The alien and invasive species, Autumn and Russian Olive, have been planted extensively in the United States as windbreaks, and for soil stabilization. Unfortunately, they are now serious pests, and difficult for landowners to control. If you have it on your property, here are some tips to control this obnoxious shrubby tree.
These plants, Autumn Olive- Elaeagnus umbellata and Russian Olive- Elaeagnus angustfolia, are similar, and can be lumped together for the purpose of eradication. Now that I’ve used that optimistic E-word, let’s be honest and admit that this plant is never going to be eradicated. The best you can hope for is to control it in the spaces that are important to you. And that will take a serious amount of work if it has gotten a foothold in your area.
Autumn and Russian Olive are bad plants, for a number of reasons, covered in another article. You don’t want this to become established on your property.
You aren’t going to be able to get rid of these Olives without chemical help. I don’t like spraying toxic compounds where they can affect other plant material, but this plant really can’t be controlled without some fortification. Go buy a spray bottle of Roundup. Don’t waste your money on one of the substitutes. They won’t control sucker growth for nearly as long, and just cost more money, and result in more spraying in the long run.
As plant control toxins go, Roundup is quite safe. Its active ingredient, glyphosphate, targets an enzyme that plants possess, but not humans or other mammals. It does contain a surfactant, which is potentially more dangerous. However, to specifically control Olive growth, the application is very limited and the benefit of inhibiting this noxious plant seems to outweigh the risks, to me.
The overriding problem with getting rid of Autumn Olive is that it suckers continually and prolifically from cut ends. Cutting this plant down just makes it happy.
Repeated mowing of a few plants in your lawn will eventually result in their death. But this isn’t practical for larger lots. In your lawn, it will result in dangerous sharp stubs. And keep in mind that occasional mowing will only make it keep sprouting more and more suckers.
I have read that you can pull small plants out by their roots in the spring when the ground is soft. You sure can’t do this where I live. Even if the ground is soft, the plants just break. But you are welcome to try this.
Serious plant removal
These plants are prolific berry producers. The seeds are dispersed by birds and perhaps even foxes and other small wildlife. Any time is a good time to get rid of this plant, but if you can deal with it before the fruits are set you have a better chance of reducing the number of new plants for the next year. It typically flowers in May, and has fruits in place by August, so spring or early summer would be an ideal time to take on this project.
Dress for Protection
Autumn Olive produces thorns after about the second year of growth. You are going to want to wear heavy leather gloves, and a long-sleeved shirt and long pants to do this job. I have found that there is something about this plant that is slightly toxic, to me at least. If I do get poked or scratched by the thorns the minor wounds are much more irritated and sore than if I am scratched by something else. Now, I just cover up really well.
You are going to want a pruning saw or small bow saw. Sometimes clippers or pruners work well, too. This will depend on your preference. However, the trees can get large enough that some kind of saw will required.
What you want to do is cut this plant off near ground level. Since you are trying to kill it, there is no preferred method. In fact, it usually has so many stems that you will struggle just to get close enough, and to get the tools in place to cut it any way possible. If a small plant has become shrubby, with multiple stems, I like to just grab the whole handful of stems and saw them off at the base. With larger bushes, where the stems are perhaps an inch in diameter, I try to cut them individually, near the ground.
The wood is not only soft, but brittle. Quite often a branch will break even before I finish the cut.
You want to spray those open ends of the Autumn Olive as soon as you finish the cut. Hand-held spray bottles allow you to direct the stream right on the stump, so that only a little bit of the Roundup goes anywhere else.
If possible burn the leftover brush, particularly if there are berries already set. Anywhere you pile the brush the berries will just sprout. However, be sure you follow local burning ordinances.
Even with spraying the stumps, the plant may not die. You may be lucky and not see any sucker growth for a couple of years. I have one bush encroaching on the driveway that I have cut and sprayed (sometimes not with Roundup) every other year for the past 10 years, but I’ve been able to keep it to a manageable size. The only way to stay ahead of this plant is to be really diligent. If it is established in your region, you’ll be fighting it forever.