Invasive Buckthorn – How To Get Rid Of Common Buckthorn Bushes

Large Common Buckthorn Bush
(Image credit: emer1940)

Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is a small tree that grows between 10 and 25 feet tall (3-8 m.). Native to Eurasia, it was brought to the US as an ornamental. However, it spreads rapidly and has become invasive, replacing native vegetation and lowering species diversity. If you have noxious buckthorn plants growing in your yard or garden, you may want to eliminate them. How to get rid of common buckthorn? Read on for information about removing common buckthorn and different methods of buckthorn control.

Invasive Buckthorn

The buckthorn shrub spreads rapidly. Each plant produces lots of berries that are eaten and spread by birds. Wherever it grows, it shoulders out native plants because it leaves out early in spring and holds its leaves late into fall. The tree may also produce chemicals inhibiting the growth of other species near it. 

Invasive buckthorn has been found to alter the ecosystems it lives in. Both its fruit and foliage are high in nitrogen and are broken down quickly by invasive earthworms. This destroys beneficial fungi that native trees need to grow. It also opens up bare soil that is ideal for buckthorn to grow. 

Removing Common Buckthorn

Once you determine that you have noxious buckthorn plants invading your yard, you’ll want to take action to stop them. Buckthorn control is harder than you may think though. You are not likely to be able to eradicate all the buckthorn in the surrounding area, so you will have to choose your battles.

Experts recommend that you survey the buckthorn on your property and select the areas of most concern. A good time to do this is in early spring or late fall, when native vegetation is not in leaf, but buckthorn is. This makes mapping easier. Figure out the highest priority areas and take it from there.

How to Get Rid of Common Buckthorn

The best time to start removing common buckthorn is when it is very young. You can pull out slender seedlings by hand or using a shovel. Bigger plants can be uprooted with heavy equipment. This is only effective when there aren’t many noxious buckthorn plants.

If you are wondering how to get rid of common buckthorn that is more mature, cutting stems or girdling often work. If you prune back the stems twice in one season for several years, this reduces plant size and density. You can also girdle large stems by making parallel cuts through the bark, then peeling off the outer bark. 

Finally, as a last resort, you can try mid-to-late fall glyphosate sprays. Invasive buckthorn remains green in autumn so spraying then reduces potential injury to nontarget plants. The product can also be used on buckthorn stumps.

Note: Any recommendations pertaining to the use of chemicals are for informational purposes only. Chemical control should only be used as a last resort, as organic approaches are safer and more environmentally friendly.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.