The Q&A Archives: How do you kill box elder trees/plants?

Question: Hi!
My husband & I have planted a number of spruces alongside our property up North in WI; however, in clearing the edge of box elders trees once already, they've grown back up into bushes now and refuse to leave the area. We've tried copper nails, Round-Up, but it did not work. They are coming back in droves like weeds. Meanwhile, taking over our beautiful spruce trees, which for a while had a chance for sun and started to shoot up, only to be taken over by the box elders. Now they grow sickly with one side to their name. We would like to clear the edge again, but would like to do it permanently. Any better ideas? We are getting too old to keep on clearing this repeatedly.
Thanks for the attention...

Answer: Unfortunately, unless you get rid of the roots, you'll be dealing with suckering sprouts forever. Digging the roots is the most permanent solution. Failing that, you can try using a chemical treatment.

There are many stump killing products on the market. The most common active ingredient in these products is either trichlopyr or glyphosate. Read the labels of these products carefully before purchasing to ensure it is labeled for cut stump application. Once you decide on a product, buy the smallest container that will get your particular job done. Any product stored on the shelf of your garage or shed is a potential hazard and has a finite shelf life.

Both trichlopyr and glyphosate rely on translocation to the root system through the phloem tissue (inner bark). This requires they be applied to the freshly cut surface at the proper strength. I find the safest way to do this is by painting it on with an inexpensive paint brush. Always wear disposable latex gloves, safety glasses, and other recommended personal protective equipment as per product label instructions.

My personal experience with this method was using glyphosate on over 100 one to two inch Siberian elms. After cutting the stumps, I used a cordless drill to make two or three ? inch deep holes just inside the bark. The holes created small reservoirs for the herbicide and ensured a fresh surface for the herbicide to enter. The treatment was 98% effective.

Many woody plants naturally sucker from exposed or disturbed roots. These suckers may emerge from the ground far away from the mother plant. Yet they are directly connected to the mother plant and any herbicide treatment applied to them can be translocated to other individuals sharing that common root system. Never treat sprouts coming off a root system of a tree that you want to keep. Cutting and treating these sprouts with an herbicide can result in exposure of the entire root system. This may ultimately kill non-target trees. Also remember that trees of the same species growing next to one another may have a common root system as a result of root grafting.

Even though the above mentioned herbicides are labeled for treatment of cut stumps, there are some people that do not care to use herbicides. Digging or burning the stump is a labor intensive alternative. On small trees and shrubs, covering the stump with black plastic and preventing light from penetrating may be a viable alternative. I would only recommend using this approach on a small scale and with less vigorous plant species.

Best wishes with your project!

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