un-mowable area, goats really are the way to go!

    • Gary; Just an FYI; Round Up was banned in BC and other parts of Canada 10-12 yrs ago. I can’t believe people will still resort to it. My neighbor, who used RU for a good part of his life, developed lumps in 11 different parts of his body, a couple on his lungs, inoperable. He never smoked in his life, and led a clean, healthy life, other than the herbicides. He lived less than a yr after this. I know of other instances as well. I hope people think twice about their methods, and educate themselves as to how these chemicals work. R

      • Thanks for the info Rick, I had no idea about RU being banned in BC. I don’t use it, but I’ll be interested in educating myself further regarding its toxicity and effect on the environment and animals.

  • Mark,
    Tom’s success is primarily due to the repeated and frequent mowing. I won’t go into the technical explanation for this, but it is indeed the case, and thus, you will need to mow or till the affected ground frequently to produce a substantial kill, and then you will have to deal with the occasional new plant, like myself. Goats will get rid of practically all of the active growth of the patch you have, but not all the underlying dead thicket, or all of the roots which will re-sprout. They’ll also clean up any garden you’ve got growing within their reach!

    Select your grass (seed) by the sunlight and ground / soil conditions.

  • Our garden in the UK has a bramble problem will use your idea of grass seed as the wild grassed part of the garden has no problem

  • Enjoyed the article and photos. I have about a 30×30 section that sprouted after my 4 goats were gone. I ignored them for a couple of years only to discover, much to my chagrin, that the few little blackberry vines had become a massive thorny jungle similar to your photos. Although it feels like a huge project, my area is small enough that I have used lopping shears to cut the vines at their base and then after a rainy day used a shovel to dig up the thick root. Difficult and back-breaking work that has me searching for other solutions. I was ready to go to the Roundup but wondered if black plastic across the stalks might also kill the blackberry root and stalks. Even areas that were previously cleared seem to have new berry sprouts that need to be dug up, but now the blackberry bushes have my daily attention and the war continues.

    • Hi Tom, I have a friend who puts down black plastic to kill blackberries and other weeds. It takes about six months to a year to “sterilize” the area, that is the heat and arid conditions under the plastic kill about everything. You still might try, planting grass seed after your blackberry cut-downs and mowing regularly. The grass will choke out the brambles eventually, and mowing weakens them in the meantime. That worked for me.

  • Thanks for the information. Initially, I was convinced that I had poison ivy choking-out my dune grass, but after further investigation I now think that it is the dreaded bramble (as it has very sharp thorns). I live in SW Michigan, and was actually outside in the snow today pulling out the d@^%#$ bramble. The thorn were so sharp that they actually punctured thru my leather gloves and into my fingers-ouch! Don’t even get me started about the runners or shoots that are incredibly long. Any tips for getting rid of the bramble out of my dune grass, and keeping it out, other than pulling all of the darned stuff out by hand? Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

    • Lauren, this is what I do. For areas where brambles are infiltrate among desirable plants. Once a week, I grab my weed eater and go on chop patrol and walk the property beheading the wild hooligans here and there. It takes less than an hour and eventually weakens the weed and it dies back allowing the good guys to cover more ground in the growing season. My back and knees like chopping off better than pulling up.

  • You\’ve given us something invaluable – hope. We have a beachfront, sloping property just north of you in Sechelt BC. The blackberry took very kindly to the trimmings it received by my husband and now dominates the whole property. Tomorrow we\’re going there for a day of following your method and we\’ll stick to it over the summer and hope to get results like yours.We can\’t use a bush hog or any large machinery (too boggy in places and only barge or low tide access). I\’m looking for a mulching mower or some such to use when all of the branches are cut back.Cheers and thanks for the great post

  • Thanks Tom for the great article and advise.
    I’m getting ready to move to southern Oregon and I didn’t want to use an Roundup type products as I plan to work the land to grow the one thing that this world is in desperate of, which is food.
    I was not sure that after mowing the berry’s down, that they could be left on the ground to decompose.

    • Hi Ross, Thanks for the visit, and yes, I did leave all the mulched up vines and brambles on the ground to decompose, which both did in record time once the grass seed sprouted. Again, the brambles will resprout so just keep mowing until they give up, which won’t be too longs say 3-5 mowings.

  • Hello – I am an organic vegetable farmer in Panguipulli, Chile and I too have an ongoing battle with blackberry bramble every year. It is now Fall in the Southern Hemisphere and I am currently cutting back bramble. I was curious to find out what type of grass seeds you used. Also, did you just hand sow over the mulch? Thank you in advance. By the way, my sister and her family live in Port Orchard, love the Sound.

    • Hi Erasmo, how wonderful to hear from you all the way down in beautiful Chile. As for the grass seed I use in our temperate climate, I plant a standard lawn seed mixture of Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass and Ryegrass. This seed mixture is easy to grow and gets thick quickly. There’s also orchard grass, but it gets too thick and tall to mow with my wimpy mower. To plant the seed, I simply hand scatter it and water it thoroughly until it sprouts and, then regular watering until established. Hope this helps. Drop by Vashon if you’re ever visiting your sister up North. I’m just across Colvos Passage, mid island.

      • Tom – Thanks for the info. Ryegrass is common here, it is called viruta, as is fescue. Kentucky bluegrass not so common but I will mix the other grasses with some white clover as well since this will be a good feed for my horses. I wonder if this same idea would be good for weed control?
        If I make it up north, I will be make it a point to swing by and visit. We were frequently on the “Vashon” ferry if we were heading to Seattle.

  • I think I will be trying a variant of your method – will try a green manure mix instead of grass seed. When the snow melts. The object is to create useable garden spots on our ledgy property (eventually). Our thin soil (what there is of it) is very acid and supports little more than lichen and the blackberries. By the way, the wild things here in northern New England are nothing like the fat, delicious berries we found when living in the northwest. I’ve had no luck trying to tame these with fertilizer and loving care, either. Good luck to one and all on our quest!

  • Great advice, I live in Cornwall, England and had some rather large diggers clear the brambles and overgrown areas of our field with the intention to grass seed and maintain the field with our ride on. However time has lapsed a bit and the brambles have started to grow back, I have been out with a pick axe and decided it would take too long to do that, just been and bought a rotavator and gave it a quick go and hopes were depleted as it didn’t go deep enough to get the roots out. My hopes have been restored a bit now. I will go and see if I can ride over them rotavate and get that grass seed down. thanks.

    • Ali, I feel your pain! But rest assured, continual mowing of the new bramble shoots, along with a healthy carpet of pasture grass, or lawn grass will win in the end. I hear Cornwall is quite lovely — happy growing!

  • Tom,
    Thanks for the advice. I just purchased my dream home only to find the wooded area that “sold” the house is covered in crazy blackberry bushes that must have been growing for years. Unfortunately when I viewed the property it was early spring and I never noticed the bushes. When I moved in and seen 10,000 of these things I had buyers remorse. Every week I spread out a 10 x 10 tarp and start pulling. Covered in scratches and cuts for a month now. I started drying them and then use the small chipper to mulch them up cursing every one I put into the machine. Finally after week two I convinced the garbage men to haul them away. This is week 4 and making some progress. I am trying to pull out as much root as possible, but you know they go to china. I know they will grow back next year or even next week, but do you think if I continue this practice they’ll be gone in 3 years or 5 years?
    Since my area is wooded with mature trees and little sunlight, what other suggestions do you have to plant in this area. I live in eastern Pennsylvania. I would love a goat but I have a labradoddle instead.
    Thanks,
    Annettte

    • Hi Annette, wow, that’s quite a challenge for you to tackle. I have no desire to pull them out by the roots, because I find they just re-spring from the bits of roots left in the ground. But I think if you do that and plant something to compete with the blackberry shoots, your efforts will pay off. And then just go around and weed whack any blackberries that arise from time to time. You’ll eventually weaken them and they’ll die. As to, what to plant in the shade, that’s a tough one. You could try a shade mix grass seed, or a ground cover suited to your area. I’d ask you local nursery folk or master gardeners, or keep an eye out for a garden that has a nice dense groundcover in a shaded area, and then ask the homeowners or groundskeepers what the plant is. Good luck!

  • Hi Tom,

    Nice article and site. I’m enjoying taking a tour through your garden.

    I’m in Eastern Kentucky on just under four acres, most of which is vertical, so the tractor-pulled brush hog is out of the question. Many areas are covered with brambles. I’m hand-pulling most of them (no herbicides). I’ve found if I weed whack them in the fall and get an early start in the spring, I can clear a fairly decent sized area. Translation: I can just keep ahead of the encroaching mob.

    After a good soaking rain, when the ground is loose, I’m able to pull out of the roots. We’re on a shale ridge, so luckily the roots aren’t deep. It’s a labor-intensive process, but also rather cathartic.

    I’ve discovered the little buggers don’t have thorns on the bottom four inches of the canes. Once the top six feet or so of cane has been clipped off and raked away, cuts and scratches from thorns are pretty much non-existent.

    This is my first year of dedicated bramble pulling. I’m hoping to get enough cleared next year that I can try your technique of planting grass and mowing them repeatedly. We can at least get a lawn-mower in most of the areas.

    • Carol, you’re my bramble-removing hero. That’s a lot of work. I know as I’ve done it and continue to because the brambles pop up in areas too tight to mow, namely between my garden plants and outbuildings. So here’s to our valiant fight, may we both be victors, and enjoy our spoils in the form of a thorn-free landscape and a berry pie.

      • Hey there,

        This thread popped up again as having comments. Just thought I’d give you a follow-up on my non-mechanized method of bramble removal. So far, so good. Little shoots did emerge sporadically this spring in areas I cleared last summer/fall. But it’s weak growth, for the most part, easily pulled out. Or, if I get lazy and it grows, very easy to mow over.

        The only issue in some areas is removing the brambles creates the ideal conditions for poison ivy to invade. I do use a PI spray for large areas of that horrific weed. I’m highly sensitive, and even though I’ll hand pull that stuff in small areas, I can’t risk hand pulling the plants that sprang up this year. Some of the individual leaflets are as big as my hand.

        • Carol, we are so lucky here, as of the many invasive plants we have, poison ivy does not seem to be one of them. Nettles are bad enough.

          • It’s me again…Still chopping and pulling out brambles. I took some time off to have a hip replacement in December, but now that the weather has warmed up…we were almost to 80 today, March 10th…I’m back on the warpath. Areas previous hacked up show little growth. Now my son and I have tackled the 40 long, 10 foot wide strip that runs along the edge of our woods. It’s on one of the vertical acres so it’s a challenge to stay upright while chopping and dropping. Adding fun to the mix are some multiflora roses and Japanese honeysuckle.

            But it’s a great stress reliever, and I’m pleased to be ridding my little corner of Kentucky of three noxious pests.

  • Hi, you originally posted this a few years ago and I’m curious to know whether the blackberry has returned? Do you have to continue to monitor and cut back the sprouts forevermore? I live in New Zealand, we don’t have any snow or deep winter to check the growth of weedy plants like blackberry. We seem to continue to get sprouts in the lawn, even tho we’ve been mowing them so often. Is it possible that I’m continuing to see new sprouts from parent plants on the neighbouring patch of land? (Our section is surrounded by well established blackberry plants on steep banks, entirely outside of my control.) Any suggestions of how I can manage it chemical-free?

    • Hi Rachel, I’m happy to report that the brambles did not grow back after a summer or two of mowing down the persistent ones. A thick carpet of pasture grass helped suppress the blackberry vines. It’s likely the sprouts you are seeing are from existing roots. Blackberries spread here with arching canes that reach high and fall to the ground where they root most easily. The only way I know to manage blackberries without chemical intervention is as I’ve discussed here. I feel your pain; my neighbor has coop-tall blackberries that arch over the fence and into my raspberry patch, and try to root and take over. Good Luck!

    • Go Carol, go! Sounds like you are getting the job done, and this after a hip replacement. Good for you, and a speedy recovery. I have a confession, I enlisted help with my latest patch of wild brambles and I have to say, forty years difference in farm help is a good thing. 😉

    • Hi Debbie, yes you can keep a small patch of blackberries, I’d just keep it where I could mow around it, say like an island of blackberry vines. Then whenever they start to creep out of bounds, I’d just mow some of the bramble island down to a smaller circumference. Good Luck!

  • Greetings, Tom.

    Finding your wonderful article makes my day. I’ve just purchased a bramble-choked parcel of land in Vashon Heights and spent a day earlier this week with a wetlands ecologist walking the land, identifying plant species, and even seeing a demonstration of the proper way to remove the “brains” of a single blackberry plant.

    I hope to follow your method of blackberry removal and control over the next couple of years. Do you happen to know any mowing or excavating companies on the island who can perform the initial clearing for me? I’m moving from the Sea-Tac area and have nary a serous garden tool to my name.

    Thank you,

    TerryT

    • Hi Terry, Welcome to the island! I just saw an ad in The Beachcomber for Danny’s Tractor Service. I’ve not used him but his ad says “Old Fashion Quality Work.” Here’s his email oldredtruck@comcast.net. Good luck with the brambles!

  • I posted a review of a hedge trimmer that actually worked pretty well on some blackberries that were beyond lawn mower status… I plan to follow your guidance to take back over the area. Thanks!

    • Nice tool Mark, looks like it really gets the job done. I’m moving my chickens to an area of brambles, and they have been working on it during the off season.

  • I use a metal handled scythe like in the grim reaper pictures. Just keep after them a couple of times a year at ground level, and they reduce quite adequately. For the tall ones wait for a rainy day so the vines are softer. I stab down overhead repeatedly, then pull which is quite effective. Can clear very dense stands and be far enough away not to get stuck. Sharpening the scythe takes files, always gloves, and a wet stone.

    • Great tip Ben, and there is quite an art to mastering the scythe. I found a very old one, well blade that is, buried in my front field. The folks who pioneered this place were tackling the brambles, as well, Ben style!

  • I am so thrilled I found this and that you’re still active on the replies five years later!

    I bought a house in Victoria BC this summer and our yard has 30 years of blackberry jungle covering 2/3 of the property. I’m really keen to try your method in the spring but am wondering: do you know if it’s possible to grow a garden overtop (I suppose in boxes) once the grass is established? I’m very keen to grow vegetables in all this space (once revealed!).

    Thanks,
    Lindsay

    • Hi Lindsay, sure you can grow a garden over it, no problem. I would wait a year or two until the grass is established, and you’ve mowed down any remaining bramble starts each time you mow. Should be fine. Good luck!

  • Great information and makes me hopeful! I live on 4 acres my folks bought in 1954 and blackberries are very bountiful, to say the least. We also have 4 goats that help us out. One thing I would like to add about goats, is the rhododendrons are extremely toxic to them and they will eat them, given the opportunity.
    This weekend I will be clearing out a flower bed of weeds and blackberries, will remember your advice!

  • Thank you for this! We just cleared nearly 2 acres of blackberries and I’m already seeing them come back and it’s worrying me. Your article gives me confidence that it’s going to be okay and that grass is possible!

  • Thank you. It’s nice to know there is hope! I am about to “mow” down (cut them back severely) my azaleas along side an outbuilding so I can get to the pesky BlackBerry vines that birds have so generously planted for me amongst the azaleas. I’ve tried removing the berries bushes with azaleas as is, but I cannot reach the roots if the vines. Wish me luck. Any safe advice is welcome. I’m in Georgia near Atlanta. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience.

  • Roundup will not kill blackberries, they will be back next season, so there’s no point in using it. I am not against careful use of herbicide but don’t believe in blasting everything with it. For Himalayan blackberries that wend there way up through trees and plants I use 2,4D (like Crossbow) by cutting the vine at the root and brushing it on the fresh cut stump. Works on Scotch Broom too, although with all the seeds they put out it is a quarterly job. For eight foot high fields of brambles the bush hog and seeding regimen posted here is brilliant but it’s hard to do on a steep hillside. Still trying to figure that one out.

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