Garden School:


Garden School:
Teaching this week: Rose pruning (as always!) and leaf mold.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Bramble removal: How To Do It

I've given this lecture twice in the last week, so I thought I'd be generous and share it with you guys.

"Given this lecture" did I say? How pompous! "Explained this principle"  might be better. Or shall we say that I have been asked about removing brambles correctly, and this is the advice and information that I have given out.

Brambles - don't you just hate them? They grow faster than almost anything else in the garden, they have evil sharp skin-slashing thorns, they tip-root themselves everywhere, and, as a final insult, at the end of the year, instead of dying down and rotting away, the canes solidify into tempered steel with titanium thorns, linking themselves into huge mats specifically to prevent us from getting at the roots to remove them.

OK, for a couple of weeks in late summer/early autumn they are laden with delicious fruit, but come on, the rest of the time they are a complete nuisance. Especially if they are in your garden...

In  my experience, there are two "types" of bramble problem.

First and most often found, are the ones which have rooted themselves in cracks in walls or paving, and which sprout a fistful of thin spindly shoots every year. They trip us up, scratch our ankles, and although we chop them right off at the ground, they still come back within a few weeks to annoy us again. They rarely fruit, so they aren't contributing anything, just being a nuisance.

The second type are the "real" brambles, great thick squared-off stems, miles long, covered in lethal thorns and forming an impenetrable forest, not to mention the long arms, waving in the breeze and lunging at any unwary passer-by. These are indicative of brambles that have been allowed to run wild for a couple of years or more.

Here's the botanical bit: both "type" are the same plant, Rubus fructicosus agg, or blackberry, or bramble. Yes, bramble and blackberry are the same plant. There are many closely-related sub-species or micro-species of blackberry, so it is known as an aggregate species, hence the agg at the end.   There are many specially-bred garden cultivars or species, bred for flavour, for early cropping, and for size of fruit. (Which, incidentally, is not a "berry" at all, botanically speaking, it's an aggregate fruit consisting of a number of drupelets. Fascinating, huh?) And there is even a selection of thornless varieties, and personally I can't understand why anyone would want to grow a thorny one, when they have the option of being thorn-free with the fruit being just as tasty.  In my own garden I have thornless blackberry, and they are the ones that I sell.

Blackberry or Bramble? It's completely your choice - I tend to use Blackberry for the ones grown for fruit, and bramble for the vicious escapees that I get asked to remove.

Now a quick word about their life cycle: it's a perennial plant, which means it grows back year after year from the same root. But it's a biennial cropper. Biennial means "in a two-year cycle". So in the first year, it sends out lengthy leafy growth in all directions, but no fruit. In the second year, these year-old shoots or canes produce little side-shoots which bear the flowers and therefore the fruit. After fruiting, these shoots die and become the brown tangles that we hate so much.

Each plant, though, is producing new shoots every year: so any one plant will have fresh vigorous non-fruiting shoots, plus last year's fruiting shoots, plus dead ones from previous years. Hence the insane tangle that you get.

If you are growing blackberries to eat, you need to "manage" them on a two-year cycle. Generally, this works best if you grow them against a wall, or if you build some sort of post-and-wire structure so that you can tie up this year's shoots to the bottom rung, and last year's shoots to the top rungs, for the best sunlight, and for ease of cropping.  After harvesting, you chop out the fruited shoots right down at the base, then move the fresh shoots up to the top rungs ready for next year. As the new shoots grow, you tie them in to the bottom rung. It's important to keep them off the ground, otherwise the tips will root and make new plants. Which is fine when you want to expand your crop, but it does reduce the amount of fruit, and how many new plants do you actually need?

Right, now we understand the life cycle of the bramble.  But, I hear you say, we don't care about its life cycle, we just want to get rid of it.

OK, bramble clearance.

"Type 1" spindly weedy things. Cut them off at ground level, using a knife if necessary to slice through the brown knobbly root part. In 2-3 weeks' time, go back and look for new leaves. Spray new leaves with Glyphosate weedkiller: the brand name used to be Round-up but it's out of patent now, so you can buy "own brand" types. Go back in another week or so, spray foliage again. Repeat until it stops reappearing. At that point, you may be able to prise out some more of the now-dead knobbly root part. For the rest of the year, keep an eye on it, and if it dares to make any new leaves, spritz them with the Glyphosate again.

"Type 2" mad bramble tangles.

Typically found when moving into a new garden, when taking on a new allotment, after being ill for some time, when expanding the garden, or when suddenly developing an interest in your garden after ignoring it for several years. Also found pretty much all year round when working on restoring your local canal. Which I do in my spare time. ("Spare" time! Hollow laugh!)

The first job is to get rid of the top growth so that you can get to the roots. Best option: hire a man with a brush-cutter (a strimmer on steroids) to chop it into small pieces so you can rake it up and burn it. What's that? You can't do that? OK, in that case put on stout clothes, get your thickest gloves, a rake, and a pair of secateurs. Get as close as you can to the tangle, and start cutting out sections. Don't overstretch yourself, just cut everything you can reach, and if you cut it into pieces 2-3 feet long, it becomes a lot easier to get rid of it.

When you work your way as far as a root,  leave a foot or so of growth so that you can find it later.  There's no need to cut it down to ground level, just to clear it enough that you can move around the area without being tripped, snagged and scratched.

Continue doing this until you have eaten you way through your bramble thicket.

You should by now be tired, sweaty, scratched and cross, and ankle-deep in bits of bramble. Well done! Rake up the bits and dispose of them.

Take a break.

Right, phase two. You can now tackle the roots. If you don't, they Will Be Back.

Now, here's the useful thing to know about bramble roots: they don't sprout from ground level, as normal plants do: they sprout from just below ground level. This is what catches most people out: they chop off the top growth, right down to the ground, then wonder how it keeps re-growing. This is why Type 1 are so persistent: when growing in paving or in cracks in walls, you simply can't get to the growing point, hence the instruction to use Glyphosate, which is a translocated weedkiller, meaning that it doesn't kill the leaf that it lands on: it penetrates the leaf, works its way down the stem to the root, then kills the root. Yay for Glyphosate!

Right, class, are we paying attention? Sit up straight, no fidgeting, here we go.

Here (right) we have a typical bramble:  it has the green shoots which bore fruit last year just starting to go brown, and some brown dead canes from the year before. This is, by the way, a fairly spindly example of the type.

First we clear away the leaf litter around it, to see what we have. To avoid being spiked in the eye, at this point I generally chop off most of the shoots.  There are no buds to be seen, but it would be a mistake to simply chop it off at ground level.

This is the same bramble, now reduced to just a couple of the shoots  - it's often useful to have something to get hold of, plus if you get called away half-way through, it's handy to be able to find them again.

I am now scraping around at the base to expose the roots. You can see that I've dug down a couple of inches, that's all. Not much more than scraping away the surface soil, really, and done on hands and knees, with a small hand-digging tool.

Right! There, can you see it? A  nice pink bud just visible, in the junction between the two remaining stems.


I can therefore cut off the root below this point.

Here's the cut-off root: you can see that I've cut it about 2" down - the white cut end on the right -  and now you can clearly see that pink bud, just above my thumb.

Apologies (as usual) for the quality of the photos, taken in haste with my camera phone, which does not have a macro setting, unsurprisingly.


Here's a different bramble root from the same section of garden: again, a lovely plump pink bud springing up from well below the surface level, and which was completely invisible when I started to remove it.

In this case, I managed to get several inches of root out as well, but the important part, the vital part, is to get below that "crown" or growing section from which these buds spring.

So I hope you can see from this that removing brambles is not impossible, and you don't have to dig out yards and yards of roots. Just ensure you dig out the bit with the buds on.

And when you have cleared your former jungle, it is worth going back every couple of weeks to check for new growth: if there have been brambles there before, there will be bramble seeds in the soil, and although you have carefully removed all the monster plants, you will continue to get new seedlings for some years. Tiny ones are really, really easy to get out - many of them will even just pull out, if the ground is soft - and it is so worth while to keep on top of them, having put in all the effort to remove the big ones.

I'm currently clearing a huge area of brambles for a client, so maybe next week I'll have some before and after photos to show you what can be done.

And I have added a couple more posts about brambles, if you want even more info on this subject:

Brambles: Part 7: The Right Tool For The Job. Secateurs, mostly.

Bramble Removal: Invaders from Next Door deals with this particular issue.

What Shrubs Can Hold Brambles Back  was an interesting question.

70 comments:

  1. Good post. I've just done war with an army of Bramble armed with a brush cutter. Rather than burning I'm thinking of shreading them and composting ..or is that a waste of time, do the thorns break down?

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  2. Ha ha, that's the easy way to do it! What are your plans for when they start to re-grow: will you use chemicals? Or will you use the brush-cutter again at very, very low level? (We have tried this on the canal, with mixed success)

    Personally I wouldn't bother to shred and compost them: the old canes, the brown ones, don't contain any "goodness" other than roughage, as it were, and I think the old thorns and the sharp edges will survive, which may be uncomfortable when you get to spread the compost. As for the green stems, well, I suppose they may be compostable, but I have doubts about the thorns. I honestly don't know if "fresh" thorns will break down - I've never tried. I suspect not.

    If you have space, I would suggest shredding the brambles, but not mixing it with other stuff: keep a separate heap for this material. Then, about this time next year, you can come back and tell us how it worked out! If it's still thorny and useless, you can just burn it and use the ashes in the normal way - thinly spread over soil, or in thin layers on a proper compost heap.

    I'd be interested to know - I know that dead bramble material is still lethally sharp up to several years after it has died, but this is material that is dry and above-ground, ie not shredded and stacked.

    The only other use I have found for brambles is in weaving them into baskets (honest!) but that requires long lengths, and if you've brush-cut them, they may not be suitable. Besides, who'd want a basket made from bramble canes? *horrified expression*

    Hope this helps,

    Rachel

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    1. Such as shame that Glyphosate has been recognised by the world health organisation as a hormonal disrupter but even worse, that it is carcinogenic. That means it causes cancer!!!

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    2. Thank goodness most gardeners keep it away from their food crops, unlike many farmers esp USA. Still the best and sometimes only way in a non food crop situation, ie drives patios etc. Paul the gardener

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  3. I have 5 acres of vacant land that has a lot of wild, thorny bramble on it. I would like to get rid of as much bramble as possible but there is way too much to cut back and dig out the roots. Do you have any suggestions?

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    1. PS, Lori, one suggestion I forgot to offer - if you have 5 acres, fence it round and borrow a couple of pigs for a few months. They will grub up everything!

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  4. Hi Lori,

    Oh, poor you! Five acres of bramble, ugh!

    I would suggest a variation on the above - hire a brushcutter (like a strimmer but with a metal disc at the business end) or a man with a brushcutter, and use that to chop everything down to ground level. Rake up the debris and burn in.

    Then get yourself a knapsack sprayer or a large bottle sprayer with a shoulder strap (ie not a little hand-held bottle) and a lot of glyphosate weed killer.

    Dilute it exactly as per instructions - do NOT make it double strength! - and as soon as the new leaves appear, get out there, walk around it, and squirt every leaf you see. They should be easy to spot against the bare, brush-cutter-blasted soil.

    Change your boots at the edge of the lot, to avoid treading weedkiller all over your own lawn (don't laugh, one of my clients did it... a string of perfect brown footprints fading out into the middle of his perfect lawn) and when you rinse out the spray bottle, don't tip it down the drain, tip it out onto scrap land or a gravel path.

    You will need to repeat this a couple of times, to catch each new growth as it appears, but it will at least save you digging out each root! Oh, and you will need to continue spot-spraying for at least a couple of years, as there will be seeds in the soil which will sprout as the conditions improve, ie when they get more light/water etc, as you clear away the tangle above them.

    But you can beat them! You can!

    Just don't expect it to be a quick job - it will take a year or more until you are reasonably free of them, and they will continue to come back from time to time, not least because birds are forever dropping the seeds all over the place.

    Good luck!

    Rachel

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  5. how can you do this if the brambles are between and under well established and good shrubs..i have just returned to my house after 5 years away to find the tenants had done no gardening for 5 years and some of my borders are over-run.. the shrubs have been n that border for about 15 years so there is not really space to get between or under them to dig roots out..any suggestion gratefully received as I am devastated at what used to be my pride and joy of a garden

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  6. Poor Clare! How depressing for you... it's not easy, but it can be done, I have done congested, over-run borders, and you start the same way: dress well, start at the edge nearest you, snip off whatever you can reach of the long bramble arms.

    Gradually snip your way in and around the shrubs, until you have extracted most of the thorny stuff, and can move without being slashed to death.

    You don't have to dig out the roots - just cut them off an inch or two below the surface, which is not the same as having to dig them out: in a really enclosed situation, like yours, then use an old pair of sacrificial secateurs and use the blade to push down into the soil and cut the roots "underwater" as it were.

    I take your point about close-planted mature shrubs: well, maybe it's time to give them a bit of a haircut as well?

    You could try giving each shrub a crown lift - take off the bottom few branches to leave a clear stem of a foot or so, which allows light and water to the soil below, allows you to do some underplanting if you wish, and "lightens" the look of a shrub border.

    This will then clear a bit of space for you to get at the bramble crowns.

    The only alternative I can think of is to cut off all the thorny tops as described, then go in there with weedkiller (glyphosate based) when the brambles start to re-grow. But if the border is as mature as it sounds, there is a real risk that you will accidentally overspray something precious, so the crown-lift option might be better.

    I've just done a short article on crown-lifting of shrubs:
    http://rachel-the-gardener.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/crown-lifting-of-shrubs.html
    .. which shows one single shrub all alone, but the principle is the same for a border, it's just a bit more congested and harder to get at!

    Good luck with the borders, let us know how you get on!

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    1. I am in the process of removing a large patch of bramble that really took over the area around my leach field. My goal is to clear it out and plant some tall grasses and wild flowers. Because of this I was not planning on using any weed killer but it may be too much to do without. If I use the weed killer how long do I have to wait to replant.

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    2. Hi Keith,

      I know that many of us don't want to use weedkiller, but there are times when it is the right thing to do, and this is one of those times.

      If you take care to only use a weedkiller with glyphosate in it (read the list of ingredients) then you can replant as soon as you wish, as glyphosate is de-activated on contact with earth. It does not poison the soil. This is why it is my "favourite" weedkiller, for situations where there isn't any sensible alternative.

      Be careful to buy a weedkiller that contains only glyphosate - the latest craze is for combined weedkillers, which contain a defoliant - paraquat and its derivatives - as well as glyphosate. They have been designed to please impatient people who want instant results, and who don't realise that glyphosate takes 2-3 weeks to work. ReSolva is a name that comes to mind, does a brilliant job but is not as "safe" to use as glyphosate alone.

      So, in answer to your question, if you use a glyphosate-based spray, you can/could replant almost immediately, but I would wait a couple of weeks in order to allow the stuff to penetrate your brambles right down to the roots, and kill them. Then you need to rake off the dead stuff (another disadvantage of weedkillers - they leave the corpses lying around) and then you can replant.

      Although - sorry to sound like a harbinger of doom - if you have a lot of bramples, there will any number of small plants/seedlings that will pop up the minute you think it's safe to replant.

      If I were you, I would do as described above - chop off the above-ground growth now, wait a couple of weeks for regrowth to appear, spray the new leaves with glyphosate, leave it over the winter, keeping an eye out for any new bramble growth and spraying them as soon as they appear.

      Then get on with the replanting once spring arrives - but keeping a small hand-held spray bottle of the glyphosate to hand, to deal with any new appearances.

      Good luck!

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  7. Hi Rachel,

    I'm looking at my hand at the moment which is scratched all over and bleeding from tearing out brambles in my back garden (this was my first foray; gloves next time). The phenomenal length of each branch even now in March! And sprouting everywhere in my back garden!

    I read each wise and astute comment you make, but I'm actually thinking: Kill! Kill! Kill!

    I'll start off with glysophate right at the base of the brick wall that separates my council property from usual street access. I'll spray like a demon and continue spraying until I feel I've got this monster under control. If I didn't, I'd be locked indoors and sending you pots of bramble jelly....






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  8. Hi Robert, well, that made me laugh! Poor you, fancy tacking brambles without gloves? *shakes head and mutters" mad, mad.." under breath*

    As luck and good weather would have it, I've just encountered a new bramble phenomenon: brambles through loose hedges. Will be writing about it later...

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  9. Hi Rachel,
    If only I read your bramble post a few days ago! We have about an acre of ancient woodland (complete with TPOs) that we purchased along with our new house this time last year. Of course year 1 in a new house is all about the house but this year we've began to turn our thoughts to the wood.
    Although it wasn't terribly overgrown with brambles last year it has really taken hold this year, probably due in part to the favourable growing conditions over spring and now summer, and the fact that we've done nothing this year. Anyway, armed with newly bought brush cutter we began to section up the wood into manageable areas and got stuck in last Sunday afternoon.
    After reading your posts it seems that this may have been the easy bit! We did plan on hiring a shredder but I'm now having second thoughts about this and may just burn the cuttings, section by section, as we work our way across the landscape. I was also dreading the process of bramble bashing or root pulling once regrowth started to show, but glyphosate it is!
    I was never under any illusion about how long it was going to take to clear our wood but I’m happier now with the plan going forwards having read your advice and suggestions. Many thanks.

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  10. Hi, Other Robert: glad to be of help! Wow, an acre of ancient woodland, lucky you - and yes, of course it had to wait until the house was straight. I would certainly burn the brambles you have cut, and you are very sensible to work across it in sections.

    There is always the trade-off calculation to do: is it less work to burn each pile where it lies, but that makes lots of small burnt patches: or should you select one bonfire place, and rake everything over there in instalments? I can't help you on that, I'm afraid!

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  11. is there a "best" time of year to tackle the roots?

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  12. Hi Steve,

    "When you have the time" is the easy answer. If the brambles are well established, then there will always be green stems from this year plus dead brown rock-hard ones from previous years, so there isn't really a "good" time of year.

    Personally I do it mostly in winter, because a) in summer all my time is taken up with other garden work, and b) when the herbaceous stuff has died down, it's easier to see what you are doing, and easier to get at the roots, especially if you have a delicious underplanting of nettles along with your brambles.

    But really, the longer you leave it the worse it will get, so my best advice is to just get out there and start! Either allocate an afternoon, or decide to spend one hour a day at it, whichever fits in best with your lifestyle. Oh, and take photos before you start, it's often encouraging, about half-way through, to be able to see just how bad it was before you began.

    Good luck!

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  13. Hi Rachel,
    I have a large area of brambly field. I wanted to know whether, if I cut it right down to ground level,I could cover with a heavy duty weed control fabric to finish the job?

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  14. Hi Paul,

    Honestly, I wouldn't. They will continue to grow under and through the weed control fabric: they will find every join, every rip, every weak spot in the fabric, and you will end up with the brambles growing through it, making it impossible to remove it other than in one enormous mat.

    If it really is a large area, and you don't have time/don't want to dig out the roots, then I would suggest hiring a brushcutter, and dedicating one afternoon or so to chop it into pieces and burn it. As above, spread the ash thinly on the cleared soil - it returns the nutrients to the soil. Then buy yourself a big spray bottle with a shoulder strap, and lay in a stock of glyphosate. Take a walk around it once every 2-3 weeks and spray any new growth. This routine takes the minimum of your time, and it means you can keep in touch with your field, seeing what is growing (other than brambles) and hopefully planning for the future.

    Rachel


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  15. Hi Rachel,
    I'm about to move into a new house that has a small garden, 70% of which is currently bramble tangle. Is there a better time of year to hack it back? I'm not sure if it's best to attack it now before summer really takes off or to wait until after autumn?

    Thanks,

    Katie

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  16. Hi Katie,

    I hate to say this when you've only just moved in, but the sooner you tackle it, the better: if you leave it, all this year's new growth will root itself along the way, making the congestion even worse, and all this year's fruit will fall as seeds into the ground, leaving you little time-bombs of new plants for the next several years.

    If time is tight, allocate one afternoon or one weekend to the job, get out there and hack every bramble back to ankle height, chop up the cuttings into short lengths (reduces the enormous bulk) and dispose of them. Then buy some glyphosate weedkiller: as I have said above, don't get one of the new fast 24-hour-result combined jobbies, stick with simple glyphosate - and spritz the new leaves twice a week for a month or so, which should go a long way to killing them.

    Then, maybe in a month, allocate another aftenoon or weekend to digging out the ankle-height stumps, which should be looking pretty poorly.

    All through this summer, keep that bottle of glyphosate by the back door, and every time you go out in the garden, look for small seedlings of brambles, and spritz them. You will soon learn to recognise new bramble plants: the leaves are a dull purple-greeny colour, and as soon as they are a couple of inches high, they develop prickles on their stems.

    Good luck!

    Rachel

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  17. Thanks! I'll hopefully try and get a couple of full weekends to dedicate to it. I'm wanting to keep some of the brambles for fruit, but in a more manageable arrangement around a trellis or bamboo poles and string. Is it safe to use glyphosate if I'm intending on eating some of the fruit?

    Katie

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  18. Hi Katie, firstly, you will be applying glyphosate to the leaves and stems of the ankle-height chopped-down brambles, and to new leaves when they occur, over the next few weeks, so yes, it is safe to use in an area which will eventually contain fruit, as the chemical is not being sprayed on the actual fruit - on the grounds that blackberries won't appear until at least mid-summer.

    On the other hand, by spraying with glyphosate, you are killing (hopefully!) the plants, so you won't get any fruit at all.

    On the third (or gripping) hand, if you want your own blackberries, why not buy a thornless one? Dig out all the horrible old rough brambles, and plant a fresh, non-spiky variety. OK, yes, you are paying £5 or so when you already have a garden full of free ones, but I can assure you that they taste the same, and it's a great deal easier to harvest the fruit, and to manage the canes, if they are thornless!

    Fourthly, bamboo poles and string probably won't be strong enough: I would suggest stout posts banged well in the ground, with galvanised wire strung between them. If you skip back up to the top of this post, there's a paragraph about the life cycle of the plant which will give you more info on this topic. Growing them on wires against a wall is often the easiest way to manage them, particularly in a fairly small garden.

    Have fun!

    Rachel

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  19. Thanks so much for this Rachel. I've got a brand new allotment that is covered in brambles. You've given me the motivation to get out there and tackle them. Will let you know how it goes

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  20. Hi Kathryn,

    You are most welcome, and watch this space, as I am currently writing two eBooks: one about setting up a Vegetable Garden, and one about starting an allotment, which might offer even more encouragement! *laughs*

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  21. So sad to see you suggest Glyphosate herbicide so often. Glyphosate herbicide can disrupt learning behavior in honeybees and severely impair long-term colony performance.
    And since bees don't die immediately when exposed to glyphosate, they bring the chemical back to the hive, where larvae come into contact with it.
    This means new bees will likely have lower overall foraging rates, which could have long-term negative consequences on colony performance. In fact, it could lead to the disappearance of the colony altogether. Glyphosate's toxicity is compounded by its persistence in the environment. Many studies show that glyphosate remains, chemically unchanged in the environment, for periods of up to a year. Suggesting a pig was the best solution I see in your recommendations.

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  22. Christine, thank you for expressing your opinion, and for repeating the latest scare stories about the persistence of glyphosate in the soil, despite the manufacturers' explicit claims that it is deactivated on contact with soil.

    If you read my blog again, you will note that the glyphosate is the "last resort" once the tops have been chopped down and the roots dug out: and you will also see that I recommend "spritzing" the (small) new growth, rather than indiscriminate spraying, for stubborn regrowth, and for inaccessible areas.

    As I am sure you know, glyphosate is a translocated weedkiller, it is absorbed by the leaves and taken down inside the plant to the roots, where it affects hormonal production and causes the plant to over-grow itself and die. It does not sit on the leaves, in the way that a lot of the defoliant weedkillers do. I hope you noticed that I specifically recommend against using "combined" weedkillers, those awful ones that promise results overnight by adding defoliants to the glyphosate.

    Bees, and other insects (beneficial and otherwise) are not particularly attracted to bare soil and/or bramble foliage, and by cutting down the top growth and digging out the roots, what is left is a bare open area (we hope!) which is not likely to bring in the bees: they will be concentrating on nearby gardens, and areas with flowers.

    For many years I would never recommend using any weedkiller, but over time I have come to recognise that there are situations where there is simply no realistic alternative. Brambles growing under decks, in narrow gaps between walls (*waves to Andrew - are you winning, yet?*) and in cracks in paving have to be dealt with, and in my experience the flaming weed wands are not effective, and the cost to the environment of producing and packaging all those aerosol containers of fuel is simply shocking.

    Brambles are clearly a major problem for many, as you can see by the number of comments on this more-than-3-year-old article. Putting pigs on the land is only a suggestion for paddocks/rough land, it is utterly impractical for normal gardens.

    Christine, I hope that you find this detailed response to be at least a little reassuring, and appreciate that I have taken the time to address your concerns, rather than just ignoring your comment. (I took the liberty of deleting the second, duplicate, comment, as I assumed it was a mistake.) I have my own opinion about the utter wrongness of forcing cats to live exclusively indoors (*laughs*) but I won't harangue you on that subject! And I further promise you that in future articles and comments on this subject, I will stress that glyphosate should be the last resort, should be used sparingly, and carefully.

    Rachel

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  23. Hi Rachel.

    I have read the previous comments with much interest.

    I am as interested in gardening as I am in declaring to the world that I am the new messiah (I'm not religious by the way.)

    I have been dealing with my elderly mothers massively overgrown garden, that is predominantly brambles. I am currently dreaming about the bloody things.

    After a couple of months hard work I feel I am getting on top of it. Most of it has involved digging the root systems up and burning everything in one of those dustbin like incinerators. Best £15 I've ever spent. I lost count of how many I pulled up weeks ago, and still they come. I have put 4 tonnes of concrete in to get rid of 3 big areas of flower beds to create a patio area, I still have a good section that I plan to seed with grass (50% Amenity Perennial Ryegrass and 50% Creeping Red Fescue.)

    I have had some shoots still turning up of brambles and today, I gave them a dose of roundup.

    My question to your esteemed knowledge is this;

    If I have pulled the main part of the root system up and got rid of it, can the bramble re-appear from just a remnant of root that is left in the soil?

    The area that concerns me is the grass section of the garden. I hand dug it and got everything out I could (Bloody back ached for weeks doing it) and then I bought a rotovator and went over it with that, which pulled out loads more roots. I plan to do the same a couple of more times to thin the soil out as best I can (Lots of clay in the ground here,) then sling a couple of bags of compost down and turn it all in together before leveling and seeding.

    I plan to treat any of the aliens that pop up with roundup gel (Which I ordered on ebay about an hour ago.) Am I doing the right thing?

    I do feel, with my lack of enthusiasm of gardening that I am doing brute force and ignorance! :o) I just want my mum to have a nice garden for the summer and I want to get to the point where I am maintaining, not doing war.

    My big worry is brambles coming through the lawn when I have sowed it. I'm hoping the gel will do the job and I won't have to make holes in it.

    Your thoughts will be an inspiration. :o)

    Sean.

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  24. Hi Sean,

    *bows head before the master*

    You are doing a great job! Yes, you have done everything right. No, the brambles won't grow back from small sections of roots, the important bit is the "crown" of the root, just below the surface: as long as you have dug those out you are ok, and you seem to have dealt with all of those in a very thorough way.

    Brambles in a lawn are not much of a problem, as the mower will chop their heads off before they even get started. Keep the grass short and you will be fine: and believe me, it is quicker and easier to cut the grass when it is short, so doing it often means it actually takes less time, and a lot less effort, than if you leave it until it is long and shaggy. (This is intended to encourage you!)

    Once you have levelled and seeded the lawn (don't forget to firm it down before you spread the seed - do the "duck walk" on your heels all over it a couple of times, rake it and sort out any dips or bumps, duck walk again, rake again and there you go) just keep an eye out for any bramble seedlings.

    Although you removed all the adults, the ground will be full of bramble seeds (ie pips) so there will be new ones popping up for a while yet. However, this time they will be tiny little things, easily pulled out, instead of great steel re-inforced prickly monsters. Just keep an eye out for them, pull them up if you can, spritz carefully with glyphosate if you can't (on a non-windy day, careful of the overspray, use the minimum, blah blah woof woof) and all will be well.

    Your Mum will have a lawn to enjoy, and a son to be proud of!

    Well done!

    Rachel

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hi Rachel,
    Total nwbie to gardening and blogging, please be gentle!
    we moved in to a property with one boundary which connects to green belt. The green belt section is covered in 8ft high thick dense evil brambles which have destroyed our fence, such that the previous pwners put up wire fencing. We wish to put up a new fence, but I fear these brambles will come back and destroy anything we build. Anybthoughts on a "green" solition? Are there any hedges or other plants which are the nemisis of brambles? If not do you know how long a fence or wall stands up to attack from brambles over the years?
    Mike "never touches a spade before" Newbie

    ReplyDelete
  26. Hi Mike,

    A good question: it's a common situation, and worth answering at length so I've written a whole new post, just for you:

    http://rachel-the-gardener.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/bramble-removal-invaders-from-next-door.html

    Hope it helps!

    Rachel

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hi...new to gardening...we have a mass of roses intertwined with a mass of brambles...what would you suggest as the best way to deal with this?

    ReplyDelete
  28. Oh, Emma, I feel your pain! This is one of the worst situations - something prickly, entwined around something precious that is also prickly!

    I would suggest starting at one edge, wear stout gloves, use secateurs, and chop off short lengths of the bramble, start at head height then work your way down, otherwise they slash your head and neck as you bend over. Keep going in instalments, as often as you can - do an hour an day if you can possibly bear it - until you have removed the bulk of the bramble. As I say in the original post, don't try to get the roots out until you have removed pretty much all the top growth. You can't use any sort of weedkiller in this situation, for fear of killing the roses.

    If the roses themselves are a bit neglected, ie haven't been pruned for a year or two (which is possible, if they've been left along long enough for brambles to eat them) you might have to also prune some of the rose branches off, in order to get at all the brambles. Fear not, they will grow back!

    Once you have freed the roses, and have got down to ankle-height stumps of brambles, then you can dig out the bramble roots: you might find yourself on your hands and knees under the roses, and again, you might need to do some sacrificial pruning of the roses in order to get to the bramble roots.

    Good luck!

    Rachel

    ReplyDelete
  29. Glyphosate is known to cause cancer. It is banned in many countries due to this.
    Monsanto are as criminal as it gets and thier produce is equally as bad.
    Please don't advocate glyphosate before doing some basic research on it, it should be gone.

    ReplyDelete
  30. John, the air we breathe causes cancer, and glyphosate is far and away the "least worst" of the chemicals available to the gardener. Please be assured that I have no love for Monsanto.

    I have done rather more than "some basic research" on glyphosate, and as a professional gardener I am prepared to use it myself, and to suggest its use for this one particular pernicious situation, but always (as I am sure you have noted during your careful reading of the above post, Keith's comments, and the various other posts and comments on the topic of brambles) with what you might call the usual provisos:

    1) Try to get them out manually if you possibly can.
    2) Spritz (not spray indiscriminately) with a hand-held squirty gun just the tiny new regrowth, so you are using the least amount of the stuff, and have targeted it to the most susceptible growth.
    3) Do it on non-windy days to avoid overspray
    4) Use the minimum.
    5) Read the instructions carefully - don't make it double strength.
    6) ditto - don't waste time using it on cold days.

    It is always worth repeating these points, and I will continue to stress the importance of digging the darned things out as a first response.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Hi, how would you go about removing brambles from under a cabin deck that is too low to walk under?

    ReplyDelete
  32. Hi Lisa,

    This problem is becoming more frequent: and I'm afraid to say that there is no answer at all, other then the much-hated but last-resort weedkiller.

    If you can't get to the brambles to dig them out, then weedkiller is the only treatment.

    Presumably there are gaps in the deck, or round the edges of the deck: wherever the brambles peek through: get yourself a squirty bottle or spray-gun bottle of glyphosate-based weedkiller, and carefully "spritz" just the leaves.

    Don't buy anything which promises 24hr death to weeds, look for something whose only ingredient is glyphosate. By doing so, you are using the least harmful weedkiller.

    "Spritz" rather than "spray" - use the mimimum, operate it from just a couple of inches away so that all the spray goes on the leaf, and none is wasted: this saves you money as well as reducing the impact of weedkiller on the environment.

    If you are using ready-mixed glyphosate, check the instructions on the bottle, and check the temperature: many weedkillers don't work well below a certain temperature, and you might have to wait until next spring to apply it - there is no point applying it in winter, when it is too cold for it to work, you are just wasting money.

    If you buy concentrate, don't be tempted to make it double strength, it simply won't work: it's a translocated weedkiller which means it has to travel all the way through the plant, right down to the roots, to kill it. If you mix it up so it is too strong, the plant tissues will die too soon, and the active chemical won't get all the way to the roots, so the weeds will grow back. Follow The Instructions! Dilute it exactly as per the pack, and again, take note of the temperature range and if it is too cold, wait until the weather warms up.

    Hope this helps!

    Rachel

    ReplyDelete
  33. Hi,
    This is really interesting thanks for all the great advice. I have a 2 acre paddock (square) and down one edge I have brambles over 2m high and probably 2-3m deep. They back onto a row of houses back gardens (neighbours) but there is a small stream between the paddock and the neighbours, so the is a small air gap. I assume that the neighbours 'manage' any encroachment of the brambles into their gardens as they need to.

    I keep thinking I should do something and remove them, but I also wonder what harm they are doing, and they must be a haven for wildlife, so should I remove them do you think? What damage can they really do?
    Many thanks
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  34. Hi Chris,

    Well, if you have two acres, and they are only across one boundary, and the neighbours are not complaining, then I would leave them: as you say, they are a haven for wildlife, especially with a small stream along their base.

    But if I were you, I would make a decision to restrict them: I would knock in a low post at each end of the boundary, such that an invisible line between the two posts marks how much they currently extend into your garden/land. Then, each summer, I would squint along that invisible line and remove anything that was encroaching over that invisible line.

    Otherwise, in ten years' time, you might find that you only have one acre of usable land left...

    And it goes without saying that you should keep an eye on the rest of the area to remove tiny seed-set bramble seedlings as soon as you see them. They are easy to recognise, as anything more than about an inch high already has thorns!

    ReplyDelete
  35. Thanks for this, I think that sounds like good advice. I have some trees nearby too so as long as I keep the brambles back a few metres from the trees so so nothing gets tangled, that should work. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  36. Hi Rachel, I have just spent the best part of a week cutting down a bramble jungle and have shredded all the stems. What I wanted to know was can I use the shredded material as a mulch or will it cause it to sprout again from the mulch.

    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  37. Hi Chris,

    You "can" use it as a mulch, in the sense that no, it won't sprout again from the cut bits: but pesonally I wouldn't, as the shreddings will still feature thorns and sharp edges, and will be unpleasant to handle for ever more. (well, for several years.)

    I suppose if you use it as a mulch on an area that doesn't get worked on, such as under trees, or a mature shrubbery, then it would be fine.

    As an alternative, if you have a spare corner out of the way, somewhere, you could try stacking it in a rough heap and allowing it to compost down for a year or two - once it reaches the point where you can handle it bare-handed without going "owww!" then it would be fine to use as a mulch around the garden.

    Hope this helps!

    Rachel

    ReplyDelete
  38. Thanks for your reply,very much appreciated.

    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  39. I'm impressed with your handling of the glyphosate issue, always a tricky one to deal with. I take an identical view to you, as a one time gardening professional and environmentalist. Always a necessary last resort, and the least bad of the worst solutions.

    ReplyDelete
  40. How should I dispose of 120 feet long 15 feet wide of bramble? Should I cut it and wait until it crumbles(from weedkiller) and put dirt over it (to grow grass)? Any ideas?

    ReplyDelete
  41. Hi Kary,

    If I were you I'd read the post again!

    Weedkiller will only kill the canes: they won't "crumble", and dead bramble stalks just fossilise and get even harder and spikier. And if you put dirt over the area, you will make the problem worse, as the ground all around is going to be full of seeds (all those pips!) and a new generation of plants will take advantage of the fresh air and the fresh soil and will grow like crazy.

    Cut/chop it down and burn it, then go over the ground once you can see what you are doing, and cut each clump off a couple of inches below ground level. You don't have to dig the whole thing out in each case, just enough to get to the growing point, as explained and illustrated above.

    Then be vigilant for the rest of the season: dig out any regrowth, dig out all new seedlings.

    Once you are sure you have them all, you can think about grassing it over, but you will have to keep checking for new seedlings for a couple of years to come.

    Hope this helps!

    ReplyDelete
  42. Hi Rachel,

    I have finally got my blackberry plant settled to the point it is growing well and in the next year I, hoping it will bear fruit. However a recent lecture from my father in law has now got me thinking I may have pre emoted my joy. He has given me the speech about the roots damaging the foundations and I wonder if you can shed anymore light on this please as I have planted it against the wall to provide it with support. I would greatly appreciate your help.

    Thank you,

    Justin

    ReplyDelete
  43. Hi Justin,

    As far as I know, bramble roots do not damage foundations. I think he might be confusing brambles with Tree roots, which can find their way under house foundations, and can then either physically damage the foundations, or can suck all the water out from underneath the house, causing subsidence.

    It is true that there are some dreadful perennials such as Japanese Knotweed which are famous for working their way up through the floor, but if you read the news stories carefully, they usually involve non-standard build houses.

    So, unless you live in a wooden house built on breezeblocks stood on compressed clay, you should be ok with your brambles. It's good that your father-in-law is concerned about these things, but it might be worth the pair of you sitting together at the pc and googling "do brambles damage foundations" which should put his mind at rest.

    Hope this sets your mind at rest!

    ReplyDelete
  44. Dear Rachel,

    Our garden is steeply terraced (we live on the edge of the Black Mountains in France) and would greatly appreciate some advice regarding bramble control on steep slopes. Soil erosion is our main concern, as simply digging out the brambles may cause landslides. We are currently battling to cut the bramble forest back, but it is a never-ending task, and we would of course like to landscape our garden, rather than continue to gaze upon a thick, thorny jungle! Even cutting the thick stems is a challenge, given that they are on steep slopes.

    Many thanks in advance,

    Nicola

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Nicola,

      Ugh, brambles on slopes are really difficult to deal with: you just have to pick a place to start, and work your way upwards or sideways, cutting the stems into short sections and throwing them down to the bottom as you go. If you start at the top, the stuff you throw down will catch on the lower material and make it even worse.

      As described above, you don't have to dig out the entire root, you just have to get an inch or two below the surface in order to get those growing points. This will prevent that particular root from regrowing without disturbing the slope. I do the same with wild pear root suckers: they are holding the bank together, so I just repeatedly cut them off, rather than damaging the bank by hauling them out by the yard.

      So I'm afraid there is no easy answer: you have to chop down all the top growth first, then go over the bank one clump at a time, loosening the soil around the base of each clump with a small hand tool and cutting off the root an inch or so below soil level.

      If there is nothing but bramble on the slope, you might find it possible to hire a brush-cutter (like a strimmer but with a spinning disc instead of nylon line) which can cut the bramble stalks from a distance instead of you having to do it by hand: but it will depend on how steep the slope is.

      Hope this helps!

      Delete
  45. Hi Rachel.
    Will rock salt poured around the bramble base kill it - our problem is there is a 1 foot gap between our fence and that of next door so can't get anywhere near to dig out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Somebody told me dirty engine oil will kill it but that might cause more problems with the neighbour to whom these weeds belong

      Delete
    2. Hi Andy,

      I would not recommend using either rock salt or dirty engine oil, ugh: they will cause more problems than they solve, and won't kill the brambles for long.

      If you can't dig them out, then I'm afraid the only answer is to cut them off close to your fence, wait for regrowth and spritz them with glyphosate-based weedkiller, using it carefully, using the minimum amount, etc etc, as per the various other posts and answers above.

      I'm sorry there isn't a magic answer, it just has to be constant vigilance, I'm afraid!

      If you haven't already done so, read this article:

      http://rachel-the-gardener.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/invading-brambles-episode-vii.html

      and I hope it helps!

      Delete
  46. planning to get busy clearing a patch in my yard that has "taken over"..... thanks for the great tips!

    ReplyDelete
  47. Hi, we have a very large area of brambles to clear (approximately one acre!). Using a strimmer and a second helper to pull and roll them out the way, we are getting there. On one clearing we want to put a wooden platform with decking on which we'll put a yurt. Should I rotivate where the brambles were? If we're putting a wooden platform on top, will they grow back through it? Do they need sunlight to survive?

    Thank you for sharing your bramble wisdom!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting questions: in reverse order, yes they need sunlight to survive, but lack of it won't stop them growing - they'll just be pale and ghostly in colour until such time as they find their way into the light. I don't know if anyone has ever measured what length of bramble stem can grow in a dark environment, but from experience I would say at least 10-15'.

      So yes, they will grow through a wooden platform, they will find the gaps between the slats/planks.

      A strimmer and a second helper to roll them away is a good way to do it: to complete the team, maybe a third helper to attend the bonfire? *laughs*

      And as for rotivating: usually I would scream "no!" as they just chop up the roots into millions of small pieces, each of which will grow: but on the other hand, they will then be very easy to pull out of the ground. With such a large area to cover, it might be the only realistic way to do it, assuming you don't wish to take the glyphosate route: rotivate, then walk around the site every couple of days and pull up any new growth that you find.

      And don't forget to take photos all through the project!!

      Delete
  48. Please do a little bit of impartial research on glyphosate, you would never go near it if you had.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have.

      I suggest that you do a great deal of work, "impartial" or otherwise, in real gardens, use the alternatives, judge their effectiveness over 15 years, and then you decide when and where it is appropriate to use glyphosate.

      If you had ever read the actual reports that the current media frenzy is based on, you would know that most of the problems highlighted were caused by incorrect application, wrong strength of product being used, users ignoring the clearly worded instructions, and "good practice" being completely ignored.

      Ever done any research into sugar? If you had, you'd never eat the stuff.

      Delete
  49. Rachel,

    found your site while looking for away to clear away the acre or so of brambles at my parents' house.

    Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge, giving such careful and comprehensive replies. And big respect for the courteous manner with which you deal with people who don't agree. The site is a perfect example of the net working as it should do.

    best

    overambitious Irish gardener

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. D'aaw, Rory, *blushes*, thank you, you're very kind!

      And hey, good luck with those brambles - a whole acre of them, oh dear!

      Delete
  50. Rachel thanks for this very helpful post as I am planning a garden / field clearance on 6 acres with many huge bramble patches. It really is most useful and I appreciate the time and effort you put in on the post and the comments.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are most welcome, Meadowlass: do take photos of before, during, and after, won't you? In a couple of years you will be astonished to look back and see what a change you have made to the land.

      Delete
  51. Hi Rachel, many thanks for such añ informative article. Am I correct in assuming that the clearing and burning of the debris is purely for keeping the area tidy or is it possible that the cuttings may root and grow.Thank you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi there, what a good question! Yes, the clearing and burning of debris is to get rid of the stuff: it won't rot down for compost, it's as spiky as a spiky thing, and because of the spikes, it forms a matrix that is very bulky, making it hard work (and expensive) to get rid of it. Burning reduces a massive bulk to just a bucketful of ash, which can then be spread thinly on the land, thus returning what few nutrients are left.

      I can assure you that cuttings/debris will not root and grow: but having said that, the tips of living brambles will root where they touch the ground, so if you have pulled out a lot of lightly-rooted tips (easy to spot, they have a cluster of fat white roots) and you were to leave these on the soil, then yes, there is a chance that some of them might survive. Hence the suggestion to burn! burn! burn! But no, they don't grow back from cuttings, just from underground buds, when they have not been dug out.

      Hope this helps!

      Delete
    2. Thanks Rachel, as ever a prompt and useful reply.

      Delete
  52. Hello, The Rachel

    I'm trying to recover my lawn, which, due to busy-ness, and a not-great back, not to mention hayfever, often gets left to grow very long.

    The brambly problem is that there's a small growth of same growing out of the lawn. It's on the edge of an area that was nice small bushes but that I've since cleared. I dug up the area, pulling out lots of bramble shoots under the ground, then adding grass seeds, and letting it grow, but clearly I've missed a bit.

    So, what's the best tactic to get rid of this darn thing?

    TIA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. J, you can either just keep mowing the area - if you behead them often enough, they will run out of steam - or you can grit your teeth, knot your back, hold your nose, and try to dig out the few remaining scraps manually.

      The good news is that, as you dug the area and pulled up the main shoots, what you have left can only be small pieces, or new growth from some of the seeds which will inevitably have been left in the ground - so they should be really easy to get out.

      Or, you can just keep mowing!

      YW

      Delete
    2. Now that's an impressively quick reply. TVM!

      I think they're a bit chunky to be mown over though. Should I cut them back first then mow like c-c-c-c-c-c-crazy?

      A tactic I've used with dandelions is to cut back to the white root, then pour salt on it. I doubt salt would work in this case, but would a spray of glysophate?

      Thanks again.

      Jeff

      Delete
    3. Yes, Jeff - cut back all the growth you can see, then when the new leaves pop up, all tender and juicy, spritz them carefully with a squirt of glyphosate-based weedkiller, being careful not to spray or drip it on the grass.

      Glyphosate, despite being a despised artificial weedkiller, is "better" than using salt, as salt will kill all the microbes in the soil wherever it goes, and the action of rain/dew etc will wash it a fair way out and down into the soil. Remember that bit in the bible where they salt the land of their enemies? It's not just a phrase, they used to literally scatter salt on the land, so their enemies could not grow crops.

      Glyphosate, on the other hand, is deactivated on contact with soil, so any excess chemical will break down relatively harmlessly.

      This is why I suggest digging them out as the optimal course of action, but if they can't be dug out for whatever reason, then a careful spritz of glyphosate, using the mimimum amount possible, being careful not to overspray etc, is the only sensible course.

      So in answer to your questions: yes, cut them back first. Yes, then mow like c-c-c-c-c-crazy, and if that fails, let them grow a couple of tender young leaves, then spritz with glyphsate.

      You're welcome!

      Delete
    4. Let me know how it goes - sorry, I don't allow links in the comments, but I'd be happy to hear how it goes!

      Delete

Please note that I do not allow any comments containing links: any such comments will be removed immediately!