Wisteria is one miserable invasive plant. For some, it is “the most hated.” For me, I will reserve that for Japanese Knotweed, but wisteria is a close second. As it grows, it strangles trees, its weight snapping off branches. It can grow over thirty feet up a tree or send runners out 50 feet or more, rerooting every six inches. Now that it’s winter, and sitting dormant in the ground, and quite visible in the leafless woods, it’s an optimal time to remove it.
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Wisteria Is Not From Here
Understand though that it is a bear to eradicate (So please don’t plant it in the first place). Originally from Japan (Wisteria floribunda) and China (Wisteria sinensis) this invasive has escaped from our gardens into our woods and is destroying open space throughout Long Island and of course elsewhere.
Here’s how you need to go about removing it, keeping in mind that the Long Island Conservancy, along with The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, recommends not using herbicides. Also note that getting rid of wisteria, like a number of invasive plants, is not a one time effort, but requires regular revisits, as the roots (and the seeds) will still be around. Translated — you’ll be weeding for years. But then one could also be planting natives at the same time, reestablishing habitat and making it harder for invasive plants to establish themselves.
- Wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt that is rugged / that you don’t care about. Standard advice.
- Cut all the vines at the base of the tree, using a lopper, a hand saw or for the big jobs, an electric saw.
- As tempting as it may be, resist the urge to play “Tarzan” by hanging on the vine. That is bound to damage the tree.
4. Do your best to dig up the roots. A good lopper combined with a shovel is my preferred approach. This will be hard work, and it will re-sprout over the years until finally it’s eliminated.
5. Be sure throw the roots, vines and clippings in the trash rather than composting them, for it will re-sprout from that otherwise.
Wisteria Is An Enormous But Unrecognized Problem
The Long Island Conservancy put in hundreds of man-hours in 2021 removing wisteria from our open spaces, but the sheer amount of it once you start to look is mind boggling.
The way things are now on Long Island, it is almost a certainty it’s growing in a local park or woods, or frighteningly even in your yard. Some find the flowers pretty, but at the end of the day this is an alien plant that has no natural enemies, no native insects to curb its growth. It contributes nothing to the local biome.
How Invasive Plants Are Like Playing Jenga
Invasive and non-native plants do a very poor job of feeding native insects. If the plants they evolved to consume aren’t there, the insects disappear. When an insect is no longer there, all the other animals it interacts with are effected — other insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians. Remove a species and it destabilizes the local food web. Remove enough species, and the whole thing collapses, and you never know when or what particularly caused the collapse until after the fact and it happens quickly. Wisteria and other invasive plants steal light and nutrients from our native plants, and triggering local collapses of ecosystems.
We Need to Champion Our Native Plants
We need to kill these plants now, or accept our capitulation. They are on the way to destroying what’s left of Long Island’s native habitats. Our yards and parks have grown more silent over the years. Having less and less native growing in them is the main reason.
We need to help Nature take the land back. We need to restore what should be there.