Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Controlling your Nuisance Plants

In the midlands of South Carolina where I do the majority of my hunting, there is a species of tree that is, I believe one of the most prolific plants ever devised by the creator. It invades every nook and cranny of your property. It creeps in silently, and before you know what happened your entire land is enveloped in this species that has little to no value at all to wildlife, or to your management plan.

Liquidambar styraciflua, American Sweetgum, also known as; American storax, hazel pine, bilsted, redgum, satin-walnut, star-leaved gum, alligatorwood, or just sweetgum.

This tree is so prolific that it seems to take over any open area within days. It is one of the most valued trees in the lumber industry due to its tight grain and coloring. It is used for a variety of purposes including plywood and veneers. It is also a valuable product in pulp for paper.

The seeds of the sweetgum can lay dormant for decades. Waiting for just the right conditions to emerge and spread like the a biblical plague across the landscape consuming everything in its path.

 For hunters trying to manage a mixed landscape of forest, open spaces, natural vegetation areas and food plots, the sweetgum is anathema.  The prolific ability to spread and to grow at alarming rates makes the sweetgum one of the most expensive and labor intensive trees to control.

Sweetgum trees are colony trees. Meaning that the root system runs along the surface of the ground and at suitable locations will sprout additional trunks/trees. One seed can produce dozens of trees. If you make the mistake of cutting down one of the trees, the stump will sprout into a bush throwing out dozens of sprouts that will quickly take over.

In an effort to control the sweetgum plague I have occurring on my property I have resorted to heavy chemicals and expensive spraying. One method is to hire a commercial spraying operator. Licensed by the state to disperse chemicals to kill the sweetgum. For larger areas this seems to be the most economical method of controlling the spread. Cost varies, but my last expense was around $120/acre for spraying. The sprayer recommended a concoction of chemicals to spray that would kill the sweetgums, along with other undesirable vegetation. The sprayer used big machinery to disperse the chemical bath across the landscape and within two weeks the trees were all dead. The joy I felt seeing all of those dead sweetgums was indescribable.

For smaller applications, I have learned there are two methods of controlling the nuisance tree. One is a tank sprayer on my ATV and the other is a backpack sprayer. The ATV works well along easily traveled corridors. Using the ATV sprayer I have developed a boom spray applicator and a wand applicator. Both have their distinct advantages. The boom covers a lot of area when trying to control not only sweetgum but also thistle, blackberry briers and other undesirable vegetation. While the wand is for more spot spraying.

The backpack sprayer is a four gallon sprayer that allows you to cover rough terrain and spot spray the areas you want sprayed. The use of the backpack sprayer is very labor intensive but it can get to locations other machines would not be able to go. Especially steep terrain, and rough terrain such as right after a clear-cut when only large equipment can get in there.

Check with your local extension service for approved chemicals that will kill the sweetgum and other vegetation that you do not want while protecting the ones you do want. Also consider including in the mixture some kind of preemergant  to prevent any dormant seeds from germinating.

For larger trees, ones that are standing and you want removed. The "hack and squirt" method is best used. This method involves using a hatchet or machete and a strong chemical such as Arsenol, Garlon 4, crossbow and others that are designed for heavy woody vegetation. Using the hatchet - hack the tree at waist height, cutting past the inner bark and into the hard wood and using a squirt bottle give one to two squirts into the cut mark. For trees larger than 5-6 inches do this in two places on the same tree. Smaller trees will not need additional marks. This method will kill the tree standing and allow it to fall naturally. The trees will usually be dead within a few weeks and the foliage will drop. The tendency is to over squirt but this is just wasting expensive chemicals. It doesn't take long to cover a large area with this process and in a few weeks your results will show.

Controlling undesirable vegetation is an ongoing process. The eradication cannot occur since seeds are transferred through the wind, animal droppings and other methods. Getting it under control is your first step. After this is done, a regular maintenance program can help you keep your land in the condition you desire.

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