I learned how to use an herbicide applicator and you can too!

MNA volunteer Sam Febba proudly displays his "Die, Buckthorn Scum" T-shirt. Photo by Carolyn Sundquist.

Our previous post about the Goose Creek Grasslands Sanctuary volunteer day talked about how we worked to eradicate glossy buckthorn from the property. Here you can learn how to identify and eradicate buckthorn on your own!

Glossy buckthorn was first introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant from Eurasia in the mid 1800’s. While it makes a nice living fence as it can grow up to 30ft, buckthorn is a very aggressive shrub and can become a pest in wetlands, especially fens. It is most common in Northeastern wet-mesic forests and in the Midwest part of the United States.

It can be identified by its shiny upper part of its leaves which are dark green in color. Buckthorn produces pale yellow flowers that bloom in late spring and fruit that ripens in the summer.  The berry color varies from red to dark purple and they are about the size of a pea. The plant is spread by birds who are attracted to the berries.  Once in the ground, the seeds are viable in the soil for about seven to eight years.

If we let the buckthorn grow in places like our Goose Creek Grasslands Sanctuary, they would multiply quickly and block out the light for the native seedlings and ground layer plants on the prairie fen.

The berries and leaves of a glossy buckthorn plant. Photo by Carolyn Sundquist.

“There is also concern that buckthorn can interfere with the fen hydrology,” Matt Schultz, Western Regional Stewardship Organizer for MNA said. “Buckthorn grows so rapidly that it can dry out the fen somewhat.”

There are many ways to eradicate the buckthorn, one being manually. This is not recommended however, because it causes soil disturbance.

“This can cause other seeds in the seed bank to germinate and actually be counter-productive,” said Schultz.

Another option when the plant is smaller than a pencil in diameter is hand swiping. This works when there isn’t enough surface area on the plant’s stem for concentrated herbicide to be effectively translocated to the plant’ roots.

Volunteer John Reynolds uses a homemade herbicide applicator on the buckthorn. Photo by Carolyn Sundquist.

“For hand swiping, you first put on a nitrile glove, then a cotton glove over it. You then dip your hand into the herbicide and directly touch the plant you want to kill with the cotton glove. This is slow, but a good way to be very specific in high quality areas,” Schultz said.

When removing invasive plants, you always want to cause as little harm as you can to the native plants and animals.  There are certain herbicides approved for wetland use that won’t cause harm to the amphibians in the area where they are used. These are the herbicides MNA uses for their applicators.

“Herbicide is a last resort when we don’t have any other good options left,” Schultz said.

Another option is using the foliar (leaf) backpack spray applicator, which uses the same type of herbicide as in hand swiping, but a much smaller concentration. Only 2 percent is used for the foliar application, but 35 percent is used for the cut-stump applicator.

A cut-stump applicator is used once the shrub is cut down. It is fairly inexpensive and can be made right at your home! The cut-stump herbicide applicator was designed by Jack McGowan-Stinski, from the Michigan Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

Here is a link to McGowan-Stinski’s detailed instructions for making your own applicator.


While most materials will be available at a hardware store, you can order the plastics from www.usplastic.com. You can also look for applicator-making workshops that happen all over the state by going to http://www.stewardshipnetwork.org!

The stump of a buckthorn plant that was treated with herbicide. The green color allows us to know which plants have been treated already. Photo by Carolyn Sundquist.

Always remember safety first when dealing with herbicides, so wear protective clothing!  The MNA is committed to safely using herbicides and our staff has commercial pesticide applicator licenses from the Michigan Department of Agriculture. Our volunteers are considered to work under the MNA staff’s licenses.

The next volunteer day at Goose Creek Grasslands will be August 9, 2010. If you would like to participate in the removal of glossy buckthorn, contact Matt Schultz at 517-643-6864 to RSVP.

2 thoughts on “I learned how to use an herbicide applicator and you can too!

    • The most well known herbicide is Rodeo (the wetland approved version of Round up). There are however numerous generic versions on the market as well such as Aquastar. These can be obtained through mail order companies such as Forestry Suppliers or Ben Meadow Company which can be found through internet searches or can be ordered through local agricultural or farm service supply companies which the farmers tend to use. Typically the chain and hardware stores do not carry this.

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