Brambles and other woody weeds
Woody weeds such as brambles (Rubus fruticosus) can be difficult to eradicate once they have become established. Prompt action can prevent problems and using the right methods lightens the work of dealing with thickets of robust weeds.
Botanical name Rubus fruticosus
Areas affected Beds and borders
Main causes May establish from seed, but often arrives by the tips of stems rooting
Timing Seen all year round
What are brambles and woody weeds?
Brambles can be a problem, especially in neglected areas of the garden, or under hedges. Ivy is another common woody weed that grows not only over the ground and through plants, but also over buildings and fences.
Other woody weeds that can cause problems in gardens include suckers and seedlings from trees and shrubs.
Brambles and other woody weeds can be of value to wildlife, providing shelter and food. For example, the flowers of brambles are a food source for bees; the leaves are a food source for caterpillars and the fruits are eaten by mammals and birds.
Bees in your garden
Birds in your garden
Butterflies in your garden
However, brambles and other vigoruous woody plants are often unwelcome in gardens. This page looks at options for gardeners when brambles and other unwanted woody plants are becoming a problem.
Brambles have long, thorny, arching shoots, which can grow 1.8-2.5m (6-8ft) in length, and root easily where the tips touch the soil. Brambles can become a problem where seedlings are allowed to take root, or where stems of established plants have rooted at intervals.
Woody weeds such as brambles, ivy and tree seedlings and suckers can be difficult to eradicate once they have become established. Hand pulling and digging young seedlings as soon as they are seen will save a lot of hard work later. A thick mulch of chipped bark or compost will also make it much easier to pull out recently germinated seeds in the spring.
The RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner.
In light, workable soils, cut back the scrambling stems to around 30cm (1ft) from ground level. Strimmers will deal effectively with large areas of woody weeds.
Dig out the bramble stump, taking the roots away at the same time. It is important to remove as much of the below-ground parts as possible, as brambles have the ability to regenerate from well below soil level. Seedlings should be weeded out by hand.
Stems and roots shaken free of soil can be finely shredded and used as a mulch. Alternatively they can be taken to a local council green waste facility or burnt in bonfires. However, bonfires create pollution and may also annoy neighbours. They should be conducted when wind and weather mean that smoke will not enter houses or inhibit others from enjoying their garden. Here are some government guidelines on garden bonfires.
Cut back all long, trailing stems to within 20-30cm (8in-1ft) of soil level. Immediately afterwards, apply a suitable weedkiller such as triclopyr (SBK Brushwood Killer) or glyphosate (tough formulations such as Roundup Ultra, Roundup Stump Killer or Doff Weedout Extra Tough Weedkiller) to the freshly-cut ends of the stems, thoroughly wetting them to ground level, following the manufacturer's instructions.
SBK Brushwood Killer contains a selective and growth-regulating weedkiller (triclopyr) which breaks down in the soil within about six weeks. It controls most broad-leaved weeds and young woody saplings. It does not kill grass, though some damage to lawns and fine turf may occur. It is effective applied to the foliage of woody plants such as brambles from spring until autumn.
When using glyphosate take care to avoid leaves and other green parts of all garden plants as it is not selective in action. Used with care, glyphosate is safe to use around the base of non-suckering woody plants, as long as the bark is woody, brown and mature. Glyphosate is not active through the soil and there is therefore no risk garden plants will absorb it through their roots.
Inclusion of a weedkiller product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.
Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers available to gardeners; see sections 1a and 4)
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.