Whack Bush Honeysuckle Now!

Published on: Apr. 1, 2010

When I moved from Northwest Missouri to the Ozark Border Region of central Missouri in 2004, I had no idea of the battle I would encounter with invasive species on my new farm. In northwest Missouri my battles with invasives were minor compared to hordes of invasives that threatened my little piece of heaven in Osage County: Chinese privet, redcedar, honey locust, serecia lespedeza, Japanese honeysuckle, Bradford pear, autumn olive, shrub honeysuckle, late goldenrod, fescue. I am sure there are others I have not recognized yet, because towards the end of 2009 I was able to verify with a botanist that I had Himalayan blackberry, another invasive species.

One of the most difficult challenges when managing for quail habitat is controlling invasive species. Invasive species typically smother the types of habitat which quail depend on and decrease overall plant diversity. Shrub honeysuckle is no different. Birds eat the berries and deposit the seeds when perched in shrubs or trees, so it can spread rapidly and widely. It tends to dominate the understory of woodlands. Honeysuckle can tolerate shade as well as full sun. They are easily recognized because they are the first woody plant to green up in the spring and the last to lose their leaves in the fall.

Their leaves are arranged opposite of each other on the branch. Not many other woody plants exhibit this characteristic, except for ashes, maples, buckbrush and most of the dogwoods. Right now honeysuckle bushes are the only opposite-leaved plant in the woods with a hint of green on them.

The control of shrub honeysuckle can be accomplished in several ways:

Pulling

Because of their shallow root system, you can hand pull shrubs that are less than about waist high. Grab low on the plant stem and try and get most of the root crown removed. If you break off the stem at ground level, dig out the root. There are even pullers commercially available for pulling larger honeysuckle.

Cutting and Herbicide

For larger shrubs you can use a chainsaw or loppers to cut the stem and then treat the stump with a brushkiller mixed with diesel.

Basal Spraying

Follow label directions for mixing brushkiller with diesel for basal spraying. This involves spraying the stems from the surface of the ground to a height of 18 inches during the dormant season. The entire circumference of the stem needs to be coated with the herbicide mix.

Prescribed Fire

A prescribed burn regime can control small seedlings. However, larger shrubs are not affected by fire enough to keep it under control, unless annual spring burns can be conducted. Unless your woodland has oak trees, there will not be enough fuel for annual burns in most woodlands.

If at all possible try to locate and exterminate the original seed source of your infestation or your control efforts could become a lifelong pursuit. In some cases the seed source may be so extensive over the landscape that it is impossible to control. In other cases the seed source may be from a honeysuckle in your own yard or a windbreak. You may have to work with a neighbor or neighbors to attack the seed source.

While this type of honeysuckle is a shrub, it does not have the upright growth form preferred by quail once it reaches maturity. Overall it is more detrimental than beneficial to quail because it shades out quail-friendly plants. Ignoring the problem will result in fewer quail, as well as lower diversity of plants and other wildlife.

Ignoring the problem will result in a more difficult job of control in the future. One positive aspect is that killing honeysuckle gets me out in the woods!

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