black locusts and bamboo

cottonland(8)June 29, 2007

What is the best way to get rid of black locusts, brambles and bamboo which are a nuisance on two acres of woods around the house? The woods are otherwise made up of red and white oak, dogwoods, magnolias, sweet gum, and beech trees. The undergrowth, where not overrun by black locusts, brambles and bamboo (or it may be switch cane, not sure), is fairly clean except for various ferns and other unidentified native plants, which I plan to keep.

The worst areas are around the sunny edges where aforementioned pests block the view of the understory from the house. The terrain will not allow me to keep the sunny edges mowed - the house and yard is on a ridge and the woods start on the edge of the steep ridge sides. So any work would have to be done by hand.

My plan is to break it into what could be done on the weekends over a couple of years. I am not opposed to supplementing the process with herbicides of some sort - especially to kill the black locusts and their root system.

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ladyslppr(z6 PA)

With Black Locust and Brambles, the problem is not the plants per se, it is the sunlight reaching the woodland, floor, or perhaps it is your expectations that you can have a sparse woodland-type plant community with the amount of sunlight you get. Both locust and brambles grow well only with some sunlight, so I am guessing that the areas they are growing get sun. In order to control these plants, you'll have to replace them with something that grows almost as well. This means shrubs or larger wildflowers, not small, scattered woodland plants like you find in shady areas. Larger wildflowers might include things like woodland sunflower, joe pye weed, bee balm, etc - taller, vigorous plants that will spread to cover the area. Once the wildflowers are in place, locust and brambles will be a lot easier to control because there will be far fewer new plants appearing. I would figure out a plan and start with a manageable area, remove the brambles, and plant a coupple of plants. It will take some effort to keep out weeds for a couple of years - lots of mulch will help. In addition to the wildflowers, there are many shrubs that might grow well. I would avoid very low-growing plants such as low shrubs or ground covers. In the sun these will get weeds in them, and the weeds would have to be laboriously picked out by hand. Taller plants will greatly reduce the number of weeds, locusts, and brambles that will spring up.

Bamboo (assuming you are talking about non-native bamboo) is similar in that it grows best in sun, but different in that it had to be planted and spreads only from existing plantings, not by seed. This means that you could get rid of it and it would be gone. getting rid of it wouldn't be easy, you'd have to cut, spray the stumps, and probably repeat many times. If you have the native bamboo, I'd consider yourself lucky and let it grow. It might be common where you live, but overall it is not a very common plant, and should be better appreciated than it is.

By the way, one other approach to controlling locusts is to allow a few to grow tall, remove the rest. as the few get taller they will create shade that could be used to support a woodland garden, and the shade will eventually help control brambles and limit the number of new locust shoots (although you'll always get some locust sprouts).

    Bookmark   July 2, 2007 at 9:04AM
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You are right - the areas that are the biggest problems are the sunny areas. The bamboo, whether native or not I plan on leaving except for the sunny areas, simply because it grows thick and blocks the view into the woods. Underneath the canopy what bamboo grows is sparse and not a problem, and I will leave it. That is an interesting approach to nurture a few locusts until they can shade out and help reduce the others. I'll have to think about that. The tree itself is not a bad looking tree, although the bigger trees have brittle limbs that break easily and have large thorns that can puncture mower tires. I had a couple of larger black locusts at my old house and I never could keep my mower tires holding air. Thanks for some things to think about.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2007 at 12:31PM
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Hello Cottonland,
As Ladyslppr mentioned, nature doesn't like a vacuum. When you remove a plant community, she will quickly fill the space again unless you fill it first. "The race is on." Regardless of the plants currently growing, the community you are looking at changing is edge habitat, which has its own unique mode of operation. ItÂs a plant community that has a transitional function in nature, as such, it is always changing and progressing. As the current edge matures and subsequently shades out lower growing competitors, new edge will have been in the process of being built. In simple terms, the "edge" keeps on growing toward the center of what ever opening is allowing sunlight to come through until it has all been converted to woodland. All throughout this process, what was edge, as it ages, will be transitioning toward more shade tolerant species of trees and shrubs.

Locust, both black (Robinia) and honey (Gleditsia), both have nasty colonizing habits. If you leave mature trees, you will have to deal with copious seedlings sprouting at the "newly created" edge that their canopies will create. Especially if you are actively cultivating or mulching the edge spaces. When you cut either type of locust, one of two things can happen. Either A, vigorous root sprouts will emerge or B, copious numbers of seedlings will emerge due to the lack of suppression from the parent tree (both take place in some cases). IÂm going through this currently, as the "tractor killer" honey locust along the roadside was removed last fall. I painted the freshly cut trunk with concentrated roundup to stop resprouting but I have to go out at least once a week to pull newly sprouted seedlings that are coming up over a 300 square foot area.

DonÂt be discouraged! Edge conversion can be done, it just takes persistence and also as Ladyslppr said, youÂll have to choose suitable replacement plants to create "your" new edge. WeÂre going through this process, which started three years ago on our 13 acre homestead. We left some of the brambles in areas where they worked for us. New seedlings, brought in by whatever wildlife consume their berries, require pulling every fall to keep them from establishing new colonies. IÂve elected to plant highly competitive plants that benefit us and wildlife and that we enjoy looking at. Elderberry, gooseberry, blackcap raspberry, poke weed, mountain ash, dogwood, seviceberry, redbud and a host of others. Locust and wild (exotic) roses are the main pest species we have to keep on top of. We have also encouraged the native prairie type forbes and grasses to grow in many portions, which has proven very beneficial to quail and rabbits amongst others.

Getting rid of the brambles, wild roses and locust depends on the level of colonization, time of year and the plants growing directly near them. For younger plants and small groups, I usually choose to just dig them prior to fruit set so I donÂt have to be concerned with more seedlings later. In areas where spraying herbicides wonÂt injury other plants we want to keep, we do so just prior to fruit set. For plants large enough, when accessible we cut them down then paint the fresh wound(s) with concentrated herbicide.

WeÂve found that the initial clearing work is actually less time and energy consuming than what takes place in following years. Keeping up with mother natureÂs rate of "replanting" is the real chore. One thing that has helped immensely is that we plant an annual cover-crop on the larger areas that we couldnÂt get back to right away. The cover-crops grow fast enough to shade out the newly cleared areas so that dormant seeds donÂt have time to sprout and establish. That gives us plenty of time to come back later and replant the area with what we want growing.


    Bookmark   July 10, 2007 at 1:58AM
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Thanks for the insight. I can see how there is not a simple answer to dealing with the woodland edge where invasive plants have taken hold. It is going to take a lot of time and patience to nurture something that can replace the undesireable plants. We are in the process of building now, so I haven't had much time to do much yard work, let alone do anything about the surrounding woodland edges. I look forward to it and will start looking for other plants that can replace the invasive plants.

Does painting the cut locust stumps help to control the sprouts and the spreading roots? As an aside, there was an area of locust that seemed to be doing poorly and I didn't know why. Since then I have seen deer come through that area on the way to the lake and as they pass through the locusts they chew off the very top of the trees - never the side branches, only the tops. Maybe that is the reason those locusts aren't getting any size.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2007 at 1:00PM
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Hello Cottonland,
Wow, construction AND planting! You have far more focus/energy than I, lol.

As far as getting the edge garden going, keeping on top of keeping out the unwanted species is never ending but does get easier after the first few years. We bit off a larger area than we could keep up on at first, then regrouped and attacked it in smaller portions. Seems to have worked so far.

In our case, painting the freshly cut stumps with concentrated (commercial grade) round up worked miracles. No stump sprouts and no root sprouting. The big issue has been the seedlings that are now sprouting, in the hundreds, due to the new found light source and limited competition from the mother tree. The seeds build up over the years and stay viable for many years waiting for the right conditions to begin growing. Btw, burning has been proven, according to our DNR, to promote excessive stump and root sprouting as well as seedling germination. The same goes for dozing, it causes excessive root sprouts and seedling germination.

Regarding the stunted locusts that you mention. There could be a multitude of variables causing it, but the main ones I can think of without observing the area would be...

#1, deer habitually visit the same plants and groups of plants as they travel throughout their home range. They prefer to browse at a level between their knees and a comfortable height just above their heads so that they dont need to expend more energy in the act of browsing than is absolutely necessary. As theyve shown repeatedly on my landscape plantings, theyll revisit my trees and shrubs right about the time theyve got new growth coming back since the last time they were munched on. Not only does this habit keep their preferred browse at a convenient height for continual dining, but it also increases the diameter of the eating surface by forcing plants to spread out horizontally instead of vertically. As for locust specifically, the seed "pods", leaves and new shoots are the only edible parts. The bark, older stems and seeds are toxic to deer and other livestock. So deer will naturally avoid eating the toxic portions.

#2, some of these trees could also be suffering from other issues. Locust are notorious for being attacked by bores and other insect pests, something Ive often wished for on my place, lol. It doesnt sound like this is the problem though, at least not from your description.

Hope the edge conversion works well for you,

    Bookmark   July 10, 2007 at 9:33PM
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