Stopping Volunteer Trees – Managing Unwanted Tree Seedlings

By Kathleen Mierzejewski

Many of us are very familiar with how to eliminate the herbaceous weeds that grow in our gardens, but when it comes to unwanted tree seedlings, often called volunteer trees or weed trees, we may be at a loss as to how to get rid of them from our yards. Let’s look at what makes tree seedlings become weed trees and how you can stop them.

What is a Weed Tree?

In today’s environmentally conscious times, it may seem painful or wrong to kill a tree, but we must remember that not all trees are created equal. Volunteer trees typically are trees that produce large amounts of seeds with a high germination rate. Some species of weed trees include black walnut, tree of heaven, mulberry and maples, though there are a great many more than this.

The tree seedlings from these trees are more than just a nuisance in your garden. They can be invasive and may crowd out and kill other native species that grow in the area. By eliminating a weed tree, you are not only tidying your yard but helping to keep a balanced ecosystem.

Of course, the final determination of what makes a weed tree is whether or not you want the tree there. If a tree seedling starts somewhere that you do not want it to, it is ok to get rid of it.

Ways to Get Rid of Volunteer Trees

When volunteer trees first sprout, the easiest way to eliminate these weed trees is to pull or dig them out when they are small. The longer you leave these tree seedlings to grow, the harder it is to get rid of them.

If you have a volunteer tree that is larger than a seedling, you will need to decide the best course of action to kill the tree. At first, it may seem like simply cutting down the tree is a good option. But many weed trees will simply produce suckers from below the cut.

A better option is to girdle the weed tree. To girdle a weed tree, cut a one inch or more strip of bark off from around the trunk. Make sure to cut deep enough to penetrate the hard center of the trunk. Doing this will slowly kill the tree over a period of a year or two and reduces the chances of the tree producing suckers.

If you are in a hurry and have no choice but to cut a volunteer tree down, make sure to paint full strength weed killer onto the cut right after you have made the cut. If any suckers appear, cut them off and also paint those cuts as you make them.

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