Tough woody weeds such as brambles (Rubus fruticosus) can be difficult to manage once they become established within your garden. Quick and decisive action can prevent brambles from becoming a problem and using the right methods of control and management will make it easier to deal with thickets of robust weeds.

What are Brambles and Woody Weeds?

Brambles, which are another name for the blackberry shrub are a common problem, particularly in neglected areas of the garden and underneath hedges. Ivy is another common woody weed that grows not only over the ground and through plants but can also grow up and along buildings and fences (think climbing ivy).

Other woody weeds that can become the cause of several problems in gardens include suckers and seedlings from trees and shrubs which fall to the ground and multiply.

Typical Appearance

Brambles have characteristically long, thorny, arching shoots, which can grow up to 1.8-2.5m in length. Like other garden weeds, they root easily where the tips touch the soil.

Brambles can become a problem where seedlings are allowed to take root in the ground, or where stems of established plants have rooted at intervals along an area of soil.

Why Are They a Problem?

Once left to grow, they can quickly colonise any garden and damage other species of plants that you have planted or are growing naturally. They are generally considered unsightly and can make gardening more difficult if you’re forced to work around them.

They germinate year-round so its recommended that you hand pull any young seedlings you notice as soon as they become visible. This prevents them from taking root and will save you a lot of hard work later.

Laying a thick mulch containing chipped bark or compost will also make it easier to pull or dig any recently germinated seedlings as they appear during the spring.

Fully Grown Bramble Shrub
Raspberries and Blackberries On a Fully Grown Bramble

Bramble Management

There are two ways to manage bramble growth depending on the tools you have available and your approach to chemical based weed killers.

Non-Weed Killer Control

In light soils which are easily workable, cut back the scrambling stems with secateurs to around 30cm from ground level. This will prevent them from touching the soil and taking root.

Powerful petrol strimmers and brush cutters for brambles will effectively deal with large areas of woody weeds which would be difficult to otherwise clear. Other power tools such as petrol hedge trimmers can also be used to trim brambles if you don’t have any other tools to hand. to Once cut down, these brambles should be disposed of to prevent any seeds, saplings or suckers from being left behind.

For smaller outbreaks, dig out the bramble stump making sure to remove the roots at the same time. As with any weed, it is important to remove as much of the below-ground plant material as possible as brambles can regenerate from below soil level. Any visible seedlings should be weeded out by hand and disposed of carefully.

Stems and roots that have been shaken free of soil can be finely shredded and used as a mulch throughout your garden. Alternatively, they can be taken to a local council green waste facility or burnt in bonfires or in a garden incinerator.

Be mindful that burning garden waste causes localised air pollution so be sure to only burn during good weather and during appropriate times of the day. If in doubt, consult the government’s guidelines on bonfires in smoke control areas.  

Weed Killer Control

Cut back all long, trailing stems to within 20-30cm of soil level using the steps detailed above. Immediately apply a suitable weed killer such as triclopyr or glyphosate to the freshly cut ends of the stems, thoroughly wetting them to ground level.  

Suitable weed killers include:

  • SBK Brushwood Killer (triclopyr)
  • Roundup Ultra (glyphosate)
  • Roundup Tree Stump & Rootkiller (glyphosate)
  • SBM Job Done Tough Weedkiller (glyphosate)
  • Doff Maxi Strength Glyphosate Weedkiller (glyphosate)

Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for further information and advice.

Important Note

SBK Brushwood Killer contains a selective or “growth-regulating” weed killer (triclopyr) which breaks down in the soil within around six weeks. It effectively controls most broad-leaved weeds and young woody saplings. It is effective when applied to the foliage of woody plants such as brambles and other shrubs from spring until autumn.

It is designed not to kill grass, though some damage to lawns and fine turf may occur. Again, carefully read the instructions and follow them carefully, being sure to limit where this type of product is used in your garden. If you do damage your lawn, sowing new grass seeds will repair these areas.

Bramble Stalk
Your Average Bramble Stalk

Final Verdict

Bramble management isn’t fun but the quicker you get on top of the problem and remain proactive in your approach to controlling growth, the easier successfully tending to your garden will be.