published Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Soils softened by snows ease chore of removing invasives

PAT'S QUESTION

By Pat Lea

Q: I need to remove lots of invasive weedy shrubs from my woodsy area. Are there any tips for easy ways to do this?

A: Most woodsy garden areas in our region have problems with invasive shrubs. The most common are privet and upright honeysuckle. These two pests are spread through the air by wind and by birds dispersing the seeds. They are hardy and grow quickly into unsightly clumps. In addition to choking out the growth of native plants, they inhibit the growth of your own chosen garden plants.

February and March are the best months to attack these pests. The soil in late winter freezes and thaws, and early rains further soften the soil, making it loose and penetrable. This year, our unusual snows have softened the soil deeply. This means that the strong roots of these problem shrubs are easier to remove than on a normal late-winter schedule.

If the shrubs are very tall and bushy, you can trim them to a more compact size. They will be easier to work around and to lift out. Loosen the roots around the base of the plant with a strong shovel or heavy garden fork. Rock the clump back and forth to get the soil loose, then lift out or pull out the entire root system.

If you are feeling energetic or happen to have a willing teenager, you can whack the soil around the roots by swinging a large mattock into the root mass. Use the mattock as a pry bar to pull up the root mass.

Either way, you can remove the entire root system with some energetic digging. This kind of procedure is next to impossible in summer or early fall when the soil is dry.

Stomp the soil back in the area, and keep your eyes open for any small shoots that may emerge later in spring. Remove these before they have a chance to grow into a larger problem. You can also spray any later-emerging foliage with an herbicide to kill the plant. You can make real progress against these plants with persistent efforts.

E-mail Pat Lea at lea.pat@gmail.com.

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