Brambles Gone Wild: How to Remove Blackberries{70}

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 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)