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What is buckthorn?
buckthorn_000Common, or European, buckthorn and glossy buckthorn are two non-native buckthorn species found in Minnesota.  European buckthorn was brought to the state as a popular hedging material.  However, it escaped and has become a nuisance plant.  Glossy buckthorn is sold by nurseries in two forms, "Columnaris", which is narrow and tall, and "Aspenifolia", which grows up to 10 feet and has a ferny texture. 

Why is buckthorn problematic?
Buckthorn competes with native plants for nutrients, moisture, and light.  It threatens forests, wetlands, and other natural habitats that are home to native wildlife.  Buckthorn contributes to erosion by shading out other plants, shrubs and small trees that grow on the forest floor, and can serve as a host to other pests, such as crown rust fungus and soybean aphid.   

How to Rid Your Yard of Buckthorn:
Simply cutting the plant down doesn't work - suckers sprout from the remaining stump. Below are some methods to kill buckthorn.  (Note: below are instructions for do-it-yourselfers.  If your area of buckthorn infestation is quite large and/or you would rather not tackle it yourself, hire an I.S.A certified arborist/tree care company to handle the project).

Removing small buckthorn plants:
  • Small plants, with stems less than half an inch in diameter, can often be pulled up by hand.  This works especially well if the soil is moist and you are able to rip out most of the roots. You might also use a trowel or shovel, digging out as much root mass as possible.  Stomp down the soil after digging or pulling to minimize soil disturbance and germination of buckthorn seeds in the soil.  NOTE: Before you pull or dig, Contact Gopher State One Call to ensure there are no buried utilities.

Removing larger buckthorn bushes:
  • These can be cut down low to the ground with a handsaw or loppers, and the stump treated with one of the following methods to prevent it from re-sprouting:
    • Cover the cut stump down to ground level with either a tin can (open only at one end) or a black plastic baggie (such as Buckthorn Baggie). If using a tin can, choose one that is considerably wider than the stump and  push the open end into the soil and nail it firmly to the base of the stump.  If using a baggie, tie the baggie securely to the stump so that it covers down to ground level.  Leave the can or baggie in place for 1 to 2 years. 
    • Or, immediately after cutting, paint the top of the stump with an herbicide.  Carefully apply the herbicide directly to the stump with a small paint brush or other device.  The most effective time to kill buckthorn using the cut and herbicide method is fall.  NOTE: Always read and follow herbicide label instructions. 
    • Older buckthorn plants may reach the size of small trees.  If you are attempting to kill a plant of that size, drill small holes into the cut end of the stump and fill the holes with an herbicide.

It is very important to prevent buckthorn from re-invading by planting and maintaining native plants in areas that have been cleared of buckthorn. Click here to read about locating, planting, and maintaining native plants on your property.