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Gardening Chores: Removing Unwanted Shrubs and Vines

Master gardener Paul James tackles some chores in his garden, including thinning forsythia and removing poison ivy.

Master gardener Paul James has a neglected area in one corner of his yard where the weeds have grown and the plants are out of control. So he tackles some gardening chores to clean this area up.

Cleaning Up Forsythia

Forsythia's bright yellow flowers are among the first to be enjoyed in late winter to early spring. These shrubs can be pruned just about any time, although there's no harm in enjoying the flowers first before doing any massive cutting. Paul's forsythia has become too overgrown and needs to be thinned and cut back.

He starts to work from the outside in, first removing numerous branches that have rooted a few feet away from the center of the plant — something that forsythia does readily. In fact, growing more forsythias from one plant is easy. Simply take a branch from the mother plant and bend it to the ground. Weigh the branch down with a stone so it makes contact the ground. Allow time for the branch to root itself in the ground and let it grow into its own shrub. Then repeat the process, making new forsythia shrubs along the way.

To clean up the shrub and bring it back under control, he cuts back older, thicker branches in the interior of the plant as close to the ground as possible. This process of thinning the plant actually rejuvenates it and opens up the plant's interior to more air and sunlight. This helps to encourage new growth and promote a healthy plant.

Removing tree seedlings

Young weedy tree seedlings are easily removed by pulling the center of the plant straight up out of the ground. However, older and bigger tree seedlings are often harder to be removed by pulling. In that case, use a shovel to dig the seedling out of the ground; make sure to remove as much of the roots as possible since some plants may grow back from the roots. If digging out the plant is out of question, cut back the seedling as close to the ground as possible. Paul recommends applying a mixture of vinegar and salt directly to the freshly cut tree stump. This should kill the plant and prevent it from sprouting again.

Removing Vines

Weedy vines can become a nuisance in the garden. Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is one such vine. A key identifying characteristic is its palmate leaf, or a cluster of five leaflets. Although there are ornamental options available that aren't quite so problematic, Virginia creeper can quickly take over plantings. It can be removed by pulling or digging. Wild grapevine can also be rather invasive and strangle nearby plants. It too can be pulled or dug out.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is arguably the most annoying weedy vine to remove. This is due to the fact that it can cause an itchy, irritating skin rash after handling. Its key characteristics are the three leaflets; as the saying goes, "Leaves of three, let it be."

When working around poison ivy, wear gloves, long sleeves and pants to protect skin from coming into contact with the leaf oils. Remove vines by pulling or digging, then discard them in a trash bag. Don't throw the vines into the compost pile. Thoroughly wash immediately with an over-the-counter poison-ivy soap. This soap can be found at most pharmacies and removes the poison-ivy oils from the skin. Then wash the clothing and gloves that came into contact with the poison ivy to keep the oils from spreading. Finally, take a cool, not hot, shower.

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