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Dealing with problem trees

In the Garden

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I love most plants. Some of the plants I love are in the wrong place. This can be especially troublesome with trees. There are a number of situations where we are in conflict with trees—weedy, trashy, weak-wooded, too large, right next to a building or structure, under power lines, over utilities, etc.

If you want to uproot, or dig out a tree or shrub, you will need to call 811 to determine if there are any public underground utilities in the area. If underground utilities will be disturbed, your best option will be to use products that help the stump decay faster.

Regardless, if you are in conflict with a tree, it is better to do something about it now, because it won’t be any cheaper to deal with it as the tree gets larger. If it is too large to transplant, then you may just need to kill it.

Ron Patterson,

Narrow-leaf conifers (pine, spruce, fir, larch, juniper, hemlock) are quite easy to deal with as they don’t sucker (there are exceptions). All you need to do is cut them down.

With broad-leaf trees, there is a lot of variabilities. Most of them will sucker to some extent when you remove the top. With these trees, it is important to kill the roots or at least the buds that will want to send up suckers. Suckers from some genera, such as Populus (poplar, cottonwood, aspen), can originate from quite deep, while others need to be quite close to the soil surface. It is best to treat the stumps with an herbicide shortly after it is cut down. If an herbicide is not used, there will often be a big flush of shrubby suckers that break out from the stump and roots.

Of the several application techniques used for woody plant control, I have found the cut-stump method to be the most effective, any time of year. Whatever herbicide you use, make sure it is labeled for this type of application. I prefer to use glyphosate (there are many trade names for glyphosate products) because it has practically no soil activity; and thus, will not affect non-target plants unless there is some underground root grafting between plants.

Ron Patterson,

Many herbicide labels that allow cut-stump application also allow the herbicide to be undiluted. In all cases, be sure to wear proper personal protective equipment as designated on the label. Footwear and gloves must be chemically resistant—not cloth, leather or latex.

After the tree is cut to the desired height, treat the cambium and sapwood region of the stump according to your herbicide label. The cambium is the actively dividing cells between the wood and the bark. Treating the heartwood is a waste of chemicals, time and money, as that tissue does not actively translocate anything.You don’t need to make exes or grooves, just apply the herbicide to the cambium region of the trunk. I use a livestock dosage syringe so I can meter exactly how much I want to apply, but a cheap foam brush will also do the trick.

If you have the wrong trees, or trees growing in the wrong place, take care of them as soon as you can.