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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - July 21, 2008

From: Granite, MD
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Getting rid of invasive, non-native Ailanthus altissimma, Tree of Heaven
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We live in Granite, MD and are trying to get rid of an invasive "tree of heaven". Based on a recommendation from a website dedicated to eradicating invasive plants,my husband cut down the tree which had a 3 inch trunk, drilled a hole in the stump and filled the hole with fertilizer. I think I erred by using a timed released fertilizer. The tree is throwing off sprouts from the roots. Is there something else we can do to get rid of it? Unfortunately it is located in the midst of an established flower bed. I appreciate any suggestions.

ANSWER:

We couldn't agree with you more. That tree needs to go, and all the little treelets with it. The Plant Conservation Alliance Least Wanted site on this tree has excellent instructions on getting this tree out of your life, if you ever can. We're not sure where the recommendation to put fertilizer in a hole in the plant came from, we hadn't heard that one before. As you have apparently learned, it doesn't work. However, you would have had the sprouts from the roots no matter what you did, and if the tree is female, you will have sprouts from seeds for years. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center neither recommends for nor against herbicides, but the suggestions made in this article seem to be very apropos and well thought out. The gist of their advice is to treat an open cut with the suggested herbicide and do it quickly, within 10 or 15 minutes of making the cut. Apparently, the more cuts you make in the tree with applications of herbicide, the more effective it will be. Of course, you will have to be extremely careful, since it is in an established bed with desirable plants. Particularly note the cautions on letting the herbicide drip down from the cut into the dirt. It would appear that you can even cut down into the roots and inject some herbicide. The roots and their ability to survive will be your worst problem. And, despite all your efforts, be prepared to continue to hand remove sprouts for a long time, either from the roots or from seedlings. Of course, there's a lesson here. The best way to get rid of a pest is to never let it get its roots in the door.
 

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