Killing nature can be fun!

Perhaps by now you've heard about buckthorn, that insidious shrub that invades our local woods, choking out native flowers and seedlings and poisoning innocent birds and bunnies. Chances are you have at least one buckthorn plant growing in your yard right now (get it quick!) and undoubtedly you've seen it or been gouged by its thorns while hiking in one of our local parks right here in Washington County. What you may not realize is that killing buckthorn can be incredibly satisfying and downright fun!

If you are not yet familiar with buckthorn, you are probably wondering how any one plant could fill a nature-lover like myself with such vengeance. Allow me to explain. Buckthorn is an invasive shrub, native to Europe, that has been planted by homeowners throughout Minnesota over the past 100 years as a fast-growing ornamental hedge. Unfortunately, here in Minnesota where buckthorn is unencumbered by its natural European competitors, the shrub grows out of control, taking over woods, prairie and shoreline and smothering native Minnesota plants in its path. As buckthorn spreads across Minnesota, it destroys natural habitat, decreases biodiversity and impacts water-quality; the long-rooted native plants that prevent erosion along shorelines are no match for the sinister buckthorn.

Buckthorn "leafs out" early in the spring and retains its leaves long into the fall, giving the shrub a great competitive advantage over other woodland plants. Female buckthorns fruit abundantly with blackish-purple berries inedible to most birds and mammals. Unwitting homeowners who try to destroy buckthorn by cutting it down soon discover its supernatural ability to regenerate from a stump, sprouting back with ten times the number of shoots it originally displayed. Buckthorn has so completely changed our landscape in southern and central Minnesota that many of us no longer recognize a native maple-basswood forest or oak savanna. If your image of "natural" woods includes a thick under-story of impenetrable brambles, then you too have been hoodwinked by the buckthorn.

So how does an upstanding citizen like you exact revenge against buckthorn for invading and destroying our land? With carnage and mass destruction of course! The most satisfying way of killing buckthorn is to use a weed wrench to pull it from the ground, roots and all. This method allows you to become completely covered in dirt and to work out any lingering frustrations you may have with your boss, the president, or life in general. New research from the St. Croix Watershed Research Station has also shown that you can effectively clear large stands of buckthorn by applying Garlon-4 herbicide in a small band around the lower part of the trunk during the winter. Winter herbicide application has been shown to be effective even at a low concentration of 10 percent Garlon-4 by volume.

Late fall and early spring are the easiest times to identify and remove buckthorn, as it's pretty much the only plant with green leaves at this time of year. If you don't know what buckthorn looks like, look for pictures and information at www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialplants/woody/buckthorn. Weed wrenches can be rented from the Washington Conservation District and herbicide can be purchased at most local nurseries. Pick up a wrench, grab a bottle of herbicide and let the killing begin!

Angie Hong is an educator with the East Metro Water Resource Education Program. She can be reached at 275-1136 x.35 angie.hong@mnwcd.org.

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