Blackberries: How to tame the Berry Beast
Here in the Fraser Valley, blackberries are part of our lives, like it or not. They are an emblem of the indomitable spirit . . . digging in and surviving against all odds, whether wanted or not. Getting rid of blackberries can be a challenge, as all gardeners and farmers know.
Only intrepid adventurers under the age of 10 would compare picking blackberries to a treasure hunt, wandering along trails under the hot summer sun, filling a pail with the sweet, juicy treats that practically fall from the vine into your hands. But we adults know that the excitement of free fruit and seeing who can fill their pail fastest soon fades when we are faced with a tangle of brambles encroaching on our land.
Solutions? Sure, there are many, but which ones are best for the environment? We must consider the consequences of our actions on the land, the animals and other people.
These might be seen as a quick fix, but in the long run they are the worst choice. Chemicals can poison the soil and other neighbouring plants, and the spray can make the sweet berries lethal to birds, and be harmful to whoever eats the fruit, unsuspecting. Spot treatment at specific times of the year can be effective, but keep in mind there are better, more permanent solutions. You can contact an IPM (Integrative Pest Management) expert if you are tackling a large area.
Does Pruning Work?
To be honest, you might as well save your time. Pruning will just encourage further growth and a possible larger crop for next year. Pruning is done purposely and selectively to plants to encourage more fruit production. Blackberry canes produce berries only once, so pruning them right back after harvest will ensure the new canes that grow will bring a bountiful crop (if that is what you want). The root system of blackberries is quite shallow for the size of the plant, so digging out is best.
Removing Blackberry Brambles
Preparation is key here . . . prepare as if you are going to war. Blackberry thorns are one of nature’s best adaptations and you should not underestimate your enemy! Don protective clothing including thick pants, boots, jacket, gloves, googles, hat . . . heck, if you have a gas mask, motorcycle helmet or chain mail lying around, it might come in handy. Heavy-duty pruning shears, and a shovel and fork for digging are essential. Cut canes into manageable lengths and pile up to let them die off. Then dig out the root system and till the soil. You will need the protective gear again to move the pile to your compost or take to the dump later.
Now you can lay cardboard over the area with rocks on top to make sure no other plants pop up and keep the area clear of weeds—if you can wait until next season to plant the area, then you can let the cardboard decompose and add fresh soil on top in the spring before planting.TIP: Use the buddy system. If you become entangled on the brambles, you’ll need assistance getting out without too many injuries.
The Natural Alternative
Goats have proven to be incredibly effective at controlling blackberry brambles so it might be an option if you know someone who would lend you some animals, or you can rent a goat!
Some other natural solutions can be found here. Let us know if any of them work for you.
Taming the Beasts
If you wish to have blackberries in your garden, then prune them in early spring and fall, pull up young canes as they show themselves to keep the crop manageable, and use trellises to train the canes. Cut away the bushes and old canes that do not produce anymore.TIP: Let the prunings die before adding them to your compost as they will take root and thrive in most dark, warm places.
More info about the invasive Himalayan variety common to BC from the Invasive Species Council of BC HEREDo you have any more tips or tricks to removing blackberry brambles or taming the berry beast? Share them with us.