Getting Rid of Unwanted Woodies


I often address unwanted woodies in my talks and assessments. While the topic brings a lot of snickers, it is an especially important gardening/landscaping matter. A management practice that frequently is ignored and that goes undone with damaging impact and long-term negative consequences.

WHY THE IGNORANCE? The reasons are simple -- laziness and/or limited botanical training (i.e., not being able to identify plants, ligneous or herbaceous). For half the year with deciduous woody species this requires knowing the plants when leafless. Realize that it is much easier and less problematic to get rid of the woodies when they are small since all woody plants are indeterminate in growth, with some potentially becoming enormous. I devote effort at various times of the year every year to removing these unwanted species from my property. I typically do this when the soil is moist since the unwanted specimens are easier to pull. If I cannot extract by pulling, I use my garden knife, axe mattock or shovel since it is imperative that some of the main root(s) be removed. Clipping/cutting above ground is often no more than a cultivation act. This is a common gardening mistake -- I saw two "professional' landscaping crews doing it the same day I composed this rant. The plant(s) frequently will resprout from the ignored root. Again, to eradicate you usually and literally must get to the root of the problem. Some people insist on spraying herbicide -- a misguided "modern" convenience that is expensive, often ineffective and potentially dangerous to the applier as well as damaging to the soil and surrounding desirable plants. There is NO easy way free. Moreover, the troublesome woody skeleton will remain. An exception to the chemical solution is poison ivy -- one must employ an herbicide wisely in addition to mechanical means but, even then, it is difficult to eradicate. FYI: The Indiana state record poison ivy was 44.5-inches in circumference (almost 15-inch diameter)!

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT GETTING RID OF THE WOODIES? They get bigger which can result in dramatic change of the habitat for the surrounding area (e.g., creating shade and hogging resources). One of the locations people often neglect to check is under and within existing shrubbery and low branched trees. When allowed to grow there these unwanted woodies cause what I refer to as grow throughs which can spoil the host. Unfortunately, examples are ubiquitous. You will have trouble distinguishing the viburnum in the above photo since the owners have allowed it to be overgrown with a dozen woody species. The unwanted interlopers eventually become so large it is nearly impossible to remove them without damaging the overwhelmed host. Three other commonly neglected areas are along buildings, fences and ditches/streams. NOTE: It is sometimes easier to see the culprits and do the extraction from in the ditch or stream once the water level permits access. Understand that any and all central Indiana land left unmanaged will succeed to some kind of woody assemblage (not prairie), and the succession happens relatively fast.

The most common unwanted woodies in central Indiana are ash, Asian bush honeysuckle, black cherry, black locust, black walnut, boxelder (and various other maples), burning bush, Callery pear, cottonwood, hackberry, Japanese honeysuckle, mulberry, multiflora rose, oriental bittersweet (aka python vine), privet, wild grape, wintercreeper and the aforementioned poison ivy. Half of this lineup are natives -- okay for a natural area or park but not in your yard or garden. The list can include other species and will vary according to location (i.e., habitat and management history). Learn to ID all of them, and extract BEFORE they become a huge issue. You should also get rid of species found or planted in the wrong location (i.e., inadequate space).

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