Now is a good time to dig out some of those invasive shrubs that are filling up our woods and elbowing out our wildflowers and native understory shrubs. Why now? They've leafed out, while most of our other plants have not - so they're easy to spot. Plus, it’s too early to plant much in the vegetable garden, so we have (a little) more time.
Bush honeysuckles and barberry are two invasives that spread by seeds distributed by birds, and that can easily take over the edges of our woods – or even deep into the forest. Their seeds pass through birds unharmed and are deposited with a drop of fertilizer.
Last year I cut off all stems of a mature honeysuckle. When I visited it this year, it had grown one stem 8 feet tall, and plenty of shorter ones. So digging them out is better than just cutting them down. I find small honeysuckles relatively easy to yank out.
Last fall Gerry Hawkes of Woodstock, Vermont showed me a tool he developed to pull invasives. It is a sturdy, 2-wheeled device that uses leverage to pull up a tree, roots and all. We pulled a buckthorn tree with a base diameter of an inch and a half, and a full-sized multi-stemmed honeysuckle with a trunk that was over three inches in diameter at the base.
The tool we used is called a Wheeled Post and Shrub Puller. It is made of sturdy 2-inch square steel “pipe” and stands over 6 feet tall leverage when in the vertical pulling position.
This week I pulled a barberry that had escaped my watchful eyes, and a few small honeysuckles. The barberry has thorns, so I first used loppers to cut off the branches 18 inches above the ground. That left me plenty to grab onto (with thick gloves) when the shrub was ready to pull.
I went around the barberry, digging with a pickax. The roots of this 4-foot tall and wide shrub were thick and tenacious. I exposed them by digging, then cut them with a folding handsaw. I used a saw that was old and dull, as soil will dull a blade quickly and I didn’t want to ruin a good saw.
Finally, when I had all the larger roots severed, I wiggled the stump back and forth and was able to pull it out of the ground with the help of my pickax. I didn’t attempt to get every bit of root out, but will watch the area for a year to see if any “babies” appear. If they do, I will dig out all the roots. Digging time? Just 30 minutes.
So have a look around your woods at the shrubs that have leafed out. If you see barberry or honeysuckle, think about devoting an hour or two digging them out.
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Attend my next class about vegetable gardening at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH on Tuesday, May 3.