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Outsmarting Blackberry Bushes: Prevention and Control


April 10, 2023

macro shot of blackberry bush

As you walk through a dense thicket of bushes on a sunny afternoon, you can’t help but notice the prickly stems and juicy fruit of the blackberry bush. 

For centuries, these bushes have been popular among gardeners and foragers alike, with their delicious berries and easy-to-grow nature.

However, if left unchecked, blackberry bushes can quickly take over a garden or even a whole landscape, their thorny tendrils suffocating other plants and becoming a nightmare for anyone trying to control them.

Understanding the lifecycle and varieties of blackberry bushes, as well as methods for preventing, controlling, and maintaining them is critical to outsmarting them. 

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a newcomer to the world of managing blackberry bushes, read on to discover the secrets to keeping these thorny invaders in check.

The Importance of Blackberry Bush Management

blackberry bush in front of forest background

Imagine a single blackberry cane, small and unassuming, quietly growing in a garden or forest. Now, picture that same cane rapidly producing a thicket that can span six yards in just two years. That’s the incredible reality of blackberry bushes.

These plants have the power to quickly take over a landscape, choking out native vegetation and disrupting entire ecosystems. From Northern California to British Columbia, the damage caused by unchecked blackberry bushes is undeniable.

By using responsible management practices and implementing effective prevention and control methods, you can ensure the health and beauty of your garden or landscape for years to come.

Understanding Blackberry Bushes

diagram of blackberry plant anatomy

Rubus armeniacus, also known as the Himalayan blackberry or Armenian blackberry, is one of the most common and invasive species of blackberry bushes. Originally from Northern Iran and Armenia, this species was introduced to North America as a food crop in the late 1800s. However, its rapid growth and ability to outcompete native vegetation soon led to it becoming an invasive species.

Himalayan blackberry bushes are characterized by their vigorous growth, thorny canes, and large, sweet fruit. Stems (canes) can grow 20-40 feet in length, 13 feet in height, and have been known to form dense thickets, making them a major problem for landowners and conservationists.

Despite their invasive nature, this noxious weed does have some undeniable benefits. The fruit is high in vitamins and antioxidants, making it a valuable addition to any diet. Additionally, the thorny canes can provide habitat for wildlife, particularly birds, who use them for nesting and shelter.

How Blackberry Bushes Spread

illustration of blackberry plant growth

Blackberry bushes are master spreaders. One of the main ways blackberry bushes spread is through the dispersal of seeds. The berries are consumed by birds and other animals, who then spread the seeds through their droppings. This can lead to the formation of new plants in areas where they may not be wanted.

Another way blackberry bushes spread is through vegetative growth. The canes of blackberry bushes can root themselves in the soil and give rise to new plants. This can lead to the formation of impenetrable thickets that are difficult to manage and control.

Human activity can also contribute to the spread of blackberry bushes. For example, dumping yard waste that contains blackberry canes in a natural area can lead to the formation of new plants.

Dormant and Growing Periods

Himalayan blackberry seeds have a tough seed coat that can stay dormant for years. Seed dormancy can be broken by fire or by being eaten by an animal. Himalayan blackberries are considered semi-evergreen shrubs, keeping their green color into fall, and some leaves in the winter.

During the initial year, canes emerge from buds situated at or beneath the soil level and solely display leaves. As they progress into their second year, these canes evolve from the first-year canes, now bearing both leaves and blossoms. 

The tenacious Himalayan blackberry is known for its ability to resprout with great vigor from rhizomes and root crowns. Additionally, the canes possess the capacity to form roots at both their tips and nodes.

Prevention

close up of orange gloved hand holding blackberry plant root

Preventing blackberry bushes from taking over your garden or landscape is key to managing their growth and keeping them under control. While blackberry plants can be a valuable addition to any garden, their thorny canes can quickly spread and become invasive, choking out other plants and becoming a nuisance.

One effective prevention method is the use of weed barriers or blocks. These physical barriers can be placed on the soil surface, preventing the growth and spread of Himalayan blackberries. However, it’s important to use high-quality, durable materials that can withstand the aggressive growth of these plants.

Effective prevention also involves regular maintenance and monitoring. Regularly mowing and removing any blackberry canes that appear outside of designated areas can help keep them under control. Creating a barrier around your garden or landscape with mulch, gravel, or other materials can also prevent blackberry bushes from spreading.

Soil pH is another important consideration when preventing the spread of Himalayan blackberries. These plants thrive in acidic soil conditions, so increasing soil pH to a more neutral or alkaline level can limit their establishment and spread. This can be accomplished through the addition of lime or other soil amendments.

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Companion planting is another effective prevention method. Planting companion plants that can outcompete blackberry bushes for resources, such as clover, fescue, and ryegrass, can prevent them from taking over your garden.

A few proactive steps for blackberry bush prevention can save you time, money, and frustration in the long run. Prevention is the first line of defense against these formidable plants, so don’t wait. Take action today to keep your garden or landscape healthy and beautiful.

Control

You can effectively manage these invasive plants using various blackberry control methods. Mowing and cutting back can limit their spread. By cutting back the plants to the ground or mowing them regularly, you can prevent the development of new growth and limit the spread of seeds.

Pulling the plants out by the root is an effective control method. This can be done manually or with the use of machinery, and is particularly effective in areas where the plants are not well established. However, care should be taken to remove as much of the root system as possible, as even small root fragments can sprout new growth.

Burning and tilling can also be effective control methods, particularly in areas where the plants are well established, such as a large blackberry patch. These methods can help to weaken and kill the plants, making it easier to remove them manually or with machinery.

Supplies for Cutting Back Briars

close up of gloved hand pruning blackberry plant

Having the right tools and supplies is critical to blackberry control. Pruners and loppers are two of the most commonly used handheld tools used to cut smaller stems and canes, and are particularly effective when used to maintain established plants.

For larger stems and canes, power tools such as chainsaws and hedge trimmers can be effective for cutting back Himalayan blackberries. However, care should be taken to use these tools safely and to avoid damaging vegetation nearby.

When cutting back blackberry bushes, wear protective gloves to avoid cuts and scratches from the sharp thorns. Thick, sturdy gloves made from leather or other durable materials are recommended for this task. Additionally, we recommend wearing long sleeves and pants to protect the skin from thorns.

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Keep a sturdy container or back for collecting cut plant material nearby. This makes it easy to transport the plant material for proper disposal and prevents the spread of seeds or root fragments.

Herbicide Application

When it comes to managing Himalayan blackberries, sometimes prevention and manual removal may not be enough. In these cases, herbicide application may be necessary to control the spread of these invasive plants.

Herbicides are chemical substances that are designed to kill or control the growth of plants. When used properly, they can be an effective tool in the battle against Himalayan blackberries. However, it’s important to use caution and follow all safety guidelines when applying herbicides.

One of the most common herbicides used for controlling Himalayan blackberries is glyphosate. This herbicide works by interfering with the plant’s ability to produce certain enzymes, ultimately leading to its death. Glyphosate is best applied in late summer or early fall, when the plant is actively growing and preparing for the winter months.

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Another commonly used herbicide is triclopyr, which works by disrupting the plant’s growth hormones and ultimately causing its death. The metsulfuron herbicide works by inhibiting the plant’s enzyme production. 

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Herbicides can be used on their own or with each other to boost your chances of removing this pesky foliage. However, follow proper application instructions to prevent damage to your desirable existing plants and avoid using near water.

As a nonselective compound, glyphosate can destroy other plants, so precise application is crucial. Triclopyr, on the other hand, won’t harm grasses but will kill broadleaf plants.

Foliar Spray

The foliar spray technique for applying herbicides to Himalayan blackberries involves spraying the herbicide directly onto the leaves of the plant, allowing it to be absorbed through the foliage and transported to the root system.

Foliar spraying is most effective when the plant is actively growing and producing leaves. This is usually in the late summer and early fall months when the plant is in its growth season. Choose a calm, dry day for foliar spraying so that the herbicide is not carried away by the wind or rain.

When applying herbicides via foliar spray, use a pump sprayer or backpack sprayer to ensure accurate application. Care should be taken to avoid spraying desirable plants nearby, as the herbicide may cause harm.

Cut Stump

The cut stump application technique involves applying the herbicide to the plant’s cut stump. For Himalayan blackberries, the best time to apply the herbicide via the cut stump method is during the spring or fall, when the plant’s growing the most.

After cutting the plant, apply the herbicide immediately, as the cut surface can quickly dry and prevent the herbicide from absorbing effectively. Use a spray bottle or paint brush to apply the herbicide.

Basal Bark

The basal bark application technique involves applying the herbicide directly on the lower stem of the plant, where it can be absorbed and transported to the root system. A spray bottle or backpack spray can be used to apply the herbicide.

For best results, thoroughly spray a 6-inch band around the stem’s basal section. You can do this all year round, even when the plant’s leaves have fallen. You will need to reapply the herbicide after the leaves have completely expanded and keep an eye on the area for at least a year.

Trimming Disposal

Failing to dispose of the trimmings correctly can lead to the inadvertent spread of this invasive species, undoing all your hard work and creating even more challenges for you and the environment.

  • Bag it up: After trimming or cutting the blackberry bushes, collect all the plant material, including leaves, stems, and any fruit, in heavy-duty garbage bags. Seal the bags tightly to prevent any seeds or plant fragments from escaping.
  • Composting caution: Although composting is an eco-friendly way to dispose of garden waste, it is not recommended for invasive blackberry trimmings. The seeds and any remaining root fragments can survive the composting process, resulting in new blackberry plants growing where you least expect them.
  • Off-site disposal: Transport the sealed bags to a designated yard waste disposal site or facility that can handle invasive species like Himalayan blackberries. These facilities typically have methods in place to ensure that the plants are destroyed and cannot regrow or spread further.
  • Incineration: If local regulations allow, consider burning the blackberry trimmings in a controlled environment. This method ensures the complete destruction of the seeds and plant material, preventing any chance of regrowth.

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  • Stay vigilant: After disposing of the blackberry trimmings, continue to monitor your garden or landscape for any signs of new growth. The prompt removal of any emerging shoots or sprouts can help keep the plants under control and prevent further infestations.

Blackberry Proof Your Garden with Wilco Farm Stores

Ready to take action and put your newfound knowledge to use? Visit Wilco Farm Stores to browse a wide range of gardening and farming supplies, including everything you need to prevent, control, and maintain wild blackberries.

From pruning tools to herbicides, Wilco Farm Stores has got you covered. Don’t let weedy blackberries take over your garden or landscape any longer. Shop now and start enjoying the benefits of a well-managed and fruitful garden.

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