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Blackberries are invasive and everywhere here - how to compost?  RSS feed

 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Our new property has some hybrid blackberries pretty much everywhere except where the soil was super compacted. I am giving them the front slope, mostly because it is too steep for me to traverse, but around the rest of the yard I want to get rid of them. I don't want to throw them in the compost piles (I compost in place all over the yard) because it is cold compost and I know they will just resprout. The only thing I came up with was to chop them into small pieces and toss them in a tub with a little water and let the sun rot them into a slurry that I could then put on the compost. Is that a good idea? Is there something else easy I could do besides throw them in the green waste container?

Thanks in advance.
 
Kyle Neath
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Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
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I have blackberries all over my parents house, and I feel your pain. There just doesn't seem to be a way to actually get rid of these things if you don't want them. I've tried a few methods to re-use their organic material, and the two problems I keep coming back to are thorns and their impressive will to live. I don't know how many decades it takes for those thorns to break down, but no composting method has ever come close to killing them for me. And the only way I've found to kill vines without fire or chemicals has been to cut them down in the midst of a heat wave in summer. Of course, by then they have berries and seeds to grow new vines.

The two methods I've come down to:

1. Throw the cut vines into other blackberry vines where I'm okay with them growing.
2. Burn them up in the fire pit.
 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Ugh. Thanks for sharing the pain. But no real solution is just what I feared.

I LOVE Kyburz! Many, many years ago (close to 40 I guess) my former father-in-law was considering buying the little gas station/garage when it was up for sale. We were all going to move up there. Beautiful area. Sorry you have to deal with blackberries too.
 
Kyle Neath
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Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
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I'm starting to love it too (just got this property during this winter). I grew up visiting Tahoe a ton, but never really spent much time in between Placerville and South Lake. Turns out there's a ton of great people there. I also just noticed you're in Scotts Valley — the house my parents & I own (where I spend the rest of my time and have been living the past two years) is up in Dunsmuir. Good luck with the trashberries, at least they make for good hiking snacks during the summertime!
 
Nicole Alderman
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I also have a lot of invasive blackberries. I deal with disposing of them via mowing them over with the lawn mower and throwing the cut canes into the existing bramble. Cutting them at the base does a whole lot more good than trimming them, as trimming them stimulates more sideshoots and growth (which will give you more berries the next year, but that isn't really what you're wanting). You could also put them on a patio or driveway to get dried out in the sun, and/or crushed repeatedly by your car. Once they're all dried out, you should be able to safely put them in your compost or a brushpile (brushpiles are nice for creating habitat for bumblebees, mason bees, birds, lizards and other critters).

To eliminate them from my property, I outcompete them with native salmonberries, thimbleberries and trailing blackberries. All of those grow by rhizomes like the invasive blackberies do, but the salmonberries seem to do the best job (though they are the least tasty) of crowding the blackberries out. You could also try growing raspberries there, if you like them. If you want to try that, hack out the blackberries (pulling up roots if you can, cutting at the base if you can't) and then plant some vigorous strains of raspberries that do well in your area (hopefully raspberries grow where you are!). Preferably pick ones without thorns, just because thorns are annoying, and it helps differentiate the blackberry from the raspberry really easily. Then, as the blackberries start growing up, just cut them at their base again. I usually only do this a couple of times a year (spring, fall and when I'm actively picking berries and have my shears in my pockets). I'm sure they could be eliminated faster if you were at it more often.

I've been doing this on my property for about three years, and it's manageable for me. It also costs nothing because the salmonberry is already growing there, just having a hard time competing. As I eliminate blackberry in an area, I then reduce the salmonberry patches by encouraging thimbleberries, which I like better (they taste better and have less thorns, and are a little less vigorous).

If you try this method, you could end up using the raspberries or other nicer cane varieties as a sort of buffer, keeping the blackberry from returning to your property. If the raspberries/salmonberries/whatever are allowed to get really tall, that will help even more, as the blackberry can't just grow up and over them.

If your area is more of a pasture/lawn area, you could just mow more often. I don't have them growing up in my lawn as long as I mow it a few times a year.

I hope that helps!
 
Todd Parr
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I wonder if you could use the canes you cut off for biochar?
 
Susan Taylor Brown
Posts: 147
Location: Scotts Valley, California Zone 9B
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Nicole, Thanks for that very thoughtful response. I, too, love thimbleberry and have brought a few with me from the old house. I am anxious to get them in the ground here. The worse of the blackberries is on the slope that we are about to terrace so I am thinking I am just going to go after them by hand as much as possible. I hope if I stay on top of them, they will be easier to manage.

Great idea about running them over! LOL. I will pile them on the patio in the sun for a while first.

Todd, I would love to do biocharr. It is illegal to have a burn barrel here. I have been thinking if we get a firepit, maybe I can burn in small doses there. This poor ground could use all the help it can get.

There's always something to battle in the ground. At the old place it was crabgrass and trumpet vine. Here it is blackberry and poison oak. Still, here is better. More ground to grow in.
 
Abbey Battle
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Location: Wealden AONB
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Wrote a response yesterday evening but didn't post it.
I have masses of large bramble patches that I am clearing. Like Nicole, I cut the brambles right back down to the ground. I have, in the past, just piled everything up in heaps and have had no problems with any of the canes taking root. The latest patch I cleared, this spring, I have formed a massive heap with leaf litter and small twigs to form a berm (like hugel) so I can plant some trees for screening.
In my garden I have always chopped and dropped, right where the brambles grow.
I'm slowly preventing the brambles from taking over the world.
The other option, that I use for weeds, is the heavy duty rubble sack. The intention was just to empty these sack at the tip but after leaving them for a couple of years I find the are just full of compost now. Great because I can repair the lan ans sow with wild flowers.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I use a cordless electric hedge cutter to cut the canes into a mulch. They are allowed to die in the Sun. This works if it's done at the right time. New growth can be dealt with using a mattock.

http://permies.com/t/56852/permaculture/Managing-Himalaya-berries-canes-hedge

Salmonberries occupied 20000 square feet of my best soil. All of it was dealt with using a hedge cutter.

It would be best to fence grazing animals on to the space once the initial clearing is done. They prevent regrowth.

I manage all pathways at the farm, using the same machine. Loppers are used to cut larger branches, but the bulk of it can be done with a hedge cutter. It is vastly faster than running around with a hook knife or any other human-powered tool.
.....
For best single season results, without the help of grazing animals, do your first cut in the spring. Canes cut easier when they are damp. I often plan this sort of work for just after a rain. After being cut in the spring the plants will quickly put up new growth. Cut this just before your dry season. Rake it all up during the heat of late summer. Continue cutting new growth. Once the initial cutting and gathering is complete a fit person should be able to manage more than 10,000 square feet in one day. Every cutting weakens the plant and reduces the vigor of new growth.

In some cases a lawn mower could be used to continue the process. On rough ground, a string trimmer might work better.

Once you've headed down the road to eradication, it's important to continue. Don't allow them to get 3 feet high and store away more energy.

Something dense and easy to kill, like buckwheat can be planted amongst the stumps of nearly dead canes.
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K Putnam
pollinator
Posts: 245
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
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A hedge trimmer! Why didn't I think of that! I have one sitting in the garage that belonged to my former-quasi-father-in-law, but it never occurred to me to take it to blackberries. Duh. (flies out of bed with renewed energy and vigor for life)

As far as composting goes, I threw some cardboard down and just created a massive pile for the canes in an out-of-the-way location. I haven't had any problems with them resprouting over the years. I doubt I even needed the cardboard. I figure some kind of critter has to be getting a benefit out of the pile as it breaks down over the years.

A couple years ago, I even tried a blackberry hugel-bed and threw some squash in there. I'm not sure I'd go through the effort again, but it wasn't a total failure!
 
Dale Hodgins
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I have edited a few times in my above description of how I deal with canes.

In British Columbia, blackberries tend to grow in the same areas as big leaf maple. Berry groves stop once they get to the dense shade of these trees. Therefore, this is an ideal spot to compost berry canes. There isn't enough light for them too take off and compete with the trees.
 
Nancy Bush
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Location: Cerro Negro de Nicoya, Costa Rica
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I would suggest that you look on the Internet to see if anyone rents goats out......They LOVE blackberry plants & can be staked out to clear a specific area...and they are pretty fast eaters too!
 
Dale Hodgins
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Goats would be an excellent addition once the initial chopping of the canes is done. I had goats and they did eat many leaves. They tended to move from plant to plant. They made no attempt to strip each plant or to eat the canes themselves. They were a rather small breed and seldom ate anything more than 4 feet from the ground. It's not uncommon for Himalaya berries to be more than 12 feet tall.

Highland cattle also like the leaves and the tender tips. They don't like the older, thorny canes.
 
K Putnam
pollinator
Posts: 245
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
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I can say without exaggeration that I pulled several 1 1/2" thick X about 25 foot long canes out this spring. They had grown into my trees and started wrapping themselves through mid-story branches. If I thought goats could deal with those, I would put a goat herder on retainer and let them live out of the little cabin on my property.

My property clearly used to be part of an old homestead in the area that was subdivided. Across the fence line in the woods is the old barn and probably the original house. So, the blackberry-infested part of my property was actually probably part of the farmyard, meaning it was all disturbed. And then since the property was subdivided in the '50s, the land appears to have been disturbed over and over. I have an alder grove that I am trying to help manage as a succession forest by keeping the 1 1/2" blackberry canes out of it. I leave everything else in there alone, so I don't really want goats clearing the understory out while leaving the canes. The rest of that portion of the yard has so little natural mulch that a footstep can take me through a thin layer of topsoil into disturbed subsoil. This is prime blackberry territory. And, of course, the backside of the fence line is totally unmanaged blackberry. After reading this and a few other threads here, I am thinking about adding some salmonberry next spring to try to create a natural barrier.
 
Nicole Alderman
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K Putnam wrote:And, of course, the backside of the fence line is totally unmanaged blackberry. After reading this and a few other threads here, I am thinking about adding some salmonberry next spring to try to create a natural barrier.


As a word of warning, the salmonberry will also try encroaching on your garden. It does this by runners, as well as growing really fast and then falling over when it rains (it just droops over. The limbs don't touch the ground when they do this, but it does get annoying because you think you've got the salmonberry hedge trimmed, only to have it grow fast and then fall over. Most of my paths in my wetland/zone 4-5 are hedged by salmonberries, and this spring has been annoying with all it's heavy rains. I've had to trim the drooping branches a lot. It's not that hard, and I do it with pruning shears. But, it is annoying.). Still, it's much less invasive than the blackberry, easier to manage, not as poky, and can be replaced/interspersed with other berries as years go by.

I hope that helps!
 
K Putnam
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Posts: 245
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
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As a word of warning, the salmonberry will also try encroaching on your garden. It does this by runners, as well as growing really fast and then falling over when it rains (it just droops over. The limbs don't touch the ground when they do this, but it does get annoying because you think you've got the salmonberry hedge trimmed, only to have it grow fast and then fall over. Most of my paths in my wetland/zone 4-5 are hedged by salmonberries, and this spring has been annoying with all it's heavy rains. I've had to trim the drooping branches a lot. It's not that hard, and I do it with pruning shears. But, it is annoying.). Still, it's much less invasive than the blackberry, easier to manage, not as poky, and can be replaced/interspersed with other berries as years go by.


Really good to know. My thinking is that the blackberry in zones 1, 2, and 3 just has to go and be replaced with more of a food forest. Zone 4, which is a succession wildlife area, I'd like to attempt to keep from becoming a blackberry monoculture and this is where I am thinking about lining the back fence with salmonberry in the effort to provide a natural barrier. I am hardly ever down there and there is not much to be grown down there except maybe some mushroom logs this fall. And, I really do keep a Zone 5 that is largely blackberry because a) I don't have the energy or resources to manage it properly and I'm pretty sure it is providing excellent bird and pollinator habitat.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Salmonberries should work out great for you, then! Mine are all pretty much in zone 3-5, too. And, they are a lot more conducive to bringing about diversity and wildlife area than invasive blackberries. Nettle, elderberry, native blackberry and thimbleberries all seem to do fine coexisting/competing with the salmonberry, especially if you give them an edge. There's often some really nice compost/soil under the salmonberries, too. The hummingbirds love salmonberries, as well. And, since they bloom so early, they provide pollen for bees when there isn't often much else in bloom. And, who knows, maybe the salmonberries will spread back and help bring balance to your blackberry zone 5. One can hope!
 
Galadriel Freden
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I'm experimenting with deep mulching to eradicate blackberries. My thinking is, in soft soil it will be easier to pull/dig out the roots, and deep mulch is great for making soft soil (at least in my climate, anyway). I'm using a 6-12 inch layer of moldy straw and/or chicken bedding (manure and straw). Granted, I don't have a thicket of blackberries, which would be a lot harder to deep mulch successfully. But with individual plants, initial observation looks promising for me. I'll continue to experiment.
 
K Putnam
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Following up on my earlier comments about salmonberry, I had to make a visit down to District 13 yesterday.   It's the special part of my property where blackberry, bindweed, and pigweed all get tangled into one giant mess.  I was looking around and saw berries that I hadn't seen before.  Low and behold, in the areas where I have made feeble efforts to clear blackberry out and had put down some straw as mulch, salmonberry is giving it a go!  It wasn't there like this last year and I certainly did not plant it.  But I'll continue to hack at the blackberry as I can and see if I can't help the salmonberry along a little bit.  I don't mind if it creates a massive thicket down there.  I just need *something* to compete with the blackberry.   I was just surprised to see it there seemingly all of the sudden.  With just a little help, the natives sprang back into action!
 
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