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Kudzu is an invasive vine that grows rapidly enough that it can cover buildings, power lines, and even choke out seldom-used roads. Originally of Japanese origin, it was introduced to the U.S. in 1876, with somewhat explosive results. If a patch takes hold on your property, it can grow as much as a foot in a single day, which means that it can rapidly smother your trees. But how do you eradicate a kudzu patch without killing your trees in the process?
If the kudzu patch is fairly young, you may be able to dig it out. Digging out the entire root system would require pulling up all the possible runners. If the roots are tangled in with the roots of your trees, you may do more harm than good that way.
Fortunately, you can destroy a young kudzu patch by pruning it back as far as possible, removing the vegetation, and digging out just the root crowns at the base of the vine. The root crowns are the small mounds at the tops of the roots, near the surface of the soil, where the leafy vines actually start sprouting.
Any kudzu that has gotten a start on your trees needs to be pruned back immediately. During the summer, defoliation has to take place weekly, all the way back to the ground, in order to be effective. Since this is a labor intensive process, you may want to consider contacting Schulhoff Tree & Lawn Care, Inc. or another tree service in your area to have them handle the job and make sure that your trees don't get choked out by this weed-like vine.
If the vine has had a few season's worth of growth or is simply not responding to attempts to cut it back manually, you may have to resort to an herbicide. Because of kudzu's rapid growth and the difficulty of trying to catch all the possible sprouts, a systemic herbicide is best. A systemic herbicide works by gradually killing the plant from the inside out, unlike contact herbicides, which only kill what they touch.
Another advantage to the systemic herbicide is that you can apply it directly to the root crowns of the kudzu, away from your trees and any other plants you want to keep. While a mature tree might withstand a few sprays from a contact herbicide on its trunk, any significant application of an herbicide could sicken and kill them.
Talk to a tree service about a combination of pruning and herbicide application. Pruning is still important in the days it takes for the systemic herbicide to start acting. The more you prune back, the less work the herbicide has to do and the faster you'll get control of the kudzu. It's also the best way to make sure that the herbicide is doing the job.