Ornamental Plants

How to Control Kudzu, The Vine That Ate the South

If you are traveling through the southern United States, it’s hard to miss seeing the lush green vines that sprawl throughout fields and anything else that gets in their way. This is the aggressive kudzu vine and it has become a big problem.

Kudzu was introduced to the United States from Japan in 1876 and American gardeners soon began to grow kudzu for its attractive foliage and blossoms that are like wisteria.

Kudzu was then spread further by well-meaning folks who marketed it as livestock fodder, and then through government programs that encouraged farmers to plant it as ground cover.

It wasn’t until 1953 that kudzu was recognized for the invasive pest it is. But by then the damage was done and kudzu continues to spread; now reaching as far north as Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. There are now two million acres of kudzu vine growing across the South.

Kudzu is a semi-woody perennial vine in the same family as peas and beans. As a legume, kudzu helps fix nitrogen in the soil, but its threat to the environment far outweighs its benefits. Kudzu kills other plants by smothering and choking them with its fast-growing vines and as the heavy vines engulf trees or shrubs their weight can eventually uproot trees.

In its native environment, kudzu is kept in check by insects that eat the vines. However, these insects are not present in this country. Scientists are currently looking for ways to control kudzu but the plant is resistant to many herbicides and some herbicides even encourage it to grow better.

There are ways to keep kudzu vine in control somewhat but persistence is necessary. Even when using a strong herbicide such as RoundUp, it can take at least four and as many as ten years of repeated treatments to kill a kudzu vine. Apply herbicides when the vines are actively growing. 

Vines can also be mowed down every month or two during the growing season. Repeated cutting of the vines will exhaust the plant and it will eventually give up. But when using this method of kudzu control, all the plant material must be destroyed to prevent the vines from taking root and starting to grow again.

Constant grazing by goats or cattle will also eventually weaken the plants and rid an area of kudzu.

Mike McGroarty is the owner of McGroarty Enterprises and the author of several books. You can visit his website at Freeplants.com and read his blog at Mikesbackyardnursery.com.

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