As I have written here before, I love blackberries and I have let them go wild in my yard. The vines that are choking my porch to death produce wonderful berries in the summer and it was my intention to continue to let them cultivate themselves. However, these vigorous vines crawl up onto the floor of the porch where unwary people are given an unpleasant surprise.
If we were training with Cato Fong to stay on our toes and be Kung Fu all the time, we would not let such surprises daunt us. But, Inspector Clouseau we are not.
My mom told me that if I wanted to keep the blackberries I would need to get rid of the bushes underneath them and stake them in an orderly fashion so we can easily keep the blackberries off of the porch.
Wait. I have bushes under there?!
If you’ve ever had blackberries muscling their way into your garden, then you know they are very hard to get rid of. Most people soak them in pesticides and this works like a dream. Plus, then you get to help poison the watershed in your area. We choose not to use pesticides. Admittedly, this is the hard road in the short term, but poisoning our water supply will make for a much harder road down the line and I don’t mind a little work.
Here are some tips for getting rid of brambles without using pesticides:
- Don’t let them attain mass in the first place. If you see a wee baby cane pop up in your garden anywhere, pull it up immediately. If you do this religiously, you will not find it necessary to read any of the following tips.
- If, like me, you engage in lazy gardening habits (otherwise known as a crazy busy life) and your brambles have become the size of trees, you will need to grab yourself the sharpest pair of long handled bypass loppers you can find, leather gauntlet gloves*, thick pants, and some really motivating music on a portable MP3 player.
- First cut off any obvious and easy to get at canes. Be sure to cut them in manageable pieces as you pile them up. You will be thankful not to be whipped by recalcitrant canes when you try to gather up your pile of trimmings to the yard waste container or compost pile. Speaking of compost piles, blackberries thrive in them and unless the canes are 100% dead before you put them in there (brown all through, no green in any part of them) they will take root with joy. So unless your compost pile is very hot, let the county take them to the dump or let them die before adding to your compost.
- You work your way from the outside of the blackberries towards the inner tangles. This isn’t a tip, so much as a fact. If your blackberries are growing over other plants you actually want to keep, you must take care not to prune out the wrong branches. As you work your way inwards, you may need to take a band-aid break. Or, if you’re a tough broad like me, you can ignore the blood that is inevitably dripping from your arms and legs at this point.
- Once you’ve gotten a third of the length of the canes cut back you will find yourself reaching into the shrubbery to find the origins and this is delicate work. There are insects in there with all that foliage. They don’t like you shaking them down. If your blackberries aren’t growing on anything else you may, at this point, start digging up the roots. If digging up the roots – dig DEEP. Blackberries are hearty plants with scrappy tough roots that are hard to pull up so they can survive your attack.
- If still struggling with a bush situation, you want to get as much of the blackberry canes cut back before you deal with the roots. Don’t cut them all the way back though because you need some leverage when tugging the roots out. They do not come out willingly. Don’t mind that the thorns near the base of the root are big enough to impale birds. I promise that you will barely notice the scars in a couple of months.
- Clean-up is very important. Do not leave any blackberry debris behind in ground containing 5% or more soil. Leaves, stems, and canes can all root themselves if left for more than four hours**. The only part of a blackberry plant that can’t root itself are the thorns. (I think) Be sure to check back in a week to continue pulling up surprise canes.
- Continue to do this for the rest of your life. Consider it a zen workout. The blackberries aren’t your enemy and they aren’t evil. They are a fecund plant that gives free luscious fruit to humans, birds, and other enterprising animals. You do not eradicate them completely, the goal is to keep them in balance with the rest of your garden. Good luck!
*I never have these on hand. I bought a pair, as I often do, and then they sit around in spidery corners. I have OCD and issues with gloves. In fact, I keep my own pair of garden gloves inside where I can keep an eye on them. Then I perform a thorough examination of them before putting them on my hands which involves not just shaking them out but also crushing the full length of the fingers in case any insects happen to be great at hanging on. I then ignore the thought of crushed insects, compel my rising panic to remain quiet, and carry on. In any case, the times I have used long gauntleted gloves I have found that thorns still find their way through. Whether you bother to use them or not is up to you, I merely felt compelled to mention them in case you didn’t know you could get them. You can.
**Inaccurate information. It seems like only four hours when in fact, it’s more like 12.