Saturday, 18 April 2020

Brambles: is there a natural or organic way to remove them without using Round up or other chemicals?

I had a plaintive plea by email today from Roger: he's been reading my various blog articles on bramble removal (too many to list: if you look at the top left of your screen, there is a search box: just type "brambles" into that box, it will pull you up a list of every article on the subject) and asks if there is a "natural" way, ie non chemical, to remove brambles, especially in hard-to-reach areas where it just isn't practical to dig them up.

Well, Roger, the bad news is, No.

There is no guaranteed effective way to do it, without using chemicals.

Roger's garden suffers from a frequent problem: he says "mostly they are at the edges sprouting up from cracks in the walls on either side"  and this is possibly the most annoying place to find brambles,  second only to "coming up through the gaps in the decking".

As you'll know from reading any of my many articles on bramble removing, the only "good" way to get rid of them is to dig them out, but when that simply isn't possible, then yes, we have to resort to chemicals.

As soon as I say this, I know I will get a tirade from a very single-minded person who seems to trawl the entire internet for mentions of the dreaded word "glyphosate" and who then delights in spouting off at the writer, telling them how stupid and demonic they are for even suggesting it.

But hey, this is the real world! There are situations where nothing but glyphosate will do it, and poor Roger has one of these situations.

Before we get onto that, are there any other ways, non-chemical? Well, yes, a few. They aren't very good, though, so let's look at them.

1) you can use salt as a weedkiller: very bad idea.  Read the article to see why.

2) you could try vinegar: also known as acetic acid, so it's a chemical, right, a chemical!! Not natural! Well, it's made from a wine processing by-product, so I suppose that it could be considered to be "natural" but it's still nasty stuff: "The acid in vinegar can etch natural stone,", and if you don't believe me, look it up for yourself.  And even a superficial search of the internet will confirm that it's not very effective, "you need to use an awful lot of it to have any effect" is the phrase which is cut and pasted most often.

3) then there's boiling water: "mostly ineffective" seems to sum that one up.

4)  you could use a flame gun: these are long wands with a small blowtorch at the end, powered by either a replaceable gas canister, or a refillable paraffin tank. They are promoted as being an organic alternative to chemicals, for paths and drives. Organic! *rolls eyes* A complicated, expensive, factory-made, transported god knows how many miles, metal-and-plastic device, using either single-use non-recyclable pressurised cans of gas, or using paraffin (also known as Kerosene) which is a highly toxic fossil fuel derivative which is also used as rocket fuel (look it up yourself, it's evil stuff). Not what I call "organic".

Also, flame guns are notoriously ineffective: they scorch off the top growth, but they don't kill the roots at all, and most weeds/unwanted plants just grow back. Furthermore, their eco-footprint is terrible! And (more to the point) they cost a lot of  money in fuel, as those gas cylinders don't last very long. Not to mention the danger of setting fire to the garden, or to yourself.

So where does that leave us? Oh yes, if you have brambles growing in a position where you simply can't get to them, in order to dig them out, then by all means try the above organic non-chemical (sort of) means.

But for an effective solution, the only real alternative is the dreaded weedkiller.

There are two main candidates: triclopyr is very strong, it is the main constituent in SBK and SBK stumpkiller: it doesn't kill everything it touches but it does leave the soil contaminated for months. Not a problem if you are talking about under-deck or in-wall brambles, but bear it in mind.

Glyphosate kills almost all other plants, but you can replant on the area shortly after applying it: it does not linger in the soil.

So, in a nutshell, the simple easy answer is to get a squirty bottle of a glyphosate-based weedkiller: the brand name used to be "Round-up", but now you can buy generic own-brands. Just check the label to see what the active constituents are.

When you've bought this invention of the devil, here's how to use it.

1) Wait for a still, ie non-windy day. Why? Because otherwise you risk the spray "drifting" on the wind, and landing on non-brambles. Which will kill them. It's not selective, it will kill anything it lands on.

2) Check the temperature and check the pack: many chemicals are ineffective below certain temperatures, so don't waste it. If it's too cold, wait a few days. From memory, the lowest temperature is about 53 or 55 degrees F, which is about 11 degrees C. At 10 degrees C, you can see you breath if you huff out. So if it's cold enough to see your breath, it's far too cold to spray weeds.

3) Don't fiddle with the dilution. They sell it ready-mixed for a reason: people were making it double-strength because "it will work better", or half-strength so "it will last longer". Not so! Glyphosate is a translocated weedkiller, that means that  you spray the leaves, and it is drawn into the plant, and moved right the way down to the roots, whereupon it kills the plant, the whole thing, roots and all, never to regrow. With too strong a mixture, the plant cells die while it's on the way down, as it were, so it never reaches the roots. A bit like us choking to death on a huge lump of food. OK, not a very good analogy, actually, but hopefully you will see what I mean. With too weak a mixture, it simply doesn't work, just kills off the top-most few leaves.

4) Don't splash it around indiscriminately: use a hand-held spray bottle, get close to the brambles, and lightly spritz the leaves. Don't drench it, you don't want it dripping off the leaves, just make sure they are well wetted. This means you are using the minimum amount, not wasting any, and not risking it dripping all over the place.

5) Talking of splashing, don't use it when it's raining - the rain will wash it off, thus wasting it all - and don't use it if rain is forecast in the following few hours, for the same reason.

Well, Roger, there you go, hope that's helpful!

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  1. Hi Rachel, thankyou for the article. I've begun the mammoth task of digging up the garden and digging out the weeds and brambles but those growing up through the garden walls leave me no choice. I'll buy some Round Up or similar. It appears to be the only way to be absolutely sure. Thanks again and hope you stay safe!

    1. Happy to help - I'm just sorry it wasn't better news!


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