Conservation Corner — aka Kudzu Corner

Published 8:00 am Thursday, August 30, 2018

This has been a good year for kudzu: lots of rain and lots of sunshine and hot temperatures.

Just drive up to Saluda on Highway 176 and you will see more green than you thought possible, all thanks to the kudzu covering every tree that it can get to. A woman who was raised in Tryon told me that she can remember when all that a person would see while driving to Saluda was wildflowers on both side of the road, especially in that section east of the twin bridges.

Now all that can be seen in a green sea of kudzu.

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For many of us, the thought of ridding our land of kudzu is overwhelming. First of all, it may be hard to get to. It covers that ground AND the trees and bushes. Secondly, we’ve been told that getting rid of the kudzu for good will take years, four to five years to be more specific. If there’s a little bit of kudzu, digging up the roots and crowns is not all that big a deal. But most of us do not even notice the kudzu when there are only one or two roots; we don’t even consider the extent of the problem until it’s a big problem.

I’ve been spraying kudzu with a kudzu specific herbicide for Saluda Community Land Trust for the past six or seven years, so I can spot one kudzu vine a mile away and deal with it quickly. But some jobs are big jobs, and getting the kudzu under control takes at least four years. It is of great satisfaction when we look at a parcel of land that was once covered with kudzu but is now kudzu free, covered with all sorts of other shrubs and young trees. Just don’t give up.

Now I will tell you the real reason why I chose to write about kudzu this month.

I see a lot of kudzu growing on a lot of land that is owned by someone who does not seem to be doing anything about it. Kudzu wants to survive (for that I have great respect) and kudzu left to its own devices WILL survive at the expense of everything in its way.

Kudzu is starving for sunlight, which is why it covers trees and shrubs and open embankments, resulting in death for everything that it suffocates. The only animal that seems to live under kudzu is groundhogs because there is nothing to eat beneath the kudzu; it’s nothing but bare earth.

But these landowners who do nothing but complain about the kudzu do nothing, and the kudzu keeps growing. Is it apathy? Or do these landowners think that they have no power to control the kudzu, that the plant is bigger than them. Or, do they think that the kudzu will not adversely affect the resale value of their land?

I can answer that question right off! A lot with a tax appraisal of $67,000 just sold in Saluda for $42,000. The landowner chose to not act when the Saluda Community Land Trust offered to put kudzu-eating goats on the lot if she would pay for the fencing, which would cost about $1,000. Have you ever heard of the saying “Penny wise and pound foolish”? The decision to do nothing cost her about $20,000 three years later.

When dealing with kudzu, it pays to understand the plant. These facts are very important:

• Kudzu vines always climb upwards left to right

• They cannot climb around anything greater than 8 ½ inch in diameter

• They cannot climb over top of itself more than 4 ½ feet off the ground

If you start watching carefully you will learn how your kudzu is growing, where it originates, and you can figure out how to contain it, and kill it!  It grows at a rate of 6 inches a day, but it has to start somewhere.

You can spray now with a kudzu specific herbicide. Cut it back and out of the trees this fall; then you can see where the new growth starts in May. Then attack the main roots with gusto, by digging out the crowns or cutting the vines and painting Transline or Lontrel on the fresh cut.

And don’t fool yourself into thinking that one attack will do. Kudzu WANTS to live! Each year you may kill 50 percent of what you have growing, which means that after two or three years, all you’ll have is a few surviving roots. But that’s all it takes for kudzu to start all over again. You have to keep watching, being ever vigilant!

But we are smarter than kudzu, I promise. All we have to do is care, and stick with it.

Do you love your land, and your trees? Then take care of it, and protect it from predators.

Kudzu is a predator, and it needs to go!