How can I effectively control/kill undesirable vines/brambles smothering desirable trees?

Asked June 30, 2015, 4:16 PM EDT

I have mature trees and younger trees behind my house in Silver Spring, MD that are being overgrown by vines and brambles. I would like to control or kill the vines and brambles so that I can save the trees that are being smothered. If you could offer any advice as to how to do this I would greatly appreciate it. I think the largest vine type, that now extends over the tops of the tallest 40-50 foot trees, is wild grape, but I am not an expert and perhaps you can better identify it from the pictures I'll attach. It has formed a blanket over the canopy of several trees and threatens to move across the canopy and smother more trees. I will attach a close up photo of this vine as well as a wider shot which shows how thick the coverage of the tree canopy has become. I have identified a cluster of 10-15 thick woody vine bases each about 2-3 inches in diameter. The vine basses are mostly clustered together. In addition to the wild grape vine which extends high up into the trees, there are 2 distinct vines and brambles that are vey thick lower down, extending up about 10-15 feet. I think one is the mile-a-minute vine and the other is some type of berry bramble. I'll include a picture showing both of these. The mile-a-minute is forming a thick blanket lower down and the bramble is extremely thick around the base of the younger trees and is extending up into the branches. Many of the lower branches and young trees have been engulfed by these two plants and either have died or are dying as a result. I would like to kill, or at least control, all three of these vines and brambles to save the trees they are in the process of killing. I would greatly appreciate any direction or advice you may have to offer on how to effectively and safely accomplish this. Thank you very much.

Montgomery County Maryland

1 Response

It is relatively simple to kill vines growing up trees. Because of invasive vine species and also the fact that CO2 seems to stimulate even more vigor in vines than other plants, vines engulfing trees has become a huge issue the past few years.
You have several things going on with your trees.
1. Wild grape vine: Yes, this is wild grape, which does produce grapes for wildlife, but can also smother and drag down trees. You do not need to remove the upper part of these vines. Cut them off at the base of the tree with pruners or a saw. Within minutes, apply an herbicide that contains glyphosate (a systemic) to the freshly cut stubs. You want the herbicide to go down and kill the vine roots. Do not get the herbicide on your tree--glyphosate is a total vegetation killer and kills whatever it contacts. You could also apply triclopyr.
It's helpful to make a second cut in the vines a few feet higher, just so you can plainly see what has and has not been cut.
Any regrowth from the vine's roots should be either cut or sprayed or both. The mass of grape vine left in the tree with die, decompose and slowly fall out of the tree. Not a problem.

Any other perennial vine growing into a tree can be treated using the same method, such as on English ivy or Oriental bittersweet.

2. The Mile-a-Minute vine is an annual. It has almost no root system and can be easily pulled from the soil with one hand. You can pull it from the tree or let it dangle and die. Use gloves--it has prickers. This is a non-native invasive plant and produces blue berries. Do not let it produce berries, or you will have the same problem next year!

3. The brambles are probably wild blackberries that are very happy, but may be reaching up for more sunlight. You can kill these just like you do the wild grape. However, you might want to simply prune these back to a reasonable height and cultivate them for the berries, if they get enough sunlight. They can be quite good, as long as they get enough sunlight to produce blossoms.

Tackling vines takes a bit of attention, but it very doable.