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Sacramento Valley Permaculture Guild Message Board › Why I love a criminal. "Himalayan" blackberry Pros and Cons.

Why I love a criminal. "Himalayan" blackberry Pros and Cons. (Himalayan is considered a noxious, invasive "criminal" in California...but I love them anyway!)

A former member
Post #: 46
I could have put this in my forest garden thread but I thought it was worthy of its own discussion. I wrote it ad hoc in an informal memo & I am not going to try too hard to edit anything.

Almost all "wild" blackberries in the Sacramento area are of the imported and HATED "Himalayan" variety.

The 5 sided stem on the larger canes and the 5 leaf clusters (once again, on the larger canes) identify our blackberries as "Himalayan". The alternative native "California" variety, which you might find around here usually only has 3 leaf clusters and a ROUND stem (and a green underside and more closely spaced thorns). (mnemonic: notice the 5 straight lines which make an "H" to remember this) versus the "C" in California, which is more round and could be built with 3 straight lines.)

But for our purposes, I think the Himalayan , is nearly ideal: (1) DROUGHT TOLERANT (2) GROWS EVEN IN BAD SOIL -- such as some of our hillsides -- although it prefers moist (and that is where we need to control it so it doesn't push out other things) (3) spreads like crazy -- especially in the spring. (4) Juicy, sweet berries which can be cultivated to produce many times more.


I vote we promote the Himalayan -- especially the thornless ones we now have, if they will produce berries okay -- all over our steep hillsides and other areas we don't need for other purposes. They will (1) produce a fire break (I don't know how fire resistant they really are, but they have to be much better than uber dry weeds 2+ feet high) (2) crowd out most noxious weeds which produce so much work (3) produce lots of food with minimal input and care (4) control soil erosion (5) spring back from hard times or trampling (6) discourage exterior intruders -- at least the thorned ones will)

I have not yet been successful in identifying another drought resistant "good" crop which can tolerate the bad soils and out-compete the awful weeds. (I'm researching lupines, but most appear to need lower temperatures, lots of water, and comparatively good soil). Maybe we can do some of them (texas bluebonnet is one variety which has promise). And maybe we can make some beans work. But these will take a lot more care and, especially, ongoing water.

But we should NOT allow the Himalayan blackberries to spread in areas such as our diverse gardens, as when the roots get big these things are, apparently, incredible difficult to stop (which explains why they keep coming back after getting bulldozed and mowed).

To KILL them is much more difficult after they grow long stems, because the root goes deep, stores lots of energy for later growth, spreads through seeds AFTER DIGESTION by birds, etc., and can apparently spread from cuttings left on the ground!!!!! To kill established plants either YEARS of repeated roundup herbicide or YEARS of cutting all the canes and "grubbing" (I presume that means digging up) the roots is necessary.

Anyway, I thought I would share this.

How to CULTIVATE Himalayans:

http://www.winterlake...­ (how to cultivate Himalayan Blackberries instead of killing them)

Cultivating Wild Blackberries

Blackberries are a popular fruit for the home gardener. Blackberries taste good and are highly nutritious. There are a great number of cultivated blackberry varieties that work well in the home garden. Many of them are thornless. Thornless blackberries are easier to pick since pickers don't get thorn scratches.

Even thornless blackberries develop shoots with thorns and so have to be pruned and cultivated intensely to provide good harvests. There are wild blackberries that can be cultivated and that will provide excellent harvests. A very common imported blackberry is the Himalayan blackberry. This blackberry is widely naturalized and is considered a virulent pest in many areas. The Himalayan was introduced to the United States to provide a blackberry that would produce well under adverse conditions. This it does quite well.

The Himalayan blackberry can be cultivated to produce spectacularly large harvests of sweet berries. There are four secrets to growing these blackberries successfully. The first secret is good soil. These blackberries will grow in almost any soil, but they perform best in a rich, loose soil, such as is commonly found in home gardens.

The second secret is to provide a trellis to support the canes. The cane tips droop and will root in unwanted places if not kept off the ground. A common fence type trellis will suffice to keep these blackberries in bounds. The canes are woven into the trellis wires. A trellis also provides a shape to the canes that is easier to harvest than a haphazard arrangement.

The third secret is proper watering. The berries are very drought tolerant, but they will produce a considerably larger crop if watered deeply at least once a week.

The fourth and final secret is care of the canes. Blackberries send up a large cane in the spring. This cane gathers energy all summer to store in the roots. This root energy allows the plant to get started in the spring. In the spring, the last years new canes produce berries and die off. On thing needed is to cut out the old canes after they have produced their crop. The second cane cultivation technique involves pruning the new canes as they grow. If the tip of the new growing cane is cut off, side shoots develop on the cane. All the side shoots will produce berries the following summer. The side shoots produce several times the amount of berries that unpruned canes produce. This increases the harvest many fold. Simply wait until the new canes are three or four feet long and clip off about six inches of the cane. This will cause the side shoots to develop.

user 8652551
Sacramento, CA
Post #: 98
Hi Steve! It's cool to see you around here again. You always add something unusual and thought provoking to the discussion.

If you haven't already, I'd like to turn you on to the permaculture writings of Toby Hemenway because I think his nuanced, thoughtful, if not sometimes "heretical" take on nature and gardening would resound strongly with you.

It's easy to classify things in neat little boxes like noxious vs. beneficial, non-native vs. native, and therefore good vs. bad. But as you understand, these classifications don't always apply to every context and design goal. I'm pleased with the Himalaya Berries around town because I was able to turn them into a small batch of hard blackberry cider fermented in it's own wild yeast. For me and my goal to have cider, the blackberries were quite beneficial.

Here is an article by the aforementioned author weighing in on the native plant ideal.
Kent T.
user 14629582
Sacramento, CA
Post #: 8
Old topic, but I thought I might join in anyhow, as invasive plants are on my mind today...

I always thought invasive plant species were ones that dominated ecosystems to the detriment of other species. While I agree it makes sense to have a strong growing berry in town, does it justify the ecological damage it does to the surrounding environment, via seeds carried by birds?

My reading of permaculture ideas (from the design handbook) is that we need to intensively farm/garden already compromised land to protect what land is undeveloped. Planting Himalayan blackberry seems to go against this.

While I do disagree, all respect to you Steve, and I'm glad we can have an open discussion on this forum. I hope your tomatoes are coming in.
A former member
Post #: 26
Invasives don't have to dominate, just displace something important. Himalayans are nastiest in riparian areas, so I don't think anyone within 10 miles of a CA river/creek should be planting them. They often replace all (yes all) riparian vegetation, except perhaps a few tough trees. Come try eradicating them at Cosumnes River before considering planting them. The natives blackberries are also not a great choice, but they are better. Restoration of riparian areas is usually done by correcting hydrology problems and planting native trees, letting nature take care of the rest. Planting a few native shrubs along a creek just doesn't work well. So the birdies aren't going to fix the local creek just because you plant native blackberries in your yard.

That said, lots of slightly to extremely obnoxious plants are great for stabilizing hillsides, providing firebreaks or cheap fuel, or just filling in areas. That is often why they are imported and then get out of control,e.g. eucalyptus in the East Bay and melaleuca (sp.?) in the Everglades. Because someone was in a hurry to "fix" something. Do I need to explain why this is not a permacultural approach? So are thousands of less obnoxious Mediterranean and native plants, especially if you throw some patience into the mix (applying the permacultural values of succession planting and diversity). Wild roses, native or not, are one better choice (tasty). As for firebreaks, no plant, native or not, is truly fire resistant but almost all less woody and nongrass plants can slow a fire if they are occasionally watered and pruned.

The only reason to take this chance is if you are truly hungry and cannot afford to buy plants or wait for them to grow. But wild Himalayans and native blackberries do not produce enough fruit for the land and water they require (and thorns). A "cultivated variety" is not just a plant that someone cares for, it is usually selected and often hybridized over many plant generations for fruiting, easy care, disease resistance, toughness, and perhaps lack of thorns. I tried caring for some Himalayans I had once; I got more fruit in about a tenth the space with a nursery plant, with much less work, and the neighbor sprayed the Himalayans and killed them, but the nursery raspberries are probably still feeding some lucky soul in North Oakland smile . However, those raspberries could easily be a "bad invasive" elsewhere or just a weed in the opinion of the next gardener. But there is definitely a difference between a weed and a noxious invasive. Nobody has to chainsaw out my raspberries to protect the Oakland Estuary.
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