Lets talk about Kudzu

Published 3:14 pm Friday, August 27, 2010

For any of us who have driven around Polk County in the past month, it is apparent that kudzu has had a great summer. It has grown by leaps and bounds. It has covered houses, bridges and trees with a lush green carpet smothering everything beneath it. We all know how exponential growth works; this years kudzu growth is a tragic example of exponential growth when it gets to the higher numbers. And next year will be worse.

My mother, God bless her, was one of those folks who told me that kudzu can really take over, but she never had any suggestions or ideas about how to stop it. My mother spent hours every day pulling weeds in her yard, and kudzu is a weed of sorts, so I dont know why she was convinced that kudzu was beyond control. I guess its the fact that kudzu does not give us the option of putting it off because it grows so fast in so many directions. Our problem is that we have put it off for so long that kudzu is way ahead of us, in the winners circle. and we are the losers. To pull ourselves out of the losers bracket will take a lot of hard work, for a long time, but it can be done. If kudzu wins the game, well lose our trees, our native plants, forests and open spaces. In my opinion, that is not really an option that we can morally choose.

Kudzu vines can be pulled up by hand. The plant will die of we cut the crown away from the root (the crown lies just below the ground where the vine emerges). This method is labor intensive, but you can do a little area at a time. The vines are fairly easy to pull away from the crown and root, and you actually kill the plant at this time and do not have to keep pulling year after year. You do have to watch VERY CAREFULLY to make sure that you have not missed any crowns, for they will sprout out in a New York minute and start growing 6 to 12 inches a day, putting down new shoots to make new crowns. I think of kudzu sort of like what it was like to outsmart our children, whose only goal was to outsmart us parents. To win the game we have to focus a huge amount of our attention on understanding and outsmarting our opponent – in this case, kudzu – and not quit until the game is over.

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There are herbicides that will kill kudzu, some kudzu specific. Now is the best time to spray with a herbicide, after the plant has bloomed, because the energy of the plant is being drawn back into the root in preparation for the dormant season. Herbicides that are absorbed by the leaves and go into the root are most effective at this time. It is necessary to repeat spraying every August or September for up to five years because each spraying can only hit about half of the leaves. Its the exponential thing in reverse, with about half of the plants being killed each year. If you quit before ALL the kudzu is gone, the process reverses. Remember, kudzus sole purpose in life is to grow and multiply. We have to stay alert, just as we did when we were raising small children and the house was too quiet.

As with any big job, the first step is the hardest, especially when we can see what a huge and long running challenge awaits us. The fact that we can see the enormity of our opponent covering acres of banks and trees is intimidating to say the least.

My suggestion is that we do what we can do this fall and then start cutting it out of the trees during the winter when the vines are dormant.

Cut it at the ground and then about 5 feet off the ground. As a visual, lets cut the kudzu down to our size so that we can stand above it and maybe get our bearings. Kudzu can grow only 3 feet up without something else to climb on, and it cannot wrap around anything more than 8 inches in diameter.

Start studying your enemy. Remember, were smarter than kudzu. If we cut the vines out of the trees and save the trees, those trees will help us by providing shade: kudzu needs full sun to thrive. We need those trees.

Last week I was watching a softball game at Jackson Park in Hendersonville. The woods surrounding the ball field were enveloped by kudzu. I can only imagine how many thousands of dollars have been poured into construction and maintenance of the ball field, yet nothing has been done to control the kudzu outside the fence that is smothering the trees. And they are big trees, soon to be dead trees. &bsp;

There are paid employees doing what they were asked to do, but no one has asked them to look beyond the fence.

What a stark picture: beautifully groomed grass on one side of the fence and death on the other, all paid for with our tax dollars.

We talk about the responsibility of landowners to be good stewards of their land. Look around. Look at your own land, and that needs to include land that is publicly owned and supported by your property tax dollars. Start the war on kudzu where we can, with what we own. &bsp;

Start pushing our representatives to spend some money on the outside of the fence and maybe let the grass grow an extra inch or so until we get the kudzu on the run. Tell them to cut the kudzu out of the trees this winter. Ask landowners to do the same.

Pacolet Area Conservancy owns acres of kudzu along the North Pacolet River between Tryon and Saluda; help PAC start a kudzu initiative to stop the spread of that kudzu across the river. Put you mind in gear, and use whatever resources you have to outsmart the kudzu. Make mistakes and learn from them. Most of all, START.