How to Identify and Get Rid of Invasive Kudzu So It Won’t Return

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Nature is unpredictable. Sometimes we plant things with good intentions, but some species, like kudzu, can get out of control and cause ecological damage. Once it’s in the ground, kudzu can be hard to kill if you don’t catch it early. 

There have been 50,000 invasive species discovered in America over the past century, and kudzu is one of the worst. Clearly, it’s not going anywhere, so it’s essential to be vigilant about this plant and learn how to deal with it if it invades your yard. 

This article will explain what kudzu is and how it affects the environment. More importantly, we’ll help you get rid of it if it’s trying to take over your space.

invasive kudzu 1

What Is Kudzu?

Kudzu (Pueraria montana) is native to Japan and Southeast China and was first introduced to America in 1876. Initially, it was considered an ideal ornamental plant because of its impressive vine, fast growth, and sweet-smelling blooms. 

This plant was even promoted as a good option for soil erosion control, and people throughout the country were encouraged to grow it. Little did they know that this vine would be one of the most destructive and would quickly smother out other plants. 

Due to the increased spread, the consequences of kudzu cost the government $120 billion in production losses and damages. Did you know invasive weeds damage crop production and cost $33 billion annually?  Property that has been heavily infested with kudzu becomes worthless.

After kudzu has been established in an area, it can grow at a rate of one foot per day with vines that can reach as long as 100 feet!

You can’t ignore this plant even if you want to. 

Why Kudzu Is a Problem

kudzu wall

Even though kudzu can look amazing when you see it covering a whole landscape area, it’s detrimental to the environment. It acts as a blanket, stopping light from reaching other plants and preventing photosynthesis. 

Not only is the landscape affected by kudzu, but its presence has a negative economic impact beyond harming crops. 

For instance, tourism rates in state parks have declined because the vines are disrupting the natural beauty of the landscape and ruining the aesthetic for travelers.

This loss of natural habitat and environmental damage is prompting people to take serious action. 

But it could get worse before it gets better.

Why Kudzu Might Start Spreading Even Further

Climate change is altering many things, from how warm the summers are to the loss of certain plants. Invasive plants like kudzu are often more adaptable than other native plants and will compete with their surrounding environment for more space, light, and nutrients. 

Since kudzu thrives in hot summers and cold winters, the change in temperatures might make it easier for this plant to invade other areas of the country where it doesn’t currently grow.

Kudzu can also survive periods of drought, which means it can thrive in a region with a shortage of water, which is becoming more and more common across the globe. 

Getting involved in removing kudzu before it causes irreversible problems is essential, whether you simply keep it out of your yard to help organizations working to remove it from public land. 

How To Get Rid of Kudzu

kudzu leaf

First, you must know how to identify kudzu if you want to kill it. Like many vines, it can be tricky to tell the difference between kudzu and some other weeds. To help you spot this invasive species, here are some things to look out for. 

Typically, kudzu has three broad leaves with a stem at each end. The leaves are large and can be as big as 7-8 inches long. Size is one way to determine if the vines are kudzu or not. 

The growth period is also another sign. It can grow fast, so if you see vines reaching up to one additional foot per day, it’s likely kudzu. If you’re still unsure if you’re dealing with kudzu or not, it’s good to do some research and compare photos online. 

That way, you can see if the pictures resemble what’s in your garden. 

The best thing you can do is try to catch it early and provide the necessary treatment. Even if you only notice a small infestation, it could prevent a much larger problem if you act quickly. You can simply remove small vines from a tree, to begin with.

Small Infestation Treatment 

If you’re lucky and the infestation is small, you will still be able to save your property from this vining species. The most common methods for eradicating kudzu are:

  • Cutting: repeated cutting can deprive the roots of nutrients
  • Grazing: allowing animals to feed and graze on the plants 
  • Digging: dig young plants out by the roots
  • Disking: a form of tilling to break up the roots
  • Prescribed Burning: careful, controlled burns can kill kudzu
  • Herbicides: some herbicides can help kill this plant

The treatment method will depend on how much land is covered and the age of the kudzu. 

Grazing

sheep and goats

Grazing is a popular choice for gardeners who prefer not to use chemicals. If you have a young infestation, it can effectively kill off the kudzu before it matures and develops more robust root systems. 

Cattle and other livestock eat kudzu if they are left to graze in the same area. If you have some farm animals, move them close to the kudzu and allow them to feed for a few days. You can also rent animals that will munch away at the plants.

You should notice the kudzu disappearing completely in three to four years.

Herbicides 

In general, we try to avoid herbicides in the garden because they leach into groundwater and have unintended consequences for wildlife. But somethings you’ve gotta do what you gotta do.

Herbicides should be used in conjunction with one or more of the other methods mentioned above.

Burning

After the leaves have wilted, a controlled burn can stimulate vegetation growth around the area. Usually, grass is one of the first plants to return after a burn. When grasses start growing, it prevents new kudzu seedlings and resprouting.

Plant pines, hardwoods, and forbs over the area to smother out young kudzu plants, as well. Then, be quick to pull up any kudzu you see trying to start growing again.

Treatment for Established Kudzu

If you’ve recently moved to a homestead and you discover older kudzu on the property, you’ll need additional methods for removing it. 

Herbicides

weed spray

The older roots are too deep for manual removal as they’ve been growing in the same location for years, so the easiest option is to apply chemicals. 

You can use herbicide in summer when flowers appear, and nutrients are active in the roots. This way, you’ll have a better chance of killing the kudzu and stopping it from growing again. 

Older kudzu requires more aggressive treatment, so applying a heavy herbicide is usually necessary to solve the problem and eliminate kudzu on your homestead. In addition to herbicides, don’t hesitate to disk, till, cut the plants down, and let your livestock dig in.

The more approaches you take, the better your chances will be of eliminating it.

Is It Safe To Use Chemicals?

Although chemicals might be the best choice to kill kudzu, does that make it safe? 

Chemicals are known for damaging the environment, so even if the herbicides cure your homestead of kudzu, it could lead to other problems down the line. 

Thankfully, some herbicides are less harmful to the environment, so it’s best to try and find a product that is as natural as possible. For example, some herbicides are approved for use around waterways. These won’t cause the same damaging effects as other herbicides to water life.

You can also limit the exposure of the chemicals to the surrounding plants. When applying herbicide, keep the liquid focused on the kudzu. Don’t spray on a windy day.

Alternatively, you can dig up the kudzu if you want to challenge yourself and avoid using chemicals altogether. It’s just a difficult project.

Typically, it can take up to a decade, even with chemical and mechanical interventions, to eradicate this plant. Keep at it, it’s worth it.

Dig Up Kudzu 

weeding

Compared to the other treatment methods, digging up the kudzu is the most time-consuming. Consider this option if you have the time and are willing to do the work. It’s better for the environment and safer for everyone involved – except maybe your back!

If you don’t dig up the kudzu correctly, you’ll end up with more vines growing the following year and you’ll have to repeat the process.

To start, you should follow the vine to the root. Then, mark the spot and begin digging. You need to be looking for the crown. This is the bulb-like growth that connects the top to the roots.

The crown is just above the taproots and just below the vining upper growth and will usually be just a few inches below the soil surface.

Remove the crown and the rest of the plant will die. It’s kind of like the heart of the plant; without it, the rest of the plant can’t function. 

Once you identify the crown, dig it up, and try to take as much of the roots with it as possible. Be careful, as an old kudzu plant can grow several taproots and more than one crown. Check for a second crown by following the trail of taproots. 

After you’re sure there isn’t another crown, there’s no need to dig up the rest of the taproots. The plant will die over time now that the crown is gone.

The Fastest Method to Get Rid of Kudzu

If you have a problem and you want to deal with it quickly, over one or two years rather than ten, researchers came up with a strategy that works fast.

It involves rotating two or three herbicides while mowing down the plant frequently. In between mowing and targeted herbicide use, the researchers revegetated with native plants that could become established quickly.

They were able to eliminate 91% of the vines in one year and 95% in two.

It’s best to chat with an expert on which herbicides work best in your area, but you’ll likely need to rotate glysophate, picloram, and triclopyr.

Is It Necessary To Remove Kudzu?

invasive kudzu

Ultimately, removing kudzu on your property is your decision. If you want to protect your plants from damage and preserve the natural landscape, it’s worth considering removing this vine from the environment. 

As you can see, there are natural and chemical options to use to kill kudzu, so you don’t have to apply chemicals if you don’t want to. 

In some cases, kudzu is already in natural forests and local communities, which makes it harder to deal with if your property borders public land. The plant might spread into your yard, making the battle an ongoing one.

If you want to team up with others who are working to eliminate kudzu, check out this organization. 

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