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Mr. Smarty Plants - Removal of non-native invasive Ligustrum japonica from Austin

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Tuesday - February 14, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Pruning, Shrubs
Title: Removal of non-native invasive Ligustrum japonica from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I bought a house that I am slowly turning into a native garden, but as a teacher, I have a really small budget. One entire border of my backyard (30 feet) was planted with evil Ligustrum japonica. I lack the tools, money or strength to cut down all these small trees (15 feet high, 4" trunk). Yet I hear about groups that work to eliminate these invasives in public areas. Are there any groups in Austin that will do this on private property? The birds that eat the fruit and seeds in my yard will contribute to this problem. Help!

ANSWER:

We are sorry but we could find no group that does such work removing invasives on private property, without charging for it. It does sound like a daunting but worthwhile project. We are going  to give you our ideas on getting rid of them and then urge you not to stress out too much over them. Although Ligustrum japonica is invasive, it can also be attractive and fill in space in a garden until you can get to that part, as this article from Floridata points out. As you mentioned, the birds like the fruit and spread it around. Until you can find the time to do a more thorough job, we suggest that you prune it heavily to prevent the production of fruit, and also to make the area neater. Be sure you know what the pickup procedures in your neighborhood are for garden waste, and give yourself the goal of getting a certain amount of the plant material out for each pickup date.

There are two tools we would recommend you get, if you don't already have them. They are tools you will need many times over your gardening lifetime and are not very expensive. The ads we are showing you are not recommendations for those particular brands, but a picture of the type of thing you need. Don't order them online, go into a home improvement garden shop or a hardware store and handle them. They need to be sturdy and big enough that you can handle them but still not too heavy for you.

The first one we used to call "lopping shears." Because they have long handles you can get more leverage. The blades need to be pretty heavy duty, because this is what you are going to be clearing off branches and the upper tips of the shrubs. Do this first before you attack cutting one down. You don't want the full height of the tree falling on you.

Next, a pruning saw. This will be what you use to cut off the shrub main trunk as close to the ground as you can work. This, again, needs to be as sturdy as you can handle. The bow on it gives you a chance to use both hands to push and pull.

As we said earlier, you will begin by lopping off lateral branches and the leading trunk as far down on the branches or tree as you can cut with the lopping shears. As you cut all of this off, you will be eliminating the branches that were going to put berries on them for the birds to spread.

One more purchase: buy a small bottle of a wide spectrum herbicide and some disposable sponge brushes. When you have trimmed a shrub down until it's pretty short, use the pruning saw to cut the main trunk off. Have the bottle of herbicide ready and paint the raw cut edge of the trunk as quickly as possible. As far as that shrub is concerned, that tree is still alive and will start putting out new sprouts almost immediately. You need to kill the roots. That cut surface will start healing over right away, the shrubs defense system to keep the poison from getting down into the roots. Don't spray! and be very careful not to spill any of the herbicide. You will kill desirable plants around the bush, but until you kill those roots, which are protected in the ground, you still have the shrub.

This is slow and tedious, we know. We have dealt with ligustrums that have migrated in onto the lot where we built our house. The property had been open farmland and we had to get rid of a lot of stuff that was okay on farmland, but not in our garden.

If you just really can't deal with this now, get regular hedge shears and trim the daylights out of the shrubs. They can even be shaped into attractive little bushes, the berries will be eliminated as you go and later you can attack the elimination of the shrubs themselves. You can plant other things around the stubs, or dig down, sever roots and paint with the herbicide, or heap mulch on the roots to let them slowly decompose into the soil. Happy chopping!

 

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