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Posted on: October 12, 2018

Buckthorn Stands Out in Fall, Making Removal Easier

Buckthorn in Understory

Why is fall the best time of year to get rid of Buckthorn? Because it is so easy to find. Buckthorn tends to stay green and hold its leaves longer than most shrubs and small trees.

Buckthorn is a shrub or small tree that has invaded from Europe.  It has taken over much of the understory of southern Minnesota, out competing our native forest plants.  And though it has lots of berries that birds like to eat, those berries contain a laxative compound.  Which means that birds are really good at spreading Buckthorn seeds, without getting much benefit from eating the berries.  As Buckthorn invades, it degrades wildlife habitat.  That is why it is so important to try and remove it from your yard.

The first step in removal is always being able to identify it.  There are two invasive forms of Buckthorn in Minnesota, Glossy and Common.  Both tend to stay green and keep their leaves late into the fall.  If you are looking out into your yard, and you notice that there are shrubs and small trees that are staying green and keeping their leaves while everything else has dropped its leaves, it is probably Buckthorn.  Common Buckthorn is also easily recognizable by the thorn hugged between two buds at the end of its branches, and Glossy Buckthorn stands out because of its columnar (looks like a column) shape.

The next step is making sure that you remove it correctly.  Buckhthorn will resprout from a cut stump; if you just cut it and walk away, it will come back.  That is why immediately after cutting buckthorn, the stump must be sprayed an herbicide strong enough to kill brush; regular herbicides that kill weeds are not strong enough.  An alternative is to pull Buckthorn out by its roots.  If you live in Apple Valley, you can check out a tool to assist you in pulling small Buckthorn saplings (stem/trunk up to 2.5" wide in diameter).  

Step three: disposal.  Buckthorn can be disposed of like any other yard waste.  You can put it in your yardwaste bin, or bag or bind it according to your trash haulers guidelines.  You can burn it in a regulation fire pit or your fireplace (it has a high energy output and some say it has a very pleasant smell when burnt).  You can take it to a local drop off site.  Be creative; the internet is full of craft projects for people who have extra branches and twigs on hand.

The final step in removal is persistence.  If you've had Buckthorn on your property for a number of years, you probably have a lot of seeds in the soil from previous years that can sprout.  Additionally, birds can spread more Buckthorn to your yard.  New Buckthorn sprouts can be pulled or sprayed with an herbicide strong enough to kill brush.  Over time, you should see less and less new Buckthorn sprouting if you keep at it.

If you find at the end of all your hard work that you have a blank spot in the landscaping in your yard, there are some other City programs you can take advantage of to help you fill in the gaps.  The City offers a tree and shrub sale every spring.  Trees and shrubs are sold bare root and at wholesale cost.  Check back in March to order your new trees/shrubs.  We also have a grant program that can be applied to native plant gardens and native understory plantings in some cases.

Have fun with all your fall yard projects!

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