Battling Invasive Climbing Vines

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One of the things that drew us to our house was the wooded section of the yard. It is only about a third of an acre, but it provides a nice break on that side of the lot from the neighbors and the street. We didn’t notice the vines until last spring when their leaves were out and they were actively making their way up the trunks and branches. The older vines, already settled into the tree tops, sprouted new leaves and pressed down on the smaller branches there.

hanging vines
Hanging vines that won’t budge

We don’t really have anything against vines. They can enhance the landscape and look nice covering a trellis or fence. But left unchecked certain vines become invasive. The vines that cover trees and bushes can eventually kill them. We started fighting the vines that sprawled across the tops of the trees last spring and continued into the fall. Andy used the chain saw to cut through the tree branch sized roots that wound across the ground. We watched as the green leaves of the vines at the top of a 30 foot tree turned brown. We spent hours pulling vines from tree trunks, branches and bushes. Many twisted through the branches so much that they wouldn’t budge. We felt we had made progress and thought we could finish them off this spring. We felt pretty good about our efforts.

We were wrong.

We walked through the woods this spring and cut several of the large roots. However, spring soon became summer and the vines continue to grow. We used a spray to attempt to kill the new ones that sprouted, but the progress was slow.

The chemical was supposed to kill MANY types based on the label. However, we really didn’t know what vines we had and assumed it would work on them. We also thought cutting through sections of the roots would kill them. It was time to determine exactly what type of vines we had.

After gathering samples of the vines, we determined there are 5 different varieties growing here. And not all respond the same to herbicides. Or the same technique.

Types of vines identified

Virginia Creeper – This was the first vine we were able to remove completely from a small cluster of trees. It was also the vine that got us started on our quest to rid our property of invasive vines.

Clipped this one off a tree to get a good picture for the plant identification app

The creeper uses tendrils to attach to the bark of trees and can climb as high as 50 feet. Its leaves, comprised of five leaflets, change from summer green into a fall foliage color ranging from reddish-orange to burgundy. Yes, this is a pretty vine and is often seen attached to the fronts of brick homes, climbing up the chimney. It also blocks the sun from shining on the leaves of its host tree. So, it had to go. Last summer, we cut the vine at the base of the trees and any roots that we found on the ground in the cluster. Throughout the summer, every time a vine started to grow, it was cut off. We even dug out the deep roots. No chemicals were needed because we were able to keep new growth cut back. Largely because this was a small cluster of trees surrounded by lawn. But, it was enough to get us looking at the other trees that were in the thick, overgrown area of the yard.

The creeper has not returned to that cluster, however, we have pulled several small vines starting to grow up other trees in the yard. Even though, we consider this one under control.

The leaves for this type have ridges and are heart shaped
leaf with 3 loops
This one has leaves with 3 loops

Wild grapevine – There are hundreds of varieties of wild grapevine, so finding the exact variety growing on our property was futile. We have identified two different varieties, based on the leaves.

The vines grow up and around trees, attempting to get closer to the sun. This frequently results in the death of trees such as oak and cottonwood, as the vine saps nutrients and blocks sunlight. The grapevine we have does not produce fruit, so we are spared the insect that thrives on the wild grapes, the western grape leaf skeletonizer. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Luckily research indicated that it is found more in the southwestern part of the United States.

Wild grapevine can be controlled through cutting vines and roots and applying pesticides, such as Roundup. Roundup can be used to kill the young shoots if sprayed on the leaves early in the spring growing season. It will stunt the growth of leaves and shoots which will eventually kill the vine. It will work faster if applied to a fresh cut grapevine stump in the early spring, around March. If applied in late spring or midsummer when vines are actively growing the flowing sap won’t allow the chemical to penetrate the stump to kill it.

That is where we went wrong. The leaves were sprayed late last summer and we didn’t really check the growth until early this summer. We did, however, cut many vines in the spring. We knew to cut them in at least two places.

grapevine shoots from stump

This is a picture of a root stump that was cut. Since it was not treated, LOTS of runners grew. They appear to be racing for the nearest tree. Next time, we will be sure to apply the Roundup when cutting the roots. Another trick is to cover the stumps with black plastic or thick mulch after applying the Roundup. Turns out they are intolerant of shade and the sprouts will die if they don’t get adequate sun.

Honeysuckle – we have both honeysuckle vines and bushes. We are working to get the vines under control and will address the bushes later.

It appears we have the Japanese Honeysuckle vine. A very aggressive fast growing vine that will overpower other vegetation with above ground runners and underground rhizomes. This weedy twinning vine grows up to 30 feet in length, moving from branch to branch and tree to tree, choking out shrubs and small trees. It even covers the honeysuckle bushes that grow in that part of the lot. The flowers are fragrant and range in color from creamy white to yellow. So, when they are blooming, it’s pretty and smells great. Until we pull on a vine and see how much of a small tree it is covering.honeysucklevine

We have sprayed the honeysuckle, cut the honeysuckle and pulled it out of trees and bushes. It comes back. The Missouri Department of Conservation website indicates that burning is effective in reducing the Japanese honeysuckle coverage. However, we won’t go that route in our yard. Cutting the vines and treating with Roundup is the other recommended treatment. It should be applied in the fall, after surrounding vegetation has become dormant, but before a hard freeze. Again, spraying during the growing season is not the best method. Which is why we still have so much of this vine growing in the yard. Another one to add to the list for the fall or early spring.

Bristly Greenbrier or Smilax tamnoids – This vine grows straight up and sends out tendrils to attach to nearby bushes and trees. It also has some very mean thorns that can be up to ½ inch long on a mature plant.

Bristly Greenbrier – can’t see the thorns in this picture, but they are there!

Greenbriers are numerous and are spread throughout the Midwest. They can grow about 12 feet tall, with a spread of 6 feet. This is a native plant and is not considered invasive. However, we consider it invasive because of the many thorny vines in the wooded part of our lot.

We found some interesting information about the greenbrier. Not only are they a cover for Bobwhites, which love to feed on their berries, they are also a treat for people that like to eat them. Apparently greenbrier can be used as a vegetable, eaten cooked, raw or pickled. You can put it in a soup, make flour from the stem or boil it up for a jelly. There are several recipes in a book of wild edible plants in Missouri. Here is the link if you are interested in doing trying some. Wild Edibles in Missouri

bristly greenbrier
This delicate greenbrier stem is could be cut and eaten.

We have no plan to eat it. We just want to control it because those thorns really hurt.

Greenbrier doesn’t respond well to the chemicals. One suggestion was to dig the root out, which would cause us to tear up a good portion of that area. Another was to wear it out. This option is listed as possibly the most effective way to keep it under control and out of shrubs and trees. It requires that we prune it back to the ground as often as possible. It works because the plant need a lot of light to survive. Keeping the vine cut back to the ground will cause the roots to drawn down the reserves in the root system. The smaller vines can be controlled more quickly this way. The suggestion is to cut it back in the fall or winter since it does not die completely and will be easier to find. Then cut back to the ground again in the spring when it begins to grow and again in July or August. We will be trying to cut it back to the ground every chance we get.

We will be attacking the vines again this September, using the methods described in this post. Hopefully, next spring, we will have less vines. However, we also realize that we will need to be vigilant to keep them under control.

One last vine

honey vine

This one goes by several names. The scientific name is Cynanchum laeve. Commonly known as Sand Vine, Climbing Milkweed (though it is not really a milkweed) and Honey Vine. We are calling it Honey Vine. The flowers smell so sweet they are a little like honeysuckle.

The Honey Vine, a native Missouri plant, is an aggressive perennial climber that covers fences, shrubs, and in our yard, yucca plants. The flowers are in round clusters on stalks from the leaf axils. The tiny white flowers bloom July to September.

The flowers attract butterflies, bees, wasps and other nectar drinkers. This may be what attracts the hummingbird we sometimes see zipping around. Clusters of yellow-orange aphids will also drink sap from the stems. They draw ladybugs, green lacewings and other aphid eaters. Many of these insects become food for birds, spiders and more.

The vine develops large seed pods in late summer. The seeds are attached to tufts of while, silky hairs and are released from the pods in late winter or early spring to spread and grow wherever they land. Which is what makes this native plant somewhat invasive, depending on where it lands and what control is used.

honey vineSince the honey vine is not growing in the wooded area and is twinning around the yucca plants, we are going to leave it alone for now. The yuccas in that area have become numerous and we are trying to thin them out. Eventually we will do some landscaping there and remove them completely. Until then, the honey vine can twine around them and attract nectar eaters. Except for ants. The ant are all over them.

A good app for determining plant identification is Pl@ntNET. It is free and you take a picture of the plant and upload it. It was very helpful in determining some of the vines.

If you see an incorrect identification on one of the vines, please let us know in the comments. A lot of searching was done to be sure they were identified correctly, however, mistakes can happen. If you have invasive vines on your property, we hope this post provided some helpful information. Please let us know if you try any of the tips.

UPDATE:  Adding the progress of the honey vine vs the yucca plant.  The honey vine is winning. honeyvine9_7_17

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