Three Natural Approaches To Clearing Land of Tree Stumps and Invasive Plants
Whether you desire a life off the grid, are prepping, or just want to be a little more self-reliant, the ability to grow your own food is a valuable skill. Unfortunately for many people, the property they currently have is not perfect, rich, and loamy or free of weeds and pests and ready to be planted. While the easiest way to remove unwanted plants from the area you intend to cultivate is to douse everything in chemicals, I prefer a more natural, poison-free approach. While these options take more time and energy, you will reap the rewards of having a non-toxic planting space. Unwanted plants come in many shapes and sizes. The ones I am most commonly asked about are trees, blackberries, and the ever growing swathes of dangerous weeds such as star thistle, which can take over pasture and kill livestock.
We all know plants need water, soil, and sun. Trees are often in exactly the wrong spot, taking valuable ground space and casting huge areas of shade. In many cases, chopping down the offending tree is the easy part. The trouble begins when you are left with a large stump that refuses to stop sending up dozens of suckers. You could just keep cutting the suckers as they pop up, but let me speak from experience- that gets old fast. This also doesn’t solve the problem of wanting to use the space the stump is occupying. Fear not, for there is more than one way to kill even the most stubborn stump!
Three Natural Ways to Remove Tree Stumps
Option 1: Find a Stump Grinder. While this is the fastest option, it is also the most expensive. Stump grinders can usually be rented at your local garden or hardware store. Borrow a couple of buddies or really good neighbors, and dig as much dirt away as you can. Follow the roots out as well. Then, just stop by your local equipment rental store and grab a grinder! While this is the fastest option, it is also the most expensive. If you are clearing large areas with many trees, do the math and see if it would be more economical to purchase the stump grinder, rather than rent it. Always follow all manufacture instructions for use, but the idea of it is pretty simple. Wear protective gear, turn on stump grinder, and grind a little at a time, as far down and as far out as you can reach. Voilà! From stump to sawdust! Some people choose to burn the sawdust and allow it to smolder until it extinguishes itself. Use extreme caution if you choose to burn what is left. This is better suited for a wetter time of year.
Option Two: Use Salt. Another natural option that is significantly cheaper and significantly slower, is to kill the stump with Epsom salt. Drill the biggest hole you can manage in to your stump- sized about ½” to 1” wide, and at least 10” deep, or deeper if possible. If there are roots you can get to poking above the spoil, drill in to them as well, taking care to not pass all the way through. Fill the holes in the stump with Epsom or rock salt, leaving two or three inches to the top open. Fill the holes in the exposed roots about halfway. Seal the holes in the stump and in the roots with a generous cap of wax. Paraffin is fine, beeswax is better. You want a good, thick seal so that when rains come the salt is not washed in to surrounding soil. This method can take several weeks for several months. Depending on your climate and the type of tree you are dealing with, you may choose to cover the stump with a tarp to smother any little shoots that may pop up. You will know the stump is dead when it begins to fall apart on its own. At this point, you may let it decay naturally, dig it up, or simply cut it as close to the ground as you can and place a raised bed over it.
Option Three: Smother it. Smothering is the most passive option. All one needs is to simply cover the stump with a heavy tarp, and hope to smother it. While this is the easiest of the options, the success rate is low and the process is long. You can snip any suckers that come up and try to keep the stump as dry as possible to further cut off lifelines. This method is only for those with amazing patience.
Removing Invasive Weeds
Another aggressive, hard to kill plant we all love and hate are blackberries. While what comes to mind for me are the invasive, spread-like-fire Himalayan blackberries we see all over in the west, these methods hold true for most bramble type plants you may want to remove. With any of these methods the first step is the same- remove any visible foliage above ground. You can do this in a number of ways. Hungry goats, chainsaw/ brush cutter, or yank them out by hand. What you choose depends of course on what is available to you and how big your bramble is. If you are going any route besides goats, I recommend burning the vines as you remove them. Some bramble type plants can take root from cuttings. Burning them ensures they will not take root. Like with the tree stumps, brambles often can and do come back even after being chopped down. To solve this, you can choose to either pull up suckers as they appear, which is the slowest and least effective option, or you can smother the suckers with a tarp. If you would rather not deal with suckers at all, you can try to kill the roots of the bramble.
How to Kill of Bramble
To kill the roots, you can either hand turn the soil with a shovel or use a tiller to chop up and flip over the vast majority of the roots. To ensure that the surviving roots do not take hold, you can plant a fast growing grassy crop, such as barley, over the tilled area. The barley will be more than happy to settle in to the freshly turned soil and will choke out any remaining roots. If you don’t want to be bothered with barley growing from seeds next season, simply turn the barley in to the soil before the heads mature. Or, you could open the pasture to your livestock that would be quite happy to mow down the barley for you.
The final nasty, unwanted plant on my list of badies is Star Thistle. While your noxious plant may be of a different species, every area has their wicked weed that comes to mind. The key to getting a grip on these unpleasant invaders is to be vigilant. Getting a major infestation under control can be next to impossible and extremely expensive. It pays to keep your eyes peeled for invasive species, and to remove them as soon as is possible. Never assume that you managed to destroy every plant. If it is at a small enough scale that hand removal is an option, be sure to burn the plants after pulling them out. Do not attempt to compost noxious invasive weeds. It is a bad idea to simply till the plants under the soil or the burn the area. These types of plants thrive on freshly disturbed soil, and will move in faster than any native plant. This often makes the situation worse than you started with. If you do till or burn the area, be certain to plant a fast growing cover crop. Tarping the area prevents anything from growing, and once uncovered is at just as high if not higher risk for being infested. A good option is to contact your local or state department of agriculture and see what they can offer you. Some species of invasive plants are able to be killed by certain local plants, or are the favorite snack of a local insect. Regardless of the route you follow, keeping on top of the plants will be essential.
While it may seem like nothing but hard work and no fun, the rewards of having your land cleared and the peace of mind in knowing you did not introduce any toxic chemicals in to your soils are well worth it. Be sure your game plan is realistic, and is going to work for your specific area as well as the specific plants you want to kill. Once you know the direction you want to take, grab some gloves and some friends and get going! Stay tuned!
Ruby is a first generation Californian who grew up in the heart of the Central San Joaquin Valley farming community. She’s been involved in agriculture for 40 years and learned to preserve food, traditional home arts, to hunt and fish, raise livestock and garden from her Ozark native mother.
This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition
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