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Preserve wild native shrubs from herbicide drift

Akchamczuk/getty images Chokecherries
WILD FRUIT: Common in creek bottoms and fencerows, chokecherries (pictured) and wild plum thickets have been in decline because of weather conditions, removal and herbicide drift. There are ways to mitigate the death of these wild native shrubs by taking care when spraying herbicides in adjacent crop fields and pastures.
Farmstead Forest: Here are some tips from forest service and arborist sources.

My parents loved to make homemade jams, jellies and wine, especially from the wild plums and chokecherries growing along the streambed near West Bow Creek.

Years ago, these wild shrubs and fruit were plentiful in fencerows and creek bottoms, but today, they are difficult to find. Insect pressure, extreme weather events, lack of fencerows and herbicide drift have damaged and weakened many small native stands.

There are ways to preserve these once-plentiful natives, including planting them around the farmstead, in windbreaks and riparian buffer strips. Another method is to try to preserve natives where they already exist, by protecting them from herbicide drift as much as possible.

Only moderately tolerant

For many farmers and landowners, protecting and preserving native woody plants is not a high priority, but if you hope to maintain stands for humans or wildlife, management is the key.

“Unfortunately, Rosaceae family trees and shrubs — cherries and plums — are only moderately tolerant to drift from many pasture herbicides,” says John Ball, South Dakota State University forester. “The drift may not kill the plants, but it will put repeated stress on them that causes enough decline that insects like borers eventually finish them off.”

He says that keeping herbicides completely away from these woody plants is always the best way to preserve them. “Anything that is applied will harm the plants,” Ball says. “Fall is usually your best window for herbicide applications that minimize injury to these trees and shrubs. Watching wind speeds and direction during applications are also big factors.”

Shrubs that are hit by herbicides might show varied symptoms, from leaf cupping, curling, twisting or strapping (narrow, elongated growth), according to Nebraska Forest Service information. Stem and branch growth might be twisted, curled or stunted, and there could be stunted clusters of shoots or leaves.

Foliage might be discolored, like yellow, white, reddish, purplish or abnormally light or dark green. There could be leaf scorch with the leaf edges turning brown, flecking or complete browning and leaf death, along with defoliation and branch dieback. Other factors such as weather damage, insects and disease can cause similar symptoms, so professional assistance is often needed to help identify the problem with certainty.

Reducing damage

To protect wild and native trees and shrubs from herbicide symptoms, decline or death, here are a few tips gleaned from numerous forest service and arborist sources on reducing the chances of herbicide damage:

  • During field operations such as planting, spraying or harvest, observe where native stands of these plants, shrubs and bushes are located on your farm.
  • Read and follow all herbicide label instructions. Pay attention to restrictions that help limit drift, vaporization and runoff.
  • Apply herbicides in the fall when applicable, because these trees and shrubs are generally less susceptible to damage then.
  • Monitor temperature, wind speed and direction when applying herbicides to make sure they are not drifting on native stands you want to protect.
  • Adjust sprayer nozzles to a coarse spray pattern to reduce off-target drift.
  • Be especially careful when treating stumps near desirable trees, or when using herbicides that are actually labeled to control woody brush or some of the trees and shrubs you are trying to preserve.
  • Keep in mind that herbicides can kill trees over time, after repeated treatments and drift. They might recover from light damage, but over several years, repeated light damage will shorten the life of the tree and open the tree up to disease and insect pressure.
  • Know your herbicides, their modes of action and which ones are most dangerous around trees.

Learn more about how to prevent herbicide drift on woody plants by contacting your local Extension office or forest service professional.

TAGS: Herbicide
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