Controlling Kudzu

Question: I’ve noticed kudzu starting to grow near a creek in my neighborhood. What can be done to control it in an environmentally responsible way?

This question comes up often! Kudzu is a non-native invasive species, is likely to spread and displace native plants in the area, and reduce wildlife habitat.

Kudzu, Pueraria lobata, is a plant native to Japan that was first brought over in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1930s, the United States government paid farmers to plant it for erosion control and as cattle fodder. By the 1950s it had become a nuisance, and in 1997 was placed on the Federal Noxious Weed List. It is one of the fastest growing plants, with reports of growth of up to 60 feet in a single season.

Erosion controlling plants are generally welcome along creeks, known as riparian areas, because they stabilize the soil. This is important both to keep sediment and other possible pollutants out of surface water resources. Kudzu, however, is not the best choice for this purpose, and you are right to be concerned. Kudzu is likely to spread to adjacent properties and become very difficult to control all over the neighborhood.

There are a couple of pieces of good news in this scenario. First, the kudzu has just “started to grow” and thus is not well established. Second, you want to be a good steward of the environment and avoid pollution of the land and water from both erosion and pesticide use.

What can be done without pesticide use? Kudzu can be eradicated by persistent weeding, mowing, or grazing over a period of three to four years. A number of municipalities are using goats to control kudzu and other invasive species. Removing the roots is very difficult, since root systems can go 12 feet deep. However, if you can sever the crowns of the kudzu (where the vines meet the soil) from their sprouting vines and the tubers (thick underground plant stems) beneath the crowns, you can kill the kudzu plants effectively. For specific instructions, check out the Blue Ridge Prism link below.

Good luck with this project. With perseverance, you can succeed!

References:

“Fast and Furious Killer: Kudzu,” Blue Ridge Prism

“Invasive Plant Species of Virginia: Kudzu,” Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

“Kudzu in Alabama: History, Uses, and Control,” Alabama Cooperative Extension

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