Need Lots of Tips/Ideas on Field Clearing and Replacement

HandelMarch 3, 2012

Sooo, I am in the NW (Woodinville, WA) and have an approximately 1 acre back lot that is completely unusable, overgrown with weeds, saplings, and blackberry bushes. The blackberries have taken over about 85% of the field.

I know very little about gardening, landscaping etc, but I had an idea to have the field completely cleared and replaced with zero to very low maintenance natural grasses that would not need to be mowed and would act as a weed barrier/deterrent.

I had one landscaping service come and take a look, and they gave me a quote of something like $18,000.00 to completely Bobcat the field, removing all blackberry crowns/roots, hauling away the plants, light grading, and planting native grasses.

My first question is, is $18K too high? I'm in the process of getting other bids, but that really seems extremely high to me... I just need a field clearing and hydroseeding, basically...

My second question is, does anybody have any other recommendations or ideas on what to do with my field? Ideas on what to plant, design ideas, etc? I want something that will look nice and natural, that the dogs could go play in, and that will require very little maintenance. I don't want to mow it - ever - if I can get away with it. I already have a large fenced backyard with a lawn that is mowed regularly.

Please note that it's important to me that the blackberries are completely removed, which means the crowns will have to be dug up... so goats, bush hogs, etc, won't do the trick.

Just kind of lost and looking for any ideas or comments. Thanks in advance!

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I live in a different part of the country, but I have an 11 acre field that is a mix of grasses and a few wildflowers. We mow it once a year and it costs $450. Other than that it requires very little maintenance.

I have to say, in reclaiming the property I live on, there is very little vegetation that regular mowing won't kill. If you put in the work to brush mow once a week for a season, its possible the blackberries will die. If they don't an application of round up will probably eliminate them.

Without seeing the acre its hard to comment on the price, but considering the amount of work it would take you to accomplish the same thing, it does seem extreme. If it were my property I would be willing to put in a great deal of sweat equity before i shelled out 18,000. Do you have a chainsaw?

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 2:52PM
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I don't know if $18k is too much but those blackberries are tough. It may be cheaper to cut it down yourself and get rid of the vast bulk of material and then have someone come out to grade and reseed. If the adjacent property still have blackberries, you'll have to be diligent to not let them get a toehold once you've eradicated them.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 4:02PM
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Are you opposed to herbicide as that's the easy (cheap) way out. Not saying it's the only component, but it could be a major part of the answer. $200 in chemicals plus some equipment could go a long way toward taming a wild field. Another consideration is how much time you can wait. If you can work on this over the course of two or three years, it can be cheaper than if you need it done in one fell swoop. Annual mowing, as mentioned, is one reasonable solution. I don't know if lespedeza grows there, but it's a "meadow" type plant that can be seeded and is used for large scale groundcover. I'm sure there are various grasses, too. You might look at what others in the neighborhood are doing and inquire as to specifics when you see something you like.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 4:04PM
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Thanks for your input, I appreciate it. A grass and wildflower mix that needed mowing once a year would be just about ideal.

Regarding the $18K quote: I don't believe there's anything uncommon about our acre of land that would make the job more difficult than normal, leading to higher costs. It's slightly sloped and the ground is uneven, though it's pretty open with only a few widely-spaced trees... I imagine a Bobcat could go through it without too much trouble at all.

I definitely do not want to fork over $18K if I don't have to. I was hopeful that around $5K could get the job done, which I'd happily fork. The thing is, I'm looking for a quick fix - I just want it all removed and replaced with something that is not an eyesore ASAP - so I think me going out there with a chainsaw or mower over a period of months or even years is not the route I'd want to go.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 4:14PM
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I thought about this a bit more after i answered. When we first moved here, we hired a guy with a backhoe who came in and stumped out about 5 acres of field, removed all the rocks and built a rough stone wall with them, and smoothed the rest all for 1200. If you added in a guy with a chainsaw and insurance, maybe another thousand (we did that part ourselves). That was 5 acres.

Or you could really have some fun and rent the bobcat yourself for a couple of days for about $600.

I guess i am saying that for an acre - 18,000 is probably too much.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 4:35PM
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I think the 18K is an "I don't want this fujob" quote.

Being realistic there is no quick fix and it is unlikely that you will get rid of the blackberries in one shot. I doubt that even illegal herbicides will help much and would be harmful in the long term.

Drtygrl has some real life experience as I do and you are in this for the long haul. Can you came at it from a different perspective?

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 4:50PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

If you did a bit more research and consulted with your county extension agent, you'd come to find that in your region there is no one shot scheme that will keep you free of invasive blackberries, they will tend to reinfest from the neighborhood even if you manage to completely eliminate them with your initial work to clear them. In addition, other weeds such as bindweed and several others are persistant in much of Washington state west of the Cascades. So the idea of a no-mow meadow with wildflowers just isn't pragmatic, you will have to weed whack or mow several times a year to keep the area passable. I'd also suggest that grubbing out blackberry roots with a bobcat isn't worth doing, as they'll be right back within a year or two from bird spread seed. Talk with neighbors,
landscapers, even the firm that gave you the initial
quote, and I bet my reservations will be confirmed.

Best approach will be to use herbicides multiple times as necessary to kill off the existing, and periodically mow/weedwhack as necessary and ongoing vigilance to spot treat new blackberry infestations as the reoccur.

If you weren't surrounded by areas with blackberries and bindweed capable of reinfesting your property you might have a chance of establishing a meadow

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 2:51AM
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Yup...we have another all too common questioner on this Forum. Grab the whip and chair and try to beat Mother Nature into conformity expecting complete submission without any responsibility for the land. And then I see responses such as using herbicides with little thought to the environment. In this situation a person with a spray license using heavy duty spray combinations might in time gain control over the unwanted brush situation. Gag!

To accomplish this project three steps are necessary:

1. The "lay" of the land must be studied carefully. With luck this one acre plot is fairly level and with a bit of filling of holes/smoothing will not need plowing and the native grasses already there will be exposed to grow establishing a drought free lawn suited to that particular environment. When clearing large tracts this is the utopian situation to work toward when possible.

2. It is impossible to physically remove the blackberry roots. A firm must be hired to brush hog the land, cutting everything back and doing the necessary work to the land so that it can be maintained with a....

3. ....wide deck riding mower as necessary during the growing season, forever. Our questioner appears to have no interest in doing this. Some good thoughts expressed above. Working with Mother Nature means getting your hands dirty. If our OP does not want this responsibility there are tasty recipes for blackberry brandy and shortcake and ice cream......

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 8:44AM
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I was not aware of the invasive himalayan blackberry problem in the northwest - but I did a little reading on it the morning. Blackberries in the Northeast are not that problematic, but the himalayan blackberry weed sounds pretty noxious. Similar to the japanese knotweed problem in the northeast, it sounds like mowing actually encourages spreading.

I linked the cooperative extension pdf.

Here is a link that might be useful: Invasive blackberry

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 10:35AM
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The old hippie in me likes nandina's green approach best...

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 11:45AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Would it be at all realistic to go the other way? Instead of establishing and maintaining a cleared field, establish more of a woods? It means living with an awkward teenage phase for a while, but the end result is something reasonably maintenance free.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 12:02PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I feel for you, as I have had to do battle with the Himalayan blackberry in a small 15x 15 foot square plot in a neighbor's backyard before it could be tamed for using as a plant nursery. Cutting back and grubbing up root crowns can be done, but is very labor intensive, and spot treatment with herbicide of missed roots and new seedlings requires continued vigilance.

This is also a case where regional context and knowledge of how our Mediterranean Climate with its prolonged summer dry season favors introduced European annual grasses over the original native evergreen bunch grasses which pre-introduced cattle and sheep grazing, were the predominant native grass. So a no-mow meadow without irrigation or maintenance isn't realistic either, apart from the brush/blackberry issues.

So, spending $18,000 to grub and replant may be a waste of money without continued ongoing maintenance. You'll want to get more specific advice from your local extension agent and possibly from local neighbors dealing successfully with the same issues and local landscape firms to come up with a long term scheme that best addresses your situation in line with the degree of maintenance you're willing/capable of providing. There is no one shot method that will last, so you'll need to rethink your preferred solution or ne more willing to do the ongoing work. The idea of letting it revert to woods would have its own list of potential invasive weeds; you might be trading English Ivy for Himalayan Blackberries.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 12:52PM
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"Planting native grasses" - were any details given to the size of plant material, spacing, quantities, etc.? I would think that planting anything beyond just seeding would easily take up the majority of the 18k budget in no time.

My instincts would also be to go with the suggestion to allow it to revert back into a woodlot. Definitely has its own set of challenges, yes, but it may be easier working with the natural successional stages rather than against them.

- Audric

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 6:20PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

From what I've read, those blackberries and a low-maintanence field just aint gonna happen.
An open field is very rarely a mature ecosystem and plants who's role is to help convert them to forest (ie, blackberry) will just keep coming.
My permaculture perspective says bring in the goats/pigs, they love blackberry, but that's probably not your thing!
Converting/reverting to forest sounds great; there's bound to be many low-maintanence nut and fruit trees for WA.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 8:58PM
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Yes, get to your Extension Agent, just about every county has one, they have lots of information-this is the best use of taxpayer dollars I can think of. Some states do have to cutback on services and so you might have to pay for soil tests, and visits to your property when they used to be free.

Also find your local branch of Department of Conservation, they are similar to the Extension Agencies each state has, but they are geared for the homeowner who wants to maintain their property (of any size) so that wildlife, forests, and other natural resources are maintained, or enhanced.

They have classes you can take if you want to do a controlled burn of your property. They sell seeds, plant and tree seedlings for habitat restoration, and have people that can come out and consult with you as to what is yor best approach. They also have programs for kids and others, nature hikes, and seminars. Also taxpayer funded, they are your friends in the battle for your property.

The invasive Himalayan blackberry is supposedly NOT flavorful, dry hard with no juice, and spreads faster than a native wild blackberry or raspberry. I don't know about the evergreen type.

If you are trying or want to grow hybrid cane berries, then you need to rid your property of the native and the non-native berries, there is too much cross pollination and you will lose your hybrid and the pests that jump from the wild ones will strike down your berries faster than the tougher hybrid ones.

Any time you cut brush or prune growth it will reinvigorate the plant, and send out deeper roots. You can keep clearcutting your field, and over time it will weaken but you have to keep after it; you are depleting the plants resources. You use various weed killers to keep the recently cut brush down, so that eradication happens sooner.

A controlled burn (both early spring and fall) will knock down some of the shrubs and trees that invade fields, those are done with your local fire department and your Dept of Conservation Agent together with you. The local fire dept though has the last say on if you can do a burn.

Here is a link that might be useful: Himalayan and evergreen blackberries

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 11:58PM
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Insofar as part B (about the design aspect) of your question goes, I'd suggest posting a picture(s) here that shows the area, especially how it relates to the points of view that are most important to you.

Touching on part A again, I did read that goats can control the weed. If the area was bush hogged once and then goats were put it, it seems that would be reasonable possibility if the area is fenced.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 8:40AM
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If you truly want a low maintenance field clear of blackberries, then your best bet is a couple of goats in a fenced in area. There would likely be some animal maintenance included and I'm not sure the field would be any more usable though. You wouldn't even need to brush hog the space before you put the goats in. Then if you wanted to reforest the space, you could plant trees (with protection from the goats) and wait.

People who don't have to deal with Himalayan blackberries should thank your lucky stars. Not only are they invasive and hard to get rid of but the thorns are wicked.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 10:00AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'd also suggest looking into firms that rent out goats for clearing this area. You'd have to fence off trees or plants you want to keep, but such outfits here in northern California IA provide their own movable fencing which they move around as the goats clear an area. Getting it cleared initially isn't a first al solution but will give you a passable walking area which can then be treated on future by whatever methods make the most sense.

Regarding proposed plantings of meadow grasses, for such a large area I can't imagine that it would have been anything other than seeding or hydroseeding. In either case, without ongoing maintenance to control reinfestation by the blackberries, it isn't a low maintenance solution.

Also, Himalayan blackberries are in fact quite delicious if your area gets enough heat to fully ripen them. With too cool temps they are still juicy but with little flavor. Keeping them mowed to the ground on a monthly basis can be a good short term control and if kept up consistently year round, will eventually starve them of reserved energy stored in the roots. Seeds are still viable for many years later, so you'll have to keep on top of them.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 1:11PM
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We used to have goats along with cows, horses, ponies and chickens. I loved it but there was definitely maintenance involved.
Voracious but somewhat selective eaters, coyote resistant but not coyote proof, really, really hard to contain...

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 4:46PM
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For me to clear that with a brush cutter (take your pick) and a decent blade (like the airecut), it would take approx 3 hours and after you have it under control the re-growth can be controlled by tethering goats, if you use sheep they will be worried by town dogs. This would be the cheapest and most environmentally friendly.

Here is a link that might be useful: airecut

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 7:57PM
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Hi Handel,

I just saw this; perhaps you have already accomplished your project.

I live not far from you, and we had a similar problem. We had a thicket of blackberry bushes covering about 1/2 acre. The bushes were tall enough that there could have been an old vehicle or two or even a small building buried underneath the vines for all we knew. We cleaned it up in a season without spending a lot, and mow this area about 3 times a year (4 times would be better). Ten years later it is still fine in the countryside setting; our uphill neighbors who drove past after we completed the project would say "good job". This is a rocky slope (darned glacial till!) with scattered mature alder trees. This is what we did:

1. Hired someone local who advertised blackberry brush clearing. He said he would turn the blackberry bushes into "chopped salad". He used a mower behind a tractor and worked slowly and patiently, chopping up a sliver, rather than a swath of brush, at a time because of the mass of vegetation. He obviously was experienced in doing this.

2. The tractor operator came back later, after the chopped vines were no longer viable, with a rototiller behind his tractor. He rototilled the slope twice, which turned under the chopped vines and helped smooth the bumpy ground into more gentle contours.

3. I hired a laborer to work by the hour, but paid more than minimum wage partly to encourage his interest in finishing the project. We raked up loose vegetation and wheelbarrowed it to a compost pile. Any visible remaining blackberry roots we ripped out with the aid of a hand cultivator.

4. We built wire bins along the fence line in which to dispose of rocks; they are mostly about golf-ball size to grapefruit size. (Our neighbors have gullies in which to toss rock, we don't.) We didn't want to leave rocks on a surface to be mowed.

5. We picked up some old downed branches from underneath the alder trees. We limbed up the trees quite high to give an open feeling to the "pasture" using a ladder and hand saw. We put the limbs through our chipper-shredder.

6. In the fall we hand seeded the area with an "ecology" grass mix.

what we do now:

Before mowing, we pick up rocks which have been recently turned up by moles and we check for downed alder limbs.

My husband has a riding lawnmower with a mulching blade. He sets it to its highest setting. Unfortunately, on two sides of us there are abandoned horse pastures which have been overtaken by blackberry bushes. Vines intrude across the fences to attack my husband as he rides by. We manage to get out about once or twice a year to prune these back and put them through the chipper-shredder.

We use a string trimmer around the trees, the rock cages and the fence line a couple of times a year.

I've tried to establish more trees in this area, but not many have not survived because I haven't adequately protected them from antler rub.

What I would do differently now:

I would look into hiring goats for the first pass on the blackberry bushes, then follow through with mowing and rototilling. This might be more expensive, but it would be fun and a nice experiment.


Here is a link that might be useful: Snohomish goat brush-clearing service

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 1:58AM
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@ IshCountryGal... LOVE your 'story' and love the goat idea and the link you provided. Goat rental... what a great idea!

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 8:32AM
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Thank you Yardvaark!

I want to make the point that our "pasture" or "meadow" is mowed a lot less frequently than our lawn. Perhaps 1 time for every 6. It's not a lot of work to maintain.

In our area we can shop around for goat brush eating services. For example, there's "The Goat Lady" in Duvall. Some goat herders will also hand clear the woody material material that the goats don't eat.

Here is a link that might be useful: What goats eat

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 3:03PM
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