The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Renovating an overgrown blackberry patch

Blackberries leafing out

It's awfully easy to let even thornless blackberries turn into an impenetrable jungle.  Just forget to tip prune them one summer, then you're unable to mow the tall weeds that pop up under their arching canes.  By fall, the row looks like a wild briar patch.

The first step in renovating a patch like this (or any other kind of overgrown bramble) is to prune out the worst canes.  I snip off all of the rooted canes in the aisle and then cut the plants back to a main stem with branches six to twelve inches long.  Meanwhile, I pull or cut out dead canes from previous years.  I'm not really pruning yet, just opening up the patch so I can get in there.

Mulching blackberriesNext, I dig out any tall weeds that rooted within the row.  Ragweed isn't a perennial, but once plants like wingstem get a foothold in your bed, even a kill mulch will have a hard time holding them back.  I might accidentally dig up a berry or two in the process, but that's not a problem --- there are plenty of brambles left.

Now that I can see what I'm doing, it's pretty simple to prune the blackberries using techniques I've explained previously.  After a good pruning and weeding job, I lay down a kill mulch along side of the berries to prevent the bad weeds I might have missed from encroaching into the planted zone.  Then I top it all off with mulch and mark a remulching and summer pruning job on my June calendar to ensure the problem doesn't reoccur.

Luckily, brambles are awfully forgiving of even the worst care.  Even though this patch looked like a jungle last summer, it will probably produce pretty well for me this year (and even better next year if I manage to keep the weeds down).  Our blueberries are more daunted by weeds, and I can see a big difference between the plants I managed to remulch last summer and the ones that got away from me.  Maybe next spring, I'll be so on top of the perennials, everyone will be in good shape.

Our chicken waterer is always POOP-free.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Do you plant those rows in any certain direction? My first thorn-less blackberries ship the end of this month.
Comment by Heath Wed Mar 21 15:56:05 2012

Heath --- I tend to put them in whatever direction makes most sense from a path point of view. You don't want to try to cut through your berry patch....

If I was planning the perfect homestead, I'd align my rows with the contour so they grabbed any tiny bit of topsoil eroding down the slope. Alternatively, I might align them to run N-S if they were along a vegetable garden that I didn't want shaded. Ever-bearing red raspberry fruits are a bit prone to molding in our humid summers, so I might align those E-W to maximize sun.

But none of our berries seem to mind much what I do with them --- they are definitely dogs, not cats, of the plant world.

Comment by anna Wed Mar 21 17:44:20 2012

For some reason, I thought a N-S alignment meant maximum sun exposure? As in, the row is running N-S, so the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, making it hit all sides of your row plants? Maybe I'm just confused.

~ Mitsy

Comment by mountainstead [] Wed Mar 21 19:48:25 2012
Mitsy --- I could be wrong, but I thought I'd read (and it makes sense to me) that a east to west row would get more sun exposure than a north to south row. The sun is in the southern half of our sky, so if you've got an N-S row, a lot of the row is shaded by the southern plants for the middle of the day. That's also why you align a house E-W (ie, with the long side facing south) if you want the most solar gain. But I really could be wrong --- that's just my vague feeling.... Maybe someone else can chime in?
Comment by anna Wed Mar 21 20:18:30 2012

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