En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

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.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
1 rating

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!

 

More Invasive Plants Questions

Privacy plantings to replace invasive bamboo
June 22, 2007 - We are looking for good screening plants for our new house (the houses are very close). We like the way bamboo looks it is tall and narrow for the most part, but we do not want bamboo since it is inv...
view the full question and answer

Shade ground cover under honeysuckle from Wichita KS
February 21, 2012 - Hi! I know this is a bit odd, but I am trying to find a nontoxic, good ground covering plant that can live in the shade while competing with the roots of a whole bunch of honeysuckle. I have a few ide...
view the full question and answer

Invasive plants in native plant area from Austin
May 15, 2012 - Why do invasive plants grow in native plant territory?
view the full question and answer

Winter weeds in Flower Mound TX
February 19, 2009 - My lawn is being overrun by winter weeds. How can I get rid of them? Should I wait until March when I put down weed and feed fertilizer?
view the full question and answer

Control of Acacia escaping cultivation in California
March 26, 2007 - My backyard has been overrun by acacia shrubs. How and what can I do to permanently rid the area of this weed? I hold an agricultural QAL so I have access to herbicides if there are effective ones a...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center