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The Complete Guide to Landscape Design, Renovation, and Maintenance
by Cass Turnbull

This chapter is devoted to convincing you that it's all right to kill plants or otherwise dispose of them. On the other end of the spectrum from those chain saw-happy homeowners, who want their yards to look like a very tidy prairie (and allow nothing to stand between them and their view of anything) are the tender souls who can't bear to cut anything down. These are the people for whom this chapter is written. Do not suffer a weed to live! If thy plant offend thee, pluck it out!

The Definition of a Weed is Anything in the Wrong Place!

Weeds can often be beautiful.

Weeds can often be huge, like trees.

Weeds can often be wildflowers.

Weeds can be wonderful plants that are simply in the wrong place.

When you stop to think about it, a garden is a series of god-like choices you have made. There is no intrinsic badness in a dandelion (which was once a cultivated flower that escaped and did too well) or in any of the weeds, except perhaps some poisonous ones. People just decided that some are more esthetically desirable than others. It's okay to kill plants. When you weed, you kill. In fact, when you eat, you kill. Vegetarians kill plants and eat them. When you read the newspaper, you kill (paper/ trees). Life-the proverb goes-feeds on death (unless you are yourself a plant, and then you fuel up on sunshine). I feel that it is just our job to kill wisely and judiciously, with respect and with the big picture kept in mind.

As a species we have a pretty interesting (though not exclusive) sense of aesthetic value. We cherish things because they're pretty and not just because they help us survive. And we have actually formed emotional attachments to other species (pets) and sometimes to plants. I have often thought of myself as the dispenser of life and death, as on one sweep of the yard I fertilize, while on another I apply herbicides. And when you and I are gone, weeded out ourselves, what we have chosen to do in the yard will revert to that private battle for a place in the sun. That which those plants carried on among themselves for millennia before we arrived on the scene, and (if the planet is lucky) will be carrying on for many more millennia.

If you cut down a fir tree (and most other conifers), it will simply die. Most deciduous trees, however, will sucker back from the stump. Some trees, such as poplars, will respond by suckering up from their extensive root systems.

How to Kill Effectively
If you cut down your needled evergreen (say a spruce or juniper), it will just die, no problem. But guess what happens if you cut down your cane-grower or your deciduous tree-like? It will grow back. Your cane-grower will be renovated. Your tree-like may or may not grow back ugly. If you foolishly cut down an aspen or poplar, you will stimulate scores of new saplings to grow from the extensive root systems. A nightmare!

The best way to kill effectively is to dig out the stump and/or most of the roots. If it is impossible to do this, you must treat the stump. This means paint chemical on it to kill it so that it doesn't return. On the label for the herbicide Roundup®, the large size, (Glyphosate is the active ingredient) you will find directions for stump cut treatments for trees and woody brush. With trees you paint it on to cover the entire cambium..."Apply 50 to 100 percent solution of product to freshly cut surface immediately after cutting. Delays in application may result in reduced performance." This means minutes. I use Roundup because it binds tightly to the soil and therefore is not available to kill nearby plants or move through the soil to the water table. Be careful that the roots of the treated stump are not grafted (connected) to a same species tree next to it. Dissimilar species rarely graft to each other. See more about herbicides in the "How-to Maintain" section of this book.

A clever way to hide a stump. Use an open-ended whisky barrel and plant it with flowers.

Sometimes it is best when you saw or cut your plant to leave some room between the stump and the ground (two inches to a foot), paint it with herbicide, and wait to see if it survives next spring. If it grows back, it will do so just under the cut. Let it grow all summer, putting all its energy back up above the ground, then just before fall when it's going to draw energy back down into the roots, cut it again below the first cut, including all the new suckers, and paint it again; let it suck the poison back down into the roots. After a year goes by with no activity, you may remove the ugly stump by cutting it to the ground. Or, you can put a tasteful vine on it to cover it until it rots out. My clever neighbor put an open-ended whisky barrel over her stump, filled it with dirt, added some more barrels and flowers and put a shrub bed around them, too. It looks great!

If you really, really don't like any chemicals, there is hope. You can hire someone with a machine called a stump grinder to come and chew out the stump. Or rent one yourself. Pretty amazing. Stump grinders just turn stumps into sawdust. You do need sufficient access to wheel it in and you should dig down and get as much dirt away from your stump as you can before the stump grinder arrives. Then fill in the hole and plant something you really want, something that--according to your definition--is not a weed.

Don't be afraid to eliminate unwanted or hopelessly unhealthy plants from your landscape. Even trees can be cut down and stumps removed.
Some things can be killed by cutting them down, but others will simply regenerate. The stump or roots must be dug out or treated with chemicals to make sure they do not return.

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