What Gardeners Are Talking About: Buckthorn

On Saturday, I spent a couple of hours at the Northfield Home and Garden Show at a booth shared by the Northfield Garden Club and the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners of Rice County. Going into the event, I was pretty sure that the most asked question would be about whether it was too early to mow or put down weed-and-feed on lawns. Nope. Many of the gardeners–especially those with larger or more rural properties—asked about buckthorn and what to do about it.

Buckthorn is a restricted noxious weed in Minnesota because of its invasive nature and its impact on wildlife habitats. Once buckthorn gets established, it takes over. There are two types: common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus). Common buckthorn came to the U.S. from Europe in the 1800s and was used for a hedge in many landscapes. By the 1930s, its negative qualities were well-known and the nursery trade stopped selling it. The glossy buckthorn is particularly invasive around wetlands.

The best way to control buckthorn is to pull it while it is still small. According to the University of Minnesota, it will not resprout from roots underground. Small plants (under 3/8th inch diameter) can be dug or pulled, but for larger ones many buckthorn removal groups use a weed wench or root talon. (The garden club has one that they have used for buckthorn remvoal.) For really large plants, the recommended control method is to cut the trunk as close to the ground as possible and then immediately treat the stump by painting on an herbicide containing triclopyr. (Garlon is the brand name most often recommended.)

You can find detailed information on identifying and controlling buckthorn at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website and at the U’s site. Getting rid of buckthorn can be a long process—homeowners must stay vigilant because the seeds can last five years in the ground. As you remove buckthorn, don’t forget to replant the area with a variety of native shrubs and trees that will attract birds and other wildlife. The DNR recommends plants like highbush American cranberry, nannyberry, serviceberry, chokecherry and gray dogwood.

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