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Tree of Heaven? (It Ain’t!) July 7, 2009

Posted by hamcoder in Invasive Species.
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Spoiler Alert!! This post involves a chain saw; if you misuse it, you can spoil your weekend (and make your doctor’s house payment).  It also involves cutting down trees; which if you do it wrong, can spoil your house, your car, or your neighbor’s garage.  And it involves poison…’nough said.  I’m barely responsible for my own idiocies; I refuse to be responsible for yours, too!!!

We live on top of a West Virginia mountain and have a beautiful view of the valley and the next three or four ranges of hills.  We also have some invasive species of plant life that we deal with on a regular basis.  Today, I’ll talk about ailanthus and how we deal with it.  Here’s the Wikipedia entry on ailanthus.

Ailanthus grows very fast; many people mistake it for sumac. The first summer that we were in the house, we saw the tree of heaven take a sizable chunk from the bottom of our view.  Left unchecked, our view of the valley would be eaten away from the bottom up, leaving only a view of the sky!

You can’t just cut this stuff down; it just grows back with a vengeance.  It grows back from the stump and it also starts new growth from its roots as well.  We’ve discovered that the trick is a combination of weed-killer and method of application.  So here’s what we do …

We use RoundUp; the active ingredient is glyphosate.  We buy the highest concentration we can find.  I think it’s 45% or 50%; anyway, it’s in the white jug with purple letters.  It’s about $120 a gallon now, and we do buy it by the gallon.  When we can find it, we prefer to buy the house brand from Tractor Supply because it’s about 20% cheaper.  We just make sure to check the active ingredients.

The method of application is with a chain saw and a paint brush – straight out of the jug – undiluted.  Depending on the size of the ailanthus, we use one of two approaches.  For the larger trees, we use the chain saw and girdle the tree; i.e., we make two horizontal cuts all the way around the tree.  The cuts are an inch or so deep – deep enough to cut through the cambium and sap layers of the tree.  Then we paint the RoundUp directly into both cuts.  Within a couple of weeks, the crown of the tree should begin to turn yellow and die.  By next spring, you’ll have a nice, tall scrag for the woodpeckers to make beautiful drumming sounds at daybreak.  For smaller trees, we do cut them off close to the ground, but then we immediately paint the stump with RoundUp.

We also dilute  RoundUp according to the product label and spray the concoction on the tree of heaven with trunks the size of sticks and twigs.

Our guess is that the girdling kills the top of the tree and that the RoundUp kills the root system.  We are also guessing that cutting down an ailanthus generates a different set of survival signals than girdling generates.  Our first attempt at control was to simply cut down the tree and paint the stump.  That only works on small trees (not as big around as your thigh); bigger trees continue to put up hordes of new shoots.

Be aware that ailanthus has separate male and female trees and that a mature female can drop 300,000 seeds a season.  Wikipedia and other links will explain how to recognize the red seed pods.  But if you don’t have the resources to deal with all of your tree of heaven at one time, then be sure to treat the females first!

It’s taken us almost four years to get this under control. Each year is a bit less work; but it’s never easy.  Remember, you are seeking concessions from Mother Nature; she does not submit willingly to your demands.

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